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Supporting Victims of Sexual Violence + Other Crimes with Christine Zaccarelli

Podcast published: March 22, 2024

We sit down in the podcast studio with Christine Zaccarelli, Chief Executive Officer of The Crime Victims’ Center of Chester County to talk about how victims of sexual violence and others crimes can access the support they need. Chris walks us through the work that she and her colleagues at CVC are doing in the areas of victim advocacy, counseling, and prevention education.


The Crime Victims’ Center of Chester County

Sexual Assault Awareness Month Events

For more details about any of these launch events or the walk, please visit CVC’s Facebook page.

  • April 01: West Chester
  • April 02: Kennett Square
  • April 02: Phoenixville
  • April 03: Coatesville
  • April 13: Walk a Mile in Her Shoes in Phoenixville

Additional Resources

Other Organizations

Liam Dempsey: Join us in person and mingle with the Start Local community.

Joe Casabona: We have been talking about it for a few months now. So, we are very excited to share the specifics of our first in-person gathering. Folks who subscribe to our emails already have these details, but we are sharing them now with our listeners.

Liam Dempsey: Come on out to meet and get to know the wonderful people in our Start Local community. We’ll gather at Stolen Sun in Exton on Wednesday, March 27th from 5:00 – 7:00 PM. Experience engaging conversations, and dynamic people in great food and drink. 

Joe Casabona: Attendance is free, but registration is required. Learn more and register on our website at [startlocal.co/gather].

Liam Dempsey: Welcome to Start Local, where we talk with business owners, leaders of nonprofits, and other members of our community focused on doing business in and around Chester County, Pennsylvania. Each episode will provide insight into the local business scene and tell you about opportunities to connect with and support businesses and nonprofits in your local area.  

The Southern Chester County Chamber of Commerce promotes trade commerce industry and sustainable economic development while supporting a diverse and growing marketplace. The Chamber is proud to partner with the Start Local podcast to raise a profile of businesses and nonprofits throughout Chester County. Learn more about the chamber@sccc.com.

Welcome to Start Local, where we connect with local leaders to support local businesses and nonprofits in and around Chester County, Pennsylvania. I’m Liam Dempsey, and I’m in our podcast studio today with my cohost, Erik Gudmundson. 

Erik, always a pleasure. How are you?

Erik Gudmundson: I’m doing very well. Ready to welcome spring. How are you doing, Liam?

Liam Dempsey: Fantastic. Yes. Spring has sprung, and I like that very much. Thank you. Winter’s a fine friend, but, let’s greet spring and welcome. Welcome spring in. 

Folks, if you like the shows that we’ve been producing here on Start Local, we invite you to engage with us over on LinkedIn.

Erik Gudmundson: That’s right. We’re pretty active on most social media platforms, but we spend more time on LinkedIn. So go ahead and search for the Start Local podcast on LinkedIn, then follow us to get more of our content and take part in our conversations there. It’s a little more interactive than simply subscribing to a podcast on your favorite podcast platform. Although, we welcome you to do that too.

Liam Dempsey: Yes. Yes. We do. Subscribe. Subscribe. Subscribe. Anyway, folks, focusing on today’s conversation, we are joined by Christine Zaccarelli, the Chief Executive Officer of the Crime Victims Center of Chester County, founded more than 50 years ago. The CVC, as it’s known colloquially, is a designated provider of services to victims of sexual violence for Chester County.

In addition to its work with victims of sexual violence, the CVC also serves victims of all types of crime. Welcome, Chris.

Christine Zaccarelli: Thank you. Thank you all for having me. There’s been so many amazing guests on the show. I’m really honored to finally be one of them.

Liam Dempsey: Well, in the interest of transparency, I will share that, well, you know this, Chris, that I am a volunteer with the CVC supporting the organization with its communications for a little over a year now.

Erik Gudmundson: Yes. And given how many of our previous guests have mentioned their respect and admiration for Chris and her colleagues at the CVC, we know that we wanted to have you on the show. Hi, Chris. Nice to see you today.

Christine Zaccarelli: Hey, Erik. Nice to see you too.

Erik Gudmundson: Welcome to the Start Local podcast.

Christine Zaccarelli: Thank you.

Liam Dempsey: Chris, we’ve heard you speak very passionately about trauma-informed counseling. Can you walk us through what…can you walk us through what you mean by that? What is trauma-informed counseling, and why is that an important aspect of your work?

