Life Launch program creates partnership between Trinity and San Antonio Battered Women’s and Children’s Shelter

In the fall 2012 semester Dante Suarez, associate professor of business, and Penelope Harley, adjunct professor of political science, collaborated to form Life Launch, a program that connected women from the San Antonio Battered Women’s and Children’s Center run by (Family Violence Prevention Services) with Trinity University and the resources the university has to offer.

The program has already grown to include multiple facets of campus life “” students, faculty and staff “” including the career services fraternity Delta Epsilon Iota, a marketing class taught by Charlene Davis, associate professor of marketing, and ARAMARK. The partnership will culminate this semester in a collaboration with the annual Choral Union concert to host “A Celebration of Women’s Voices” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 20, in Parker Chapel.

Although the program is in its second semester, Harley’s involvement with the shelter began when she first came to Trinity.

“When I first arrived here at Trinity, I made it clear to many that I, alongside Dennis, would play a part in ensuring that Trinity was reaching out to the community of San Antonio,” Harley said. “It was something that was very close to my heart “” women’s issues, anything involving children, is by definition close to my heart.”

The shelter creates a community without domestic violence and provides a safe haven for women and children.

To add to the work that the university had already done, Suarez and Harley wanted to develop a program that would give the women from the shelter an experiential learning opportunity.

“Trinity has always had some sort of connection with the shelter primarily through TUVAC and individual students who have visited the shelter to provide tuition to women seeking their GED, and we wanted to build on that,” Harley said. “We wanted to build on strengths that Trinity has, the skills that we have that could potentially be useful to the women at the shelter.”

Life Launch has women from the shelter coming to Trinity four times per semester to help the women develop the skills necessary for a career path. During their time on campus, these women were taught lifelong skills such as personal finance, interview skills, computer skills and job-searching skills.

The fraternity DEI was contacted at the end of January 2013 to help with the newly-formed Life Launch program.

“She really wanted to make sure that Life Launch would be around for the next few years “” to institutionalize it “” and that’s where DEI came in,” said Alecia Jarrett, senior and president of DEI. “We are a more permanent fixture of the university. We replenish our membership each year. We have people who will volunteer, who will get things done, and we can receive funding from the Association of Student Representatives.”

The fraternity began planning to help the program in February by teaching women from the shelter the same skills it teaches Trinity students through their career services events.

“We touch on resume skills, interview skills and how to find a job. It’s great for that regard, but working with people, especially those with different backgrounds, is great experience for the real world,” Jarrett said. “It’s a very personalized, one-on-one program.”

Similarly, at the beginning of the semester, a marketing class taught by Davis has spent its time helping the shelter in the form of developing a marketing plan. While some marketing classes in the past have had multiple clients, including the McNay and the San Antonio Children’s Museum, the shelter is this class’ only client.

“This spring we have a stand-alone, special topics class on nonprofits, and our only client, our only task, is creating a plan for the shelter,” Davis said.

This marks the first time the shelter has had a developed marketing or branding campaign. Students met with the directors of the shelter, collected background information on the shelter as a whole, evaluated their needs and toured the location, which, Davis said, helped spur the class project.

“The number of children being greater than the number of women was just heart-wrenching,” Davis said. “Getting to see that reality put some additional “˜oomph’ into our motivation.”

The class has three separate objectives. The first, fundraising, involves identifying trends in giving. The second, human resources, focuses on building a marketing structure that will outlast the semester. The third is a complete review of the shelter’s messaging and promotion.

One of the challenges facing the class is that the project is not limited to the marketing of business. With the shelter, all of the facets of the business are involved in building a brand new marketing campaign.

“One of the things that I think is helpful to the students in terms of this setup is that there’s a definite sense of the business side of things threaded across. This is a marketing class, but we’re looking at a bit of management and finance,” Davis said. “I think we get a more integrated and more real world look at how organizations operate.”

The goal of having all of these different facets of Trinity working with the shelter is to build relationships with these women, according to Harley.

“It’s a chance for fellowship with these women, and we do really begin to build relationships with them,” Harley said. “I’ve been so impressed by how students have contributed.”

To help build these relationships, Harley has also brought women from the shelter not to be taught but simply to enjoy themselves, to see a concert and to enjoy a nice meal. For example, there were seats reserved at the annual Christmas Concert for them.

“The idea is to bring them to campus and give them a spirit-lifting evening,” Harley said. “ARAMARK has been incredibly generous in giving us hugely subsidized meals to support the program.”

This semester Gary Seighman, director of choral activities, offered the annual Choral Union concert as one of these events. The concert will be merged with “A Celebration of Women’s Voices,” an annual multimedia event dedicated to bringing awareness to important women’s issues in today’s society.

Also, the free-will donations given at the concert will go directly to the women’s shelter. The students developing the new marketing plan for the shelter will be collecting the email addresses of those who would like to join the growing “Friends of the Shelter” community, and for every usable email address collected, the group will donate $1 to the Battered Women’s and Children’s Shelter.

The women will be treated to dinner in the Skyline Room in Coates University Center, and, during the concert, volunteers will be providing childcare in the Waxahachie Room.

“It’s groundbreaking because it’s the union of two big concerts and also because it’s giving any proceeds to the shelter,” Harley said. “It’s indicative that the growing connection between Trinity and the shelter is campuswide.”

Just as Life Launch brings together women from the shelter and the Trinity community, so the choral union concert brings together artists within the Trinity community as well as the greater San Antonio community.

“This year, the 70-member all-female choir comprises Trinity’s Women’s Chorus, “˜Voix d’Esprit,’ the Women’s Chorus from UTSA, and singers from the community, faculty, and staff. They share the program with the Trinity Symphony Orchestra, which is conducted by Dr. Ben Carlisle, and Trinity’s Dance Team, the Prowlers,” said Gary Seighman, director of the choral union concert.

The concert will also include guest speakers, poetry and student artwork from the Trinity Art Collective displayed in the lobby of the Dicke Smith Art Building, in order to incorporate the goals of “A Celebration of Women’s Voices.”

The second semester of Life Launch has seen input from multiple areas of campus life, and Harley is unsure of whether there is another project like it. However, she is sure that the relationships made from the program are lasting.

“As women transition out of the shelter, they are given evaluation forms and they consistently say that the highlight of their stay at the shelter was the time they spent at Trinity,” Harley said. “Coming here, being treated as equals, being treated as women of tremendous worth obviously makes a big impression. We make it clear that the connection is forever, that, when they leave the shelter, this is the start of a relationship, not the end of one.”