Fessler steps up as new SAFV director

EVANSTON — Uinta County’s Sexual Assault and Family Violence Task Force (SAFV) has a new executive director. Long-time Evanston resident Angie Fessler has accepted the position after spending the past 14 years working at the Uinta County Public Health office. 

Fessler said she is excited about her new position. “I’ve been trying to get myself up here for a while,” she said. “These are the people I want to help.”

SAFV advocates work both in Evanston and in the Bridger Valley providing information, support and crisis services for people experiencing any type of family or dating violence or sexual assault.

Fessler and advocates Jesse Barnes and Mary Cummings in Evanston and Ambia Pawlak in the Bridger Valley help with everything from simple inquiries about services and helping with divorces and protection orders to financial classes and providing shelter. 

In addition to providing free and confidential individual services, the staff at SAFV also plan regular presentations at local schools, work with local victim advocates on mayoral proclamations, plan the annual candlelight vigil for victims of domestic violence, have booths at health fairs and the community baby shower and are involved with the annual women’s conference. They also host regular support groups on Tuesday nights. 

They’re busy, and the statistics bear that out. In the 2016-17 budget year the SAFV staff answered more than 3,400 calls and provided services to nearly 300 individuals, with 102 of those first-time clients. Barnes said she wanted to dispel a misconception, “We don’t hate men,” she said. In fact, men do make use of the services available at SAFV — there were 87 male clients served last year. 

Even with all they do, Fessler, Barnes and Cummings said they think many area residents are unaware of SAFV’s existence. Outreach efforts and events help to increase public knowledge and awareness.

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, and SAFV staff will be making presentations at the high schools and at BOCES. Citizens are encouraged to wear orange on Feb. 13 in recognition of teen dating violence awareness. 

In addition, Uinta County Sheriff’s Deputy Brooke Hale will be teaching a free Personal Safety Tips for Women class at 6 p.m. on Feb. 13, at the BOCES campus. The class will feature topics such as personal protection, date rape drugs and cyber safety. 

Other events SAFV staff have planned for the year include the annual Car Cruise fundraiser in April and the candlelight vigil in October. Fessler said they are also considering holding a yard sale fundraiser in the summer months. 

Fessler said she wanted to recognize Barnes and Cummings for keeping SAFV running for a couple of months while there was no executive director and gave credit to Pawlak for being the sole full-time advocate in the entire Bridger Valley. 

She also wants people to understand how much they depend on volunteers to do the work of SAFV. The three said SAFV has great supporters who donate a lot of items for the shelter, but more help is needed with direct service provision. 

Volunteers can do everything from answering crisis calls to spending time in the office and working at the shelter. Because of the nature of the work, volunteers do have to pass a background check and participate in a 32-hour training. 

Barnes said, “There is a little bit of fear involved” with recruiting volunteers, but she said the training course was developed by local woman Tiffany Maestas with the Wyoming Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault and having Maestas in the local area is invaluable. 

Fessler said volunteers can work whatever time their personal schedule allows. “Even one day makes a difference,” she said. Cummings and Barnes agreed that they’d like to have lives outside of SAFV and get some sleep, too.

Fessler said one of her goals is to be more active in the Bridger Valley, and to otherwise keep providing the valuable community services. Barnes and Cummings said they were excited to have Fessler on board.

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