Christine Zaccarelli: Sure. Being trauma-informed, as it’s very popularly known right now, I think it’s a real buzzword to hear that trauma-informed, and it goes so far beyond just our work at CVC. Obviously, the folks that we deal with at CVC, have clearly gone through trauma. That’s why they’re coming to us most of the time, on our direct services side at least, because they have gone through some sort of crime, and they want assistance in either getting through the criminal justice system or they want the counseling to help them heal from the victimization. And so the trauma-informed piece of that goes out into the world, and that’s why I’m so passionate about it. 

I was an attorney at Local Aid, the Southeastern PA before coming to CVC as their CEO. And I really wish that I would have known this information when I was practicing law at Local Aid because very similarly to our clients here at CVC, the majority of our clients at Local Aid, particularly the ones I dealt with, did a lot of family law. And when you’re talking about your kids, there’s really very few topics that are as concerning, and as stressful as that as custody cases.

And so, honing my skills and being trauma-informed as an attorney, I feel would have much better served my clients, when I was at Local Aid. And so that’s why I’m really passionate about talking to pretty much anybody who will listen about being trauma-informed and how we can improve all of our systems.

Erik Gudmundson: Chris, you and your CVC colleagues provide free support services to victims of crime across Chester County PA, particularly to victims of sexual violence. We understand that you received some funding from the government at a few different levels as well as donations from the public. Would you please explain your funding model?

Christine Zaccarelli: Sure. So we have a pretty unique funding model in that a lot of the services that we provide are statutorily required to be provided. So they’re victim rights notifications and things along those lines. So we receive about 80% of our funding from both state and federal sources. Federal is the VOCA, the Victims of Crime Act. We also have a lot of acronyms at CVC including our name. And then we also receive funding through PCAR, which is the Pennsylvania Coalition to Advance Respect. Those are primarily state funds, but they’re also federal funds.

And then the VOCA funds come through PCCD, the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. So we receive about 80% roughly of our funding, but none of our services are a 100% funded through our state grants. So we rely very heavily on our local foundations here in Chester County as well as the events that we hold. And, of course, the individual donors who help us do what we do every day.

Liam Dempsey: Chris, before we hopped on today, we were talking about the 3 core services that the CVC provides: direct services, counseling, and prevention education. Can you briefly explain each of those services to us?

Christine Zaccarelli: Sure. So a lot of people when you say direct services, that word’s really generally broadly used in the nonprofit world to mean kind of the frontline staff. But for us at CVC, that has a specific meaning. So our direct services are our victim advocates. They’re who you’re reaching if you’re calling our hotline, which is available 247. They accompany folks to court. They accompany folks to district court hearings, to police interviews, to medical exams. So they’re the ones that are helping folks through the criminal justice system.

Our counseling services are available for anyone who is a victim of crime. You don’t have to engage law enforcement in order to be eligible for our counseling services. And so we have 2 full-time and 5 part-time counseling staff, including 2 bilingual bicultural staff. And they provide traditional talk therapy. We also have an art therapist. We have an intern who’s a music therapist right now, which is pretty cool. I wondered why she came into the office with a guitar the first time she came in, and that was pretty neat. And then we also have a play therapist, who focuses on kids, and she sees primarily kids in the after-school and early evening hours.

And then we also have our prevention education, our prevention violence educators. They are out in the schools in K-12, in colleges and universities, and talking to parents and professionals about how to create safe and healthy communities. Things like conflict resolution. Although I feel like we need a better name for that one because it just doesn’t sound very exciting, but it’s really, you know, the art of agreeing to disagree, without bringing violence or anger into the situation. And then Internet safety, we have programs to prevent child sexual assault, and child physical abuse, as well as safe dates and healthy relationships. And again, our prevention educators, we have a team of 5, are going out into the schools all over the county.

Erik Gudmundson: That’s a very detailed answer, which I appreciate. And at a recent CVC event, we heard your COO, Ashley Shea, explain in even more detail how your colleagues interweave all your offerings. But I’m curious for our listeners here. Could you explain how your 3 individual services and all the microservices underneath them, really lend support to the local community in a holistic way?

Christine Zaccarelli: Sure. So the story that Ashley, our amazing COO shared at the most recent show, The Love event was that our violence prevention educators go into the schools, and they are doing K-12 programming, and they’re not just there once. They’re there every year. They do multiple grades, and so they become kind of fixtures in the hallways, you know? Oh, CVC’s coming today, and the kids know what that means. And so they become trusted, valued adults in the children’s lives.

