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WAXAHACHIE, October 13, 2022 — First ever Ellis County Family Resource Center makes its home in Waxahachie, Tx and partners with SAGU Social Work Department. 

SAGU’s vision of being a distinguished, Christian university equipping Spirit-empowered leaders emphasizes hands-on training for its students. The University is pleased to have many working relationships with businesses and non-profits within Ellis County, where SAGU students can partner through local internships and jobs. One of those partnerships is with a new domestic abuse resource center called The Heights, located right here in Waxahachie. 

The Heights, an Ellis County Resource Center, began offering services to domestic violence survivors in early 2021. From the beginning, SAGU and The Heights began forming an internship program that would allow SAGU social work students to complete their internship hours while helping serve the vision of the Heights. Faye Nicholson of Wichita, Kansas, was one of the first SAGU students to be part of this collaboration. Together with The Heights Executive Director, Jennifer Salzman, The Heights board, and other community entities, Nicholson and her classmates helped build this multi-agency center. Nicholson and her peers were responsible for creating policy and procedure manuals and intake paperwork for domestic violence survivors.  

The Heights recently opened its doors at the temporary location and hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony with four different chambers of commerce. A group of students from the SAGU Department of Behavioral Sciences and Community Service also participated in the ribbon cutting, along with SAGU professors LCSW Board Approved Supervisor Lacey Godsby and Program Coordinator Dr. Sandi Barberis.

Dr. Sandi Barberis and Professor Lacey Godsby at the ribbon cutting along with SAGU social work students

Many different entities united for this event to promote a common cause. “The students were able to see multiple community agencies from state congress to the local police department, to the city chamber of commerce and other local social service agencies come together to address this specific social problem of domestic violence,” says Professor Godsby. “We look at it from a holistic perspective,” SAGU Social Work Assistant Professor and Program Coordinator Dr. Sandi Barberis, PhD, LMSW says. “A team approach to best serve people in need. By that, it could be interns, employees, the police department, churches, etc.” And that is precisely what the Heights is- a conglomeration of resources to help the domestic abuse survivor and their family. 

Executive Director Jennifer Salzman addresses the crowd at The Heights ribbon cutting

“We don’t want to re-create anything,” Executive Director, Jennifer Salzman says. “The Heights is part of The Family Justice Center Alliance, which allows us to build on what is already working. We get to see best practices nationwide and implement those things accordingly in our community,” 

Through the Family Justice Center Alliance, Nicholson and her SAGU classmates have had the unique opportunity to visit other similar resource centers around the country and also see the legal and judicial systems in action. Their roles have allowed them to help shape The Heights according to the vision laid out by the founders. 

Nicholson completed her internship at the Heights and graduated in 2022 with her BSW. Because the SAGU Department of Behavioral Sciences and Community Service recently received the highly esteemed Counsel of Social Work Education Accreditation (CSWE), Nicholson graduated with an advanced standing undergraduate degree and the opportunity to complete a master’s in only one year. After graduation, Nicholson accepted a position as Children’s Services Director at The Heights, with plans to continue furthering her education. “It’s definitely not something that I was really expecting,” she admits regarding the job offer with The Heights. “It’s something that I’ve been very grateful and very excited for because I love this non-profit and the people here. And I really love what I do. It’s really, honestly, an honor to be in this community.” 

Nicholson admits that while it was a significant role to fill, she had the support of her SAGU professors; specifically Godsby and Barberis. Like so many other SAGU professors, both Barberis and Godsby are committed to helping their students succeed long after graduation. “Both myself and ‘Dr. B,’ (as Dr. Barberis is affectionately called) have had three or four coffee dates with previous students just over the last month” says Godsby. Nicholson agrees that this support from her professors gives her the confidence to perform as Children’s Services Director.

Nicholson (middle) with Dr. Cindi Barberis (left) and Professor Lacey Godsby (right)

Nicholson’s role is especially vital to The Heights. So many of the children who come out of domestic abuse situations end up repeating those patterns with their intimate partners down the road. A large part of The Height’s vision is to equip the next generation to take control of their own lives. “We need to think holistically,” says Salzman. “Yes, we want to offer resources and stability to the adults affected by domestic violence, but we also want to give the children tools to change their lives for the better.” 

Part of creating that change is fostering awareness within the community. On Saturday, October 1, 2022, the second annual awareness event, “Walk a Mile in Our Shoes,” took place. The Heights’ objective was to raise awareness about domestic violence and the availability of the resource center to Ellis County. 

The Heights gathers with community members on the front steps of the court house as they commence the awareness event “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes.”

By raising continued awareness about domestic violence, Nicholson hopes that children will know and understand their worth. “I think growing up,” admits Nicholson, “domestic violence was always really taught as something that was physical. And, I’ve learned that it’s a lot more than that.” Those kids are worth so much more than somebody being abusive to them in any form, whether that’s mentally, sexually, physically, or emotionally.” One of the biggest ways The Heights equips children is by offering “Pathway Events” throughout the year to establish trust and foster healing. The children and staff also attend “Camp Hope” for a week during the summer. 

The resource center looks forward to expanding its facility into a 30,000 sq. ft. building that will house offices for community partners such as police staff, play therapists, and other community partners. Groundbreaking for this facility took place on October 13, 2022 at its new location on YMCA Drive. “I don’t want interactions with The Heights to be a one-time thing for clients,” says Salzman. “I want them to find a new normal with The Heights and know they are welcome anytime.” 

SAGU is proud to partner with the Heights and serves together with a community that cares about eradicating domestic abuse. By equipping students with the training and hands-on experience they need, we truly feel that we can be a part of healing and wholeness in our community, one case at a time. 

SAGU offers specialized undergraduate degree plans in counseling, psychology, social work, criminal justice, and human services. The unique connection SAGU has with the community allows students to plug in easily. Coupled with the careful guidance from SAGU professors, support, and mentorship, SAGU students have a unique opportunity for a Christ-centered quality education and the chance to make a difference in the community. At SAGU, we believe that God has a specific calling for each and every one of us. Through our learning community, students can be equipped with the knowledge and real-world experience to foster talents and pursue purpose. The SAGU Department of Behavioral Sciences and Community Service offers both in-person and online options at the graduate and undergraduate levels. Click here to apply today.

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