Congratulations to Donna Cummings the Executive Director of RESPONSE to Domestic and Sexual Violence who will be recognized for her work to improve the lives of victims of domestic and sexual violence and stalking at this year’s Crime Victims’ Rights day celebration on April 8.
Donna will be honored for her 26 year career as the Executive Director of RESPONSE which serves all of Coos County. Back in 1988 Donna was a mother with nine children at home going to school for lifelong learning full time. Her advisor at the time thought she needed to slow down so he encouraged her to apply for the then 16 hour a week executive director position at RESPONSE. She got the job – but she never slowed down. Donna finished her degree in just 27 months.
In 1988 RESPONSE covered just half of Coos County. There was no shelter, and they relied on safe homes. Today RESPONSE covers all of Coos County. There are three satellite offices, a shelter, and transitional housing. In 2013 they served just under 800 victims with a staff of four people.
If you have never spent time in the North Country you should realize there are unique challenges that come with providing services in a county with a 120 mile perimeter. Many days are spent in a car driving an hour to pick up a victim, and then driving another hour to get her to court for a hearing, and then doing it all in reverse, often taking place during the most severe weather that New England has to offer.
Donna has continually gone above and beyond for victims. Perhaps the most memorable case was of a woman who needed to escape a violent situation with her child. They would not leave without the child’s calf that was part of a 4H project. Donna, being resourceful, removed the back seat from her tiny hatchback, loaded the calf and found a foster home for it.
Her contribution is not limited to her work at RESPONSE. Donna also served on several committees of the Governor’s Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence. She was an integral part of the process to rewrite the state’s domestic violence law back in 1999. The process took four years but the end result is model legislation that is held up as the standard for other states to follow. She is the only person who was a part of that process from start to finish. Donna said “We really took the time to craft the document that was going to be able to last, that had the remedies that were needed. It took four years but I think it had to. It is something I am most proud of working on.”
When asked where she has seen the most change throughout her career she points to the medical field, who she counts as their strongest ally in the North Country. “There is more recognition now of how being in a violent situation exacerbates medical conditions, because of that our agency now receives many more referrals from medical professionals.”
Asked to reflect on her career Donna said, “The last 26 years have been the best years of my life due to both my staff and the people I work with, the community agencies and the victims. Anytime my optimism starts to wane - there is always someone who walks through the door whose strength really pulls me up. It’s been a privilege to work with them and the people at the state level. It is amazing how many people who are committed to ending violence.”
In addition to being an amazing advocate, Donna and her husband have also fostered over 60 children over the years, adopting five of them. They often took in three or four children at a time so that families would not have to be separated.
Donna’s dedication and commitment has made an incredible impact on survivors in the North Country and throughout the state. Thank you Donna for all that you have done.