And so after they do their program, sometimes, unfortunately, a child will disclose that they’ve been abused, that the program that they heard is, I wanna say resonating, but I guess for a 5 or 6-7 year old, that’s probably not the right word, but it meant something to them. And so they’ll come to our educator and say, someone, you know, touched me inappropriately. They’ll share what we refer to as CVC as a disclosure, which means that the child is revealing that they’ve been sexually or physically abused.

And then, we are all mandated reporters here at CVC, and so the first step would be making a report of that child, to the child line that we’re required to do. But then secondarily, that child, the parent would get connected. The nonoffending parent would get connected to CVC, and that child might go through a forensic interview. And so then our advocates would get involved. Our victim advocates would get involved, providing support to both the child and the nonoffending parents. And then that child, after, you know, things go through and everything occurs, that child might need counseling. And then the child gets connected to our counseling department.

And so it is absolutely feasible that our clients kind of, are receiving services or somehow connected with every piece of what we do here at CVC.

Liam Dempsey: Thanks. That’s a really descriptive way to walk through it and, you know, clearly, that kind of thing does happen.

Christine Zaccarelli: That was all Ashley.

Liam Dempsey: Yeah. She’s amazing. So we’ve talked before that Chester County, not in this conversation, but in previous episodes that Chester County is an affluent corner of the world. So many folks may be surprised about the level of sexual violence and gender crimes based in our region. 

Now. we know CVC doesn’t record or compile statistics. That’s not your organization’s role. And, but perhaps I wonder if you can talk to us about just how big, how busy your direct services, your advocates, and your counseling teams are, and maybe we use that as a way to shed some light on the prevalence of such crimes in and around Chester County. I guess in Chester County given that your remade is Chester County, just to clarify.

Christine Zaccarelli: Yeah. So our reach is Chester County. If you live or were victimized in Chester County, those are the folks that we serve. And I thank you, Liam, for mentioning that we do get asked that question a lot. What are the crime statistics in Chester County? And because our clients don’t have to call the police, they don’t even have to involve the police. We’re not a great repository for crime statistics. The crime also doesn’t, also it can’t excuse me, it doesn’t have to be recent.

So it could have happened 10 years ago somewhere else, and now they would like some counseling to help them heal from it. So we’re definitely not an accurate, current crime statistics. But to your question, which I finally am getting to, we see for our counseling department in fiscal, we go by fiscal year. Not a fan of fiscal year, but it is what it is. So our fiscal year is from July 1st to June 30th. And in the last fiscal year, fiscal 23, we saw, we had almost 1600 counseling sessions, and that was for 143 individuals, was how many counseling sessions and how many folks we saw. For our hotline, we took over 22100 hotline calls. We have a hotline, that is available 247. During the week, it’s answered here in our office. And then on the evenings and weekends, it goes through an answering service and then to our advocates. And so that hotline fielded about 22100 calls in that same fiscal year.

We also provided accompaniments, which meant we went somewhere with someone, whether it be to a medical appointment, to a court hearing, to an interview, or anything like that. And we did that also roughly over 22100 times in fiscal 23. And as an interesting measure, that number doubled, from fiscal 21 to fiscal 22. And we thought, well, maybe it was catching up from COVID. Maybe there were a lot of court dates happening that got canceled because of COVID, but that number stayed high in fiscal 23.

It actually increased by another couple of 123. So, our team is definitely busier than they have been in the last few years with really, it just seems like the cases are very serious, and very time intensive, particularly recently in the office.

Erik Gudmundson: I’d like to go back to one of your previous answers where you’re talking about all your work in local schools. Your prevention and education colleagues are in classrooms all across the county, helping our children learn about self-respect, self-autonomy, and related topics. But for those of us who are well out of 12th grade, what would be, say, one educational lesson or point of focus that you would like us to better understand?

Christine Zaccarelli: Consent. I’m actually, as you were asking that question, I was like, wow. This sounds like a hard question. And then as you got to the end of it, I was like, oh, okay. It’s easy. I know this one. Consent. I think that ‘s one of the things that we forget about as adults is asking if it’s okay. Those that knows me best know that I’m a hugger. That’s how I say hello. And when I started at CVC, I was constantly asking people, is it okay if I give you a hug? Is it okay if I give you a hug? And people were looking at me like I was crazy because that’s always how I said hello. And I was like, well, I would, I was doing it wrong. Like, I should’ve been asking permission for a really long time. And, you know, similarly, when we post things on Facebook, not everyone is on Facebook. Not everyone wants, you know, things on Facebook. So just really being cognizant of any time there’s an opportunity to make sure that somebody is okay with what you are doing, taking that opportunity just to say, can I? And making that a regular part of your day.

