As part of the welcoming tradition embedded in its Catholic identity, Seton Hill University has created relationships with many organizations over the years, including the Blackburn Center. Although people may connect the Blackburn Center’s name to the football players wearing high heels in Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, SHU and the Blackburn Center have been connected for years.
One of the founders of the Blackburn Center was a faculty member at SHU, and someone from SHU or the Sisters of Charity has always been on the center’s Board of Directors. The Blackburn Center has provided programming to SHU and partnered with them on projects over its 40 year history. This semester, SHU built on its relationship with the Blackburn Center by appointing a mobile therapist to serve regular office hours in Lowe Hall every Tuesday evening.
The mobile therapist, whose name remains disclosed to respect the center’s confidentiality and privacy for its patients, has been working in counseling and direct service for years. After earning her master’s degree in counseling in 2015, she began working at the Blackburn Center in October of 2016.
“The Blackburn Center is trauma informed, so I’ve always in my mind felt that I really appreciated what their mission statement is,” she said. “I always admired the work that they did, and I think it’s important to remember that these women, men and children, if they’ve been victimized, it’s important to keep that trauma in mind. I think that a lot of times, people may overlook the trauma, and it’s important to recognize the impact that any type of violence has on a person’s life.”
The Blackburn Center began sending a therapist to SHU three years ago to provide convenience for anyone on campus. In addition, the relationship between the two organizations was formalized with the Social Transformation through Awareness and Resolve (STAR) Program.
Through the STAR Program, SHU incorporates the Blackburn Center’s mission into its curriculum. According to the center’s website, “Blackburn Center advocates for the rights of all individuals to live free from domestic and sexual violence and other forms of violence by eliminating the root causes of this violence and providing for the well-being and safety of survivors/victims.”
The Blackburn Center was formed in 1975 to address rape and sexual assault issues in Westmoreland County. Originally called the Westmoreland Alliance Against Rape, its hotline answered its first call in December of 1976. According to the Blackburn Center’s website, the center currently has a staff of over 30 people, along with volunteers. The Blackburn Center provides different shelter, counseling and advocacy services for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, along with “community education and professional in-service training programs.”
The Blackburn Center’s mobile therapist is also involved with the Underserved Population Program, which she said includes individuals with disabilities, the older adult population and victims of human trafficking. When a person is directed to the mobile therapist, she typically calls the person to make arrangements to meet somewhere in the community at “established safe sites.”
“Transportation is a huge issue in Westmoreland County, so what we’re trying to do is bridge that gap,” she said. “Anyone that has transportation issues, if they can’t come to us, we’ll come to them. What we do is find established safe sites throughout Westmoreland County, so this can be churches, libraries, local social service agencies, anyone that is able and willing to provide that safe site.”
The Blackburn Center can be reached by calling its 24-hour hotline at 724-836-1122 or 1-888-832-2272. All of the center’s services are confidential and available to women, children and men at no cost. Among the center’s services are emergency shelter, counseling and therapy, support groups, medical advocacy and accompaniment and legal system support.
“[Callers] can expect to be treated with respect and dignity,” the mobile therapist said. “We do not discriminate. A lot of times, the hotline is the first contact that a person has with Blackburn Center, so whoever is answering that call, you can be assured is well-trained and will try to find the help for this victim. If someone can’t give you an answer, we’ll work to find someone who can give the victim the answer that they need.”
The Blackburn Center’s main message to victims is that “It isn’t your fault,” and you should try to get help as soon as possible. The center’s website suggests reaching out for help, including to someone you personally know and trust and/or a counselor. The center is also dedicated to raising awareness and educating the public through free educational programs, working with universities like SHU, providing free educational material and hosting events.
“There’s always more work to be done,” the mobile therapist said. “Social change is not always a fast process. It can be a rather slow process, but it can be rewarding. We’ve come a long way over the years, but there still needs to be continued awareness about all of these issues.”
Volunteers are a large part of the Blackburn Center, and internships are also available. After completing an interview and training session, volunteers may perform tasks like answering hotline calls, distributing materials at health fairs, working with children at emergency shelters, educating the community through the center’s speakers’ bureau or helping with administrative tasks. Volunteer applications are available on the Blackburn Center’s site.
The Blackburn Center recently held its signature event, Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, which takes place every April. Participants who are willing to take on a challenge walk in high heels as they pledge to end gender violence. Members of the SHU community, such as the football team, participate in the event every year. This year’s event took place on April 22, and included over 1,100 people walking, along with dogs and even a pet skunk.
“It was such a lovely turnout,” the mobile therapist said. “Considering it was my first year, and the support from the community and professionals in this area that come out to support this cause, the turnout was just incredible.”
The Blackburn Center’s mobile therapist said the center plans to return a mobile therapist to SHU in the fall semester. If she returns herself, she said she hopes to provide more outreach at the beginning of the semester so students know she is available.
“It is such a rewarding career,” she said. “I think therapists and counselors, anybody in the helping profession, they’re in this for a reason. They’re here to help, having that general compassion for others. It’s really rewarding to see change in people, positive change and growth.”
For more information about this year’s Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, click here to read Calli Arida’s article in our May 2017 Magazine.