After 20 years, Peg McGavock is leaving Response | AspenTimes.com

After 20 years, Peg McGavock is leaving Response

Rustin Gudim/Aspen Times WeeklyPeg McGavock will retire this summer after more than 20 years at the helm of Response, the Aspen-based nonprofit that provides assistance to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

ASPEN – In the United States, a woman is beaten every nine seconds; all told, more than 4 million women are beaten by male partners each year. These are startling statistics, which many Aspenites choose to believe don’t include them or their friends and neighbors. They would be wrong.

According to Response, the Aspen-based nonprofit that provides assistance to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in the Roaring Fork Valley, these issues are as much a problem locally as they are nationally.

“It happens here; we are not immune,” says Peg McGavock, the organization’s executive director, who will retire this summer after more than 20 years at the helm, helping to found and shape Response into what it is today. “Women here face the same issues as women elsewhere do, in all realms, and those issues include domestic violence and sexual assault.”

In 2009, Response was contacted more than 1,100 times for help, either through its 24-hour crisis line, its women’s support groups in Aspen and Basalt, the courts, or by those in need of emergency shelter.

“The women we serve represent a real cross-section of the community,” adds the 71-year-old McGavock, whose successor has yet to be named. “And that is why we are here, for them. We are here for the women and the children who need us.”

For McGavock, a life dedicated to domestic violence and sexual assault awareness was not a conscious choice. She did not grow up thinking she’d pursue a career in social services, nor did she get a degree in the field.

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But in 1983, when the Aspen Women’s Forum addressed the burgeoning national issue of domestic violence, the stage was set for what would become McGavock’s passion and purpose.

“Back then, women really had no place to go,” she recalls, remembering how women in need of help had to “sit on a bench” at the police station to wait to talk with someone. “And I couldn’t believe it – a group of us who were involved in that first conference couldn’t believe it – so we got involved. I stayed involved because, I guess, it had to do with women and that was important to me.”

Starting out as part-time clerical help – when the office was shared with Aspen Counseling Center and her filing space was relegated to “the top of the refrigerator” – to her current role as executive director, McGavock has watched Response grow from a mere idea to a grassroots movement to a full-blown nonprofit organization.

Today, the nonprofit’s staff includes McGavock and an administrative assistant, as well as a full-time court advocate/community outreach specialist and a Spanish-speaking advocate to serve an increasing need for bilingual services. There are also some two dozen volunteers on the Response roster, with two people on call at all times, 24 hours a day, 365 days a week. Response now has a $300,000 annual budget.

As Response grew, so did McGavock’s dedication to the organization and the cause.

“Peg has done so much for Response, it’s hard to put it all into words,” says Sue Smedstead, a current board member who helped found the organization with McGavock back in the ’80s. “Honestly, I’m not sure the issues of domestic violence and sexual assault would have been given the attention they deserve if it weren’t for Peg.”

More than that, though, McGavock says what Response offered was a chance for her to grow as a person.

“There was this incredible movement going on, and I was a part of it,” she says. “I have learned so much about myself over the years, and that is truly a gift from Response to me.”

Response has also helped scores of local women struggling with abusive relationships or other troubles. In 2009, 354 contacts came through the 24-hour help line, and another 509 through Response’s women’s support groups in Aspen and Basalt. Not all of these contacts result in actual services provided to a client, but many do. Also in 2009, 15 clients spent a total of 33 nights in emergency housing provided by the organization.

But after so many years in an industry as emotionally draining – and administratively taxing, given the red tape inherent to social services – as domestic violence and sexual assault awareness, McGavock admits that it’s time to move on.

“It’s time for some new blood, some fresh perspectives,” she says, adding that while she will no longer work for Response once her successor comes on board, she will remain dedicated to its mission. “The great work we do will continue, and hopefully the new director will bring even more to the table.”

While Response’s mission may not have changed much over McGavock’s tenure – the organization remains committed to ending “interpersonal violence by providing support and direct services to survivors of domestic violence and/or sexual assault, and to educate the community on related issues” – the crimes themselves have changed.

And, even more notable, the way the world views issues of domestic violence and sexual assault has changed.

“It used to be that these were ‘personal, private matters … a family matter,'” says McGavock. “This has changed, for the most part. And even if people still think this, they are much less likely to say that out loud.”

But, say those who deal with the victims of domestic violence and sexual assault on a daily basis, the battle is far from over. Note some of the recent headlines in Aspen: a rash of people – men and women – reportedly being slipped “ruffies,” also known as the date-rape drug at local bars; a rape trial, in which the victim’s credibility was essentially put on trial, ending in a hung jury, only to be resolved in a plea agreement; and other, less public examples of the ongoing crisis.

“Our job is to respond when there has been an instance of violence, but if we want to live up to our mission, we need to prevent instances of violence,” says Jill Gruenberg, Response’s legal advocate, who just recently added to her workload the role of public outreach and education. “We need to focus on education as much as advocacy, and I think that is a future direction for Response.”

Whatever the future for Response, one thing is clear: The new director will have big shoes to fill in McGavock’s stead.

“She is an amazing leader and role model,” says Gruenberg. “She has trust in us and she believes in us, and that is very empowering.

“More than that, though, Peg is passionate. She has given so much to this organization – she has been the face of Response for so long – that it will be very hard to replace her. But with change comes opportunity, and that is where we are today.”

jmcgovern@aspentimes.com

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