Erik Gudmundson: That makes sense, and that’s a great answer for adults. I think particularly when consent didn’t use to mean quite the way that consent means today. So, it’s an expanded definition. How many, what different grades do you typically interface with it? Is it truly K-12, or is it a subset of those grades?

Christine Zaccarelli: We are in every grade K-12, and the programming in the second grade doesn’t look like it does in the 12th grade. The messaging is very consistent, but how it’s delivered and the interaction that our team has with the kids in the class is different from K-12. So we are truly in K-12.

Erik Gudmundson: And are you in college-level classes at all?

Christine Zaccarelli: Yes. We are. So we’re at colleges and universities. We do a fair number of different things in the colleges and universities. Typically, at the beginning of the school year, we will be, we’ll meeting with the freshmen. We work with Lincoln University, Westchester University, Immaculata, and the University of Valley Forge. And so and all each college just gets different programming. Each school gets different programming.

We try to be very accustomed to what the school needs, and how we can support them. So we don’t go in and say, this is what you have to have. They typically will reach out and say, this is what we would like to have. We do work with residents, RAs, those who are in charge of the dormitories, and things like that. We also, particularly at Westchester, our team goes into the classrooms, and we do some classroom presentations as well.

Liam Dempsey: We know that you work closely with all the police departments in Chester County and everything at the township level, at the sheriff department level, and even with the state police. How are you able to build collaborative relationships based on mutual respect really around the needs of the victim? How does that work for you? How do you do that? That can be a challenge, I expect.

Christine Zaccarelli: Yeah. I think the biggest thing that allows us to have such positive relationships with police departments is that they see the value in what we do. I probably [Inaudible 17:31] Law and order. I don’t know why. You would think I would not watch Law and Order all the time, but I do. It’s one of my guilty pleasures. And there’s no victim advocates in Law and Order. Like, I don’t know if they’re behind the scenes or if they just didn’t think about it, but, whenever I watch the show, sometimes I think, yeah. See, this is where a victim advocate would be really helpful. And, our law enforcement recognizes that everyone has a role in the criminal justice system, and our victim advocates have a very distinct role in the system and can really make sure that the victims are getting what they need. They’re not being retraumatized, and they have someone to turn to throughout the entire process. And I think that all our law enforcement values that, and that’s why once they see a case where a victim advocate was involved, they’re very inclined to call again, and they’re very inclined to make sure that the folks that they are helping and providing services too are also connected to us.

Erik Gudmundson: Chris, I’m thinking about all of the services you provide to the community, and I’m trying to reconcile that with something we discussed in Episode 41. And Chris Saello of the United Way of Chester County actually brought it up. And he explicitly thanked all the workers inside nonprofit organizations during COVID lockdowns for their significant efforts on the community’s behalf. So talk to us about what those early days of COVID were like for your direct services team members.

Christine Zaccarelli: Scary. I think that’s the first you know, it’s the further removed we get. It gets me, we’re, what, like, close to 4 years out to the day off of when, you know, the world shut down in air quotes that no one can see. And so at first, we were kind of, like, oh, we’ll go home for 2 weeks, and then this thing will be fine, and we’ll all come back. And we were thinking that it would be a little bit easier. It was not. Our team is in hospitals, and so right away, they were not allowed in hospitals. It was really hard on our direct services team to try to figure out how to provide services because we knew the crimes were still happening. Our hotline stayed open, obviously, and we just adapted.

We used iPads and FaceTime to try to provide services in hospitals. And then, fortunately, as soon as they started to open up, our hospitals and the partnership that we have with them, they recognized that we were a part of the team, and so they allowed us back in. And it was so scary because we, you know, we knew very little about what was happening and everything at the time. Our prevention educators, you know, the schools closed down, and they thought, okay. You know,  we’ll work on our summer curriculum. We’ll do things that we would normally do in the summer now. 

And then when they stayed home, they had to figure out another way to provide programming, because the schools were closed for, obviously, a lot longer than we thought. And so they had to switch everything to virtual as well, as well as our counseling team. I think our counseling team, initially, it was difficult, but they had the easiest adjustment because they could pick up the phone and speak to their counseling clients. They got very busy because a lot of folks who had come for services already wanted to come back, because of everything that was happening with COVID. 

