Domestic violence is a critical issue affecting millions of people worldwide. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in four women and one in nine men will experience severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. In the face of such staggering statistics, it is clear that we need dedicated individuals like Julie Yeado to help combat this epidemic. Julie is the Senior Director of Advocacy at Sojourner, Wisconsin’s largest service provider for families impacted by domestic violence. She manages advocacy supervisors and oversees the work of four teams that provide a wide array of services to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking. Her work is crucial in ensuring survivors receive the support they need to heal and rebuild their lives.
We cannot do this alone; survivors benefit from a collaborative approach. […] Sharing one’s skills and experience, even briefly, can have a profound, long-lasting impact on organizations that may not have the time, money, or staff to make that progress without such help.
You are a passionate advocate for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking and provide pro bono legal services. You are committed to the mission, so tell us more about your work and path to leadership.
As early as I can remember, I felt a passion for helping others. Throughout my teens and early twenties, I held various positions in the public service field, striving to impact my community positively. While volunteering at a legal clinic during law school, I kept getting consistent feedback: I spent too much time helping clients with issues that had no legal remedy. I found that the legal issue a person sought help for was usually just the tip of the iceberg and often stemmed from deep-rooted harm and trauma.
My heart found its home 13 years ago when I began working as a Legal Advocate, a role that allowed me to more deeply and broadly address the issues and hurdles survivors face. For the last decade, I’ve had the privilege to work at Sojourner, Wisconsin’s largest nonprofit provider of domestic violence prevention and intervention services. In my current role as Senior Director of Advocacy, I help lead our agency and support survivors and the advocates who serve them. I am extremely lucky to be able to spend my days doing this challenging yet rewarding work. Looking forward, I hope to provide steady shoulders for a diverse group of future leaders to stand on as they continue the movement to end domestic violence.
Since 1975 Sojourner has provided an array of support aimed at helping families affected by domestic violence achieve safety, justice, and well-being. How has the organization involved the community and network in helping end domestic violence and create healthier paths for survivors and their families?
Our work is centered around supporting the unique needs of each survivor, and we provide formal and informal opportunities for those with lived experience to help shape our work. Members of our survivor-led advisory group, VOICES, support our mission by sharing their lived experiences on panels or through multimedia interviews and writing letters of encouragement to fellow survivors staying as guests at our domestic violence shelter.
Sojourner’s Director of Outcomes & Evaluation collects qualitative and quantitative data through interviews with survivors, including recommendations for improving Sojourner’s services. We publish our findings to start community conversations that lead to changes to make survivors safer. We cannot do this alone; survivors benefit from a collaborative approach. Sojourner is the lead agency of Milwaukee’s Family Peace Center, which integrates critical government and non-government services in a single, easily accessible location to provide comprehensive, streamlined services to survivors.
This co-located model provides many natural opportunities to collaborate with the community, like the Milwaukee County Domestic Violence High Risk Team (DVHRT). This multidisciplinary team is comprised of on-site and community-based partners working together every week to identify and review domestic violence cases with the highest risk for lethality to create individualized recommendations for each case that will maximize safety for survivors and accountability for those causing harm.
Sojourner Family Peace Center participated at an Allstate April domestic violence day of service in spring 2022. How has the organization tapped into skills-based volunteering to increase capacity and deepen your community impact?
Sojourner is lucky to be located in a very generous community with diverse, skilled volunteers who help increase our agency’s capacity. In addition to the Allstate day of service we participated in last year, we’ve benefitted from volunteers lending their skills and experience to help us with projects ranging from website design and beautifying reports to offering translation services, sharing expertise about helping our gardens flourish and offering self-defense and other life skills classes to staff and shelter guests.
One of our more recent experiences with skills-based volunteering is our newly developed Volunteer Attorney Legal Team (VALT). During the pandemic, the demand for assistance with e-filing restraining orders rapidly outgrew the capacity of the team of advocates dedicated to offering this service. We launched VALT last year, partnering with local attorneys providing pro bono services. We started with volunteer lawyers from a single firm. One year later, we now have attorneys from nine firms dedicating several hours a month to help community members maintain their safety with a restraining order.
What would you tell someone new to skills-based volunteering? Why should they give it a try?
Sharing one’s skills and experience, even briefly, can have a profound, long-lasting impact on organizations that may not have the time, money, or staff to make that progress without such help. Sojourner continues to see positive ripple effects from every skills-based volunteer who’s donated their time. Plus, some of our most devoted supporters, volunteers, and staff first connected with our agency through a one-time or short-term volunteer opportunity. So you never know how your life may be positively impacted by trying it!
What is one leadership lesson or advice you would like to offer nonprofit changemakers?
“Be somebody who makes everybody feel like a somebody.” – Robby Novak, aka Kid President
It can feel like there’s not enough time to check in on the people around us, particularly when the stakes for those we serve are so high. Prioritizing the well-being of our team members allows them the space to care for themselves so that they can care for our clients.
Many of us are drawn to this work because of our own (in)direct experiences, which can make the work triggering at times. This makes it doubly important that time is taken to make team members feel seen and valued in ways that are meaningful to them. Advocates sometimes feel like they need to know that what they do matters. Helping them connect the dots so they can see the impact of their contribution is one of the most gratifying parts of my role.