Welcome back to our regular series: the Supporter Spotlight!
Every member of our community has a story… a reason why the work of SafeHouse Denver means so much.
This month, as we count down the days until Sampling For Hope, committee member Elissa Abegglen describes how volunteering and event planning represent our mission and offer multiple opportunities to make a difference for survivors.
Tell us a little more about yourself.
Elissa is originally from Ohio and has lived in Denver for eight years. Her professional background has always been selling and servicing events in the hotel and hospitality industry. When she's not busy with work, Elissa has a mix of indoor and outdoor interests. "I try to keep it exciting," she said, noting that she plays golf and also enjoys cross-stitch, embroidery and crafting. The most prized of her creations? A mountainscape with trees and a reflection.
Tapping into another hobby, Elissa has an ambitious goal for her home. "I recently have picked up gardening, so my whole plan is to renovate my backyard from scratch," she explained. "I'm also trying to create a sanctuary for the local birds. I bought several baths and several feeders. My husband's not thrilled about this, but I bought a little picnic table with a mini red umbrella for the squirrels and bunnies. I just want all of the creatures in our yard! They're all welcome."
How did you first get involved with SafeHouse Denver?
"When I first moved to Denver, I was trying to find an organization that was near and dear to my heart, because I've always been really big on volunteering," Elissa shared. For the past 7 years, she has been the Director of Meetings & Special Event Planning at The Ritz-Carlton, Denver, which has been a frequent venue for the annual Hope Gala. "I stumbled upon SafeHouse because it was an event that had been here at the hotel for many years. From a professional standpoint, I started supporting SafeHouse, but it really became something more like I was working with my friends and happy to volunteer with them."
What does the mission of SafeHouse mean to you personally?
"For me, it's empowering people who maybe haven't found their voice or temporarily may have lost their voice, and helping them come through a difficult situation," Elissa stated. "I feel like we've all had those moments in our lives where we needed someone else to empower us and lift us up, and I feel like that is what SafeHouse does." She credits the passion of the community for these positive experiences. "All of the volunteers, to me, are there to show that support: that you can get through this chapter. Lifting up each other… I get more pride out of that and what you can do for others than anything that I can do in my day-to-day life. It's all about the whole team taking care of each other."
When it comes to Sampling For Hope, SafeHouse Denver's annual food tasting event, Elissa sees it as a way to emphasize that support of survivors while also putting her own skills to use. "Last year, I set myself a little sales goal on Heads Or Tails on how many of the beads to sell… and exceeded my sales goal, FYI!" she exclaimed. "I also might have had a secret competition, and the other [volunteer] did not know that we had one, to sell out first," she added with a laugh. As a member of the planning committee, Elissa has had a front-row seat to what goes into making the event so memorable. "I just really am enjoying things like getting everything set up like the silent auction, or we had the great musician last year," she recalled. "There's always something different about the event. There's just so many things to do. It's not program-heavy, so you get to enjoy socializing with your friends and walking around, enjoying the food and looking at all the options for the auction. And then you have the section of the program with the survivor story. That's just so powerful to have such a robust evening."
What do you wish more people knew about domestic violence?
"Using the word 'survivor' [instead of 'victim'] has been one of the most impactful things that I learned through SafeHouse, and I wish more people were aware of that term. That's also just an uplifting, empowering term. It takes away such a negative connotation around the subject in general, and it reminds us that [people] are coming through this," Elissa emphasized. "Language evolves over the years on what's the appropriate word to use in certain things, and sometimes not everyone's caught up to speed on that. Hearing it and learning about it… it was something so refreshing, and it's something I want to educate other people on as well. This too has an area where you should kind of watch which descriptions you use when referring to individuals."
What advice do you have for people who want to get involved with our mission?
"I always share with my coworkers and my friends how there's so many opportunities available to you. Even networking with your friends and your family to find an organization that you're passionate about," Elissa said, before joking, "Mostly, I want them to be passionate about the ones that I'm passionate about, so they should just follow my lead." Whatever form volunteering takes and however people are comfortable with participating, SafeHouse Denver is grateful for the community's support and the difference it will make for survivors. "To take those initial steps – even just attending an event is a way to start, and from the first time of going – it's a great introduction to what the organization offers," she summarized.
Tickets are now available to Sampling For Hope on Thursday, June 8 at Mile High Station. This signature tasting event benefits SafeHouse Denver's Extended Stay Program. If you're not able to attend, please consider making a donation to support survivors!