And then we found Doxy.me, which is a virtual platform, which frankly, we were like, why weren’t we doing this before? We had a client who was in Oxford. And as the restrictions started to ease, they said, well, can I just keep doing it virtually? Because that saves me an awful lot of time from having to drive to Westchester. So there were some some positive, you know, pro we still offer the virtual aspect. There’s still programming so that we can be accessible in many different ways. But for the most part,  it’s back to business. And I wouldn’t say as usual, because there has been a lot that’s changed since before COVID.

Erik Gudmundson: Well, I think that’s an impressive answer because I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. The worst possible outcome from COVID for us as a society, I think is that we go back to doing things exactly the way we did them before COVID. So it’s wonderful that you were able to at least take all that bad and learn from it and make your experience better for your clients. So thank you.

Christine Zaccarelli: Yeah. Absolutely. Thank you.

Liam Dempsey: With the context of that answer, I wanna direct your attention to a blog post that one of your colleagues, Hannah Oliveras, published. Well, you folks published on her behalf on your LinkedIn page, and she’s one of your victim advocates. And we’ll certainly link to that in our show notes over on [startlocal.c0]. But the blog post was a day in the life of an advocate. 

Chris, and I wonder if you can kind of walk us through, not necessarily read it word for word, but walk us through what is a day in the life of an advocate like today now that we’re back to, and I’m gonna throw up the invisible air quotes, normal. What does that look like for your colleagues and for Hannah?

Christine Zaccarelli: Yeah. Hannah’s article was amazing. She had come to us and had an interest in writing. It’s something that she enjoys, and so she was wondering if she could use that talent to help CVC. And so she came up with the idea to write this article, and it’s also on our LinkedIn page, and it’s a really great article. And when I get that question, Liam, there is no normal day in the life of an advocate. It’s very similar to when I was at Local Aid.

IIn the morning, you could be doing one kind of case. In the afternoon, you could be doing another kind of case. And at night, you might be on call on a completely different kind of case. So they’re, you know, for the most part, their days are spent being the liaison between law enforcement, the district attorney’s office, and our clients, the victims in the cases, trying to find out if court is happening. Is court continued? Is it happening tomorrow? What time do I need to be there? Do I feel prepared? Going to court with our clients, that’s the thing that is very, very time-consuming. I used to say when I was at Local Aid, when you’re in trial, and it’s the same for our advocates, they are in court all day every day. Court generally starts around 9:30 and generally ends around 4:30, but sometimes it goes well after 4:30. And the rest of their clients didn’t stop. The rest of their caseload didn’t stop.

They were getting phone calls all day. They weren’t responding to emails because they’re in court. So being in court like that can be incredibly exhausting, not only during the day with everything that they are listening to and helping others process, but then a few days later, when they have to dig out of 3 days of work when it feels like they were on vacation from the amount of work they have to catch up on, but they were not, they were anything but on vacation being in court. And so that’s typically there’s just a lot of moving pieces and a lot of different things that our advocates are doing on a day-to-day basis.

Liam Dempsey: Yeah. That advocacy role is gotta be hard because they’re, you know if they’re in the hospital, if they’re at the police station in the early days of post reporting, if I can put it that way, that’s a lot of stress to deal with and a lot of hurts to experience. And then if it revisits again in court or whatever happened, and then to have to finish that up as an advocate to then switch on to something again and again, and there’s, that’s an amazing job your team is doing. So, I sit in awe of the folk, the work you folks are doing.

Christine Zaccarelli: Thank you. I sit in awe of the work that they are doing as well, and I feel honored and privileged that I get to talk to it to you and and Erik and to the community and share the work that they’re doing because I totally agree, Liam. I think they have one of the most difficult jobs in the criminal justice system, in managing every all the interest in everything that they manage and the stress and the trauma that they manage.

Erik Gudmundson: Speaking of sharing and difficult jobs, something that I think a lot of folks do when they’ve had a difficult day in their profession is they come home and they talk about, what bad things they experienced, what bad things they saw with their friends or their family. And your organization is a little bit different and that people can’t always do that. The confidentiality of your services is something very prominently featured on your website. So I’m wondering how does confidentiality plays out across your work? Or to ask it another way, what does it mean when you say that your services are offered in confidentiality precisely, and what are the limits of that confidentiality?

Christine Zaccarelli: So as far as I’m concerned, there are no limits. Our services are a 100% confidential. To get into the weeds a little bit, there is a statute, a sexual assault counselor statute that we are all sexual assault counselors. We operate under our direct services supervisor, and that statute allows us access to shield. So if someone says, hey. I wanna know this. We can say, nope. There’s a statute that says, I don’t have to tell you.

And so we take that confidentiality very seriously, and we extend it to all other services that we provide here at CVC. And I think that one of the ways that our team, because our violence prevention educators and our counselors also have incredibly different jobs, and I am in awe of them every day as well as our advocates. You know,  we have a very close-knit team here at CVC, and we vent to each other. We process with each other. 

Our direct services supervisor, Rachel Cowgill, actually, last week, I happened to walk through our boardroom, and she and her team were designing index cards to put on their desks that were, “Yes. I’m okay to talk” like, I’m in a good head space right now. You just had a really rough day in court. Come in and talk to me. Or “I’m in a meeting. (I can’t be you know,) please don’t interrupt me. Or “I had a bad day too, and I just wanna get to 4:30 and get home”. And so they had, Rachel had bought you all these different art supplies. I think the boardroom table’s covered in glitter now, but it’ll be well worth it, because it was just a really fun activity for them to make sure that they’re, you know, creating healthy boundaries amongst themselves, and how they process what they deal with every day.

Liam Dempsey: Yeah. I love that emphasis on communication. How do we communicate in a way that enables us to work closely together in trying circumstances? In simple flashcards that you just leave on your desk, not today, not now. Give me a second whatever the messaging is, is great. Congrats to you folks for putting that together.

Christine Zaccarelli: That was all Rachel’s idea.

Liam Dempsey: Well done, Rachel. 

In advance of our conversation today, Chris, we spoke about how you and your colleagues focus on supporting victims of crimes, and we all know that victims of crime often have related needs with, for example, housing, employment, transportation, immigration status, maybe mental health, and the like. How does CVC partner with other organizations and nonprofits to support victims on the kinds of needs or that your organization does not directly address?

Christine Zaccarelli: The short answer is all day, every day. We absolutely, rely on our nonprofit partners here in Chester County to provide help with food insecurity, with financial assistance. We have food boxes from the Chester County Food Bank, and the emergency food boxes in our front closet. So if a client comes in and needs assistance with food, we hand them the box. And there’s also a list on top of all the other places that the Chester County Food Bank supports here in Chester County so that they can get services. 

We regularly reach out to our colleagues at Home of the Sparrow at Open Hearth, all kinds of organizations that help with housing, and financial assistance, and just try to make sure that our clients are getting everything they need. We do not wanna be a one-stop shop. We can’t, and we don’t have to be because of the amazing organizations.

We also recently, created a position, Caitlin Brogan is our Crime Victim Resource Advocate. We found that our team was getting really burned out from needing to know all there is, to know about every nonprofit in Chester County. And so is, you know what? Let’s have an advocate,, that’s her role. And so when our team has a client or even on any of our teams, Counseling Team, Prevention Education Team, or the Direct Services Team has a client that needs assistance, they can go to Caitlin, and Caitlin can either already know the answer or she’ll do some research and figure out what the best way is to connect the person to services. So, yeah. Our nonprofit community is incredibly important to our work and connecting with them, and staying connected with them.

Erik Gudmundson: It seems like you’re doing so much good work, but you’re so busy at the same time despite the affluence of the county. So it’s really important that we focus on prevention as much as possible. And I know you’re involved in that role in the schools. You already mentioned that. And I wanna go back to that because we’re, this is 2024 when we’re recording this episode. 2024 happens to be an election year. And in election years, everything gets a little bit more politicized all the way down to the school, the school board level. And so your prevention education, because you’re in each school district in Chester County, each school district is controlled by its own elected school board, and it has its own goals, it has its own focus, you know, set out by those individual boards. So how do you navigate relationships with each of those different school districts to ensure that local area children can benefit from your training materials and prevention truly works?

Christine Zaccarelli: Yeah. And Liam had mentioned that we’ve been doing this work for, it’s been just over 50 years now. We celebrated our 50th anniversary last year. I’m really glad that we’re 51 because that was a long year. And our prevention education program started very, very soon after we were formed in 1973. So we’ve been doing that work for almost 50 years as well.

And I think one of the key things is something I mentioned earlier in the podcast is that the schools trust us. They value us. They know they can have open dialogue. Hey. This program didn’t land quite right. Can we make some changes to it? Or this was perfect. Can you please do it again for every other grade we have? 

It’s all about feedback and, us feeling valued by the school district, and them knowing that we are a trusted resource to reach out to our team. Naomi DeVine is our Prevention Education Supervisor, and she does a really great job in just making sure the school districts know we’re there. We know there are some school districts we might not be in 1 year. And then the next year, we do 16 programs. You know, we can’t hit every school in Chester County every year. I would love to, but we just don’t have the staff for that. So, we try to just listen and, you know, continue to be a valued partner.

Liam Dempsey: Chris, you’ve talked a lot of today about the work your teams are doing. The fact that you’re working with various law enforcement agencies in the area, you’re working with the courts and the court systems and the attorneys and the judges there. You work with a lot of local nonprofits to provide wraparound services or direct folks to wraparound services. What is a business or organization or nonprofit that more folks in Chester County should know about?

Christine Zaccarelli: CVC.

Liam Dempsey: So that’s the second time in a row that the nonprofit leader said to us. I love it. I love it. Well, I will say the same thing to you. As I said to Rick Roberts of YMWIC, folks know about you now because you’re on this show. How about somebody else, Chris?

Christine Zaccarelli: Great. And I say that jokingly and not jokingly because…

Liam Dempsey: Of course. Of course.

Christine Zaccarelli: A lot of people are like, you know, I’m not a victim of crime. I don’t need CVC. And so sometimes our messaging can get lost. But so I was serious, you know, kidding, not kidding. You know what I said? What is another organization? That’s a really hard question to answer because there are so many of them. Two that I really, really value are Home of the Sparrow, and Open Hearth, out in Phoenixville. Home of the Sparrow is in Exton. We rely really heavily on them for helping our clients that are experiencing poverty and housing issues and things like that. And just communicating with their staff, you know, having a warm handoff knowing that if we send someone over there, they’re gonna get the services that they need. So those are, I know you only asked me for 1, and I gave you 3. But…

Erik Gudmundson: I liked your answer to Liam’s question. So I wanna go back to your answer and ask you what can the local community do to help you and CVC?

Christine Zaccarelli: Donate money. That kinda goes without saying, but we did talk about our government funding. Our government funding is also very specific. It says what I’m allowed to spend the funding on and what services have to be provided. And so if something happens in the community that’s not already on that laundry list, we need the funds to be able to adjust and be able to provide services outside of what our government funding. So, that is absolutely one of the things that folks can do. 

And then talk about us. Make sure that your neighbors know about us. Share our stuff on Facebook so people know about it. And, you know, if something were to happen 3 years from now, they could say, wait, my neighbor said something on Facebook. I vaguely remember CVC something, and they can search, and find us and get access to our services.

Liam Dempsey: Chris, we’ve had a lot of folks in past episodes sing your praises, sing the praises of your CVC colleagues. And it’s pretty clear from what they’re sharing with you, and our guests are impressive in your own right, and you’re right up there with them that you’re probably a fantastic boss and you run a good ship. And that’s not to make you blush or anything, but it makes me wonder, are you hiring? Can I come work for you? Are, do you have positions available?

Christine Zaccarelli: I know you said not to knock because people get annoyed at that sound. So in my head, I’m knocking on my desk, because I’m very superstitious. We are fully staffed right now. And hopefully, fingers crossed, that will remain the same for months if I know years is a little pie in the sky, but at least it’ll stay the same for months. So, no. We are not hiring right now.

Liam Dempsey: Do you have a scope for volunteers to get involved?

Christine Zaccarelli: We do. So, a little longer answer question to this question than you probably anticipated. We originally had hotline volunteers, and they had to go through a 40-hour training, and then they would take hotline shifts. And we had a full-time volunteer coordinator who helped us with that program. And unfortunately, the impetus behind that was to alleviate being on call. Our team, in addition to what they do every day including our prevention, educators are on call after hours and on the weekends. And so we were hoping that hotline volunteers would help with the stress of that additional role, and we found it really didn’t. And so one of the things that we try to do at CVC is if something isn’t working, we try to figure out a different way to do it. So we have on-call advocates now who are actual part-time CVC staff members, and that is working better.

So we don’t have the hotline, but we do have opportunities, such as, Liam, you’re involved on our commissions committee or our communications committee. We also have our mission committee that helps with our events and helps to do things that further our mission in the community.

And then we also have lots of outreach, what we refer to as tabling. So going out to different events all over the county and representing CVC at those events. It’s really hard on our team when there’s something on a Saturday or Sunday or even at night, to, you know, put in those extra hours, and so it is a huge help when we have volunteers that are willing to go out, and, man those tables for us or staff those tables for us so that we can help get the word out about our services and who we are and what we do.

Erik Gudmundson: Your impressive legal career includes serving as an Assistant District Attorney in Chester County, private practice, and a leadership position with local aid of Southeastern PA, all before you became the chief executive officer of the Crime Victims Center of Chester County. Tell us how your legal career has influenced the manner in which you lead CVC.

Christine Zaccarelli: I think the biggest thing about how my legal career has influenced, how I lead is that being an attorney for me was all about problem-solving. It was all about getting the facts and figuring out a way to solve whatever problem was in front of me. And here at CVC, I take a similar approach to, you know, everything. All the challenges that we face is to try to figure out how to get all the facts, get all the voices in the room, and then figure out a way best to provide services to get funding, whatever the particular challenge before us in the particular hour of the day happens to be. So I think that is the biggest influence. And I’m also kind of a little analytical, like, I keep them but that as the team jokes, my lawyer brain can kinda kick in and help to analyze things and get a little deeper. So, it definitely has affected how I lead CVC.

Liam Dempsey: As we record this conversation, we wanted to take a moment to note that April is sexual assault awareness month. Chris, please tell us how CVC is planning to mark the occasion and how folks get involved with it.

Christine Zaccarelli: Yeah, Liam. Thank you. April is a really important month for us at CVC. As you noted, it’s sexual assault awareness month. We start the month with what we refer to as launches where in Kennett Square, Westchester, Phoenixville, and Coatesville, teams of staff, our volunteers, and our supporters will head into those areas and hang teal ribbons on the lampposts, and signposts throughout the main parts of those cities and boroughs. West Chester is at 3 o’clock on April 1st, and that would be at our office in Westchester at 135 West Market. 

On Tuesday, 2nd, we will be at Kennett Square, at the United Way of Southern Chester County. Also on the second at 2 o’clock, we will be in Phoenixville.

And then on the 3rd, we will be in Coatesville. Coffee with the chief for the Coatesville County Police Department is happening at Presence Bank, and then we will be doing the launch immediately after in Coatesville. And we’re grateful to partner with some of our funding partners in Westchester. We’re partnering with the Fund for Women and Girls, Kennett Square with the United Way of Southern Chester County in Phoenixville, the Phoenixville Community Health Foundation, and in Coatesville with the Alliance For Health Equity. And you can find details about that also on our Facebook page as far as the time and specific meeting locations. If you’re interested in joining us, no need to RSVP or anything. You can just show up on the day off and help us recognize the month.

We also have a run that’s being organized by a Phoenixville High School student on April 13th. It’s a walk a mile in her shoes event where men walk a mile in high heels to understand and signify, you know, recognizing what sexual violence and sexual assault victims go through. And so that will be held at Reeves Park on April 13th from 11 to 2. And, shockingly, that is also on our Facebook page if you would like to find information. You can also sign up for that on our website. It is a pay-as-you-can with a suggested donation of $10 for folks to participate.

Erik Gudmundson: Christine Zaccarelli, Chief Executive Officer of Crime Victim Center of Chester County, we are grateful for your time and the insight you shared with us. Before we wrap up this conversation, please tell us how folks can find you online and learn more about CVC.

Christine Zaccarelli: Yes. Thank you. We have a website, [www.cvcofcc.org], all the first initials of our name with of in the middle. We are also on Facebook. We’re also on Instagram, and we are also on LinkedIn. So you can connect with us in any of those formats that are all getting better. Thanks to Liam and his help on the communications committee. But, yeah. That’s how you can find us. You can also sign up for our newsletter, our quarterly newsletter that’s going out, and you can do that on our website as well.

Liam Dempsey: Chris, thanks so much for your time today. Really appreciate chatting with you.

Christine Zaccarelli: Thank you. And I did wanna give one more shout-out to Stephanie Rillet. She is our Counseling Supervisor. I gave shout-outs to all of our supervisors, and I did not wanna forget her.

Liam Dempsey: Plenty of time. Plenty of time.

Erik Gudmundson: Well, thank you to my cohost, Liam Dempsey. I’m Erik Gudmundson.

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