According to the statistics available from the non-profit Violence Policy Center, Oklahoma ranks 3rd in the U.S. in per capita deaths from domestic violence, with 61 percent of those killed by an intimate partner. Despite those sobering figures, the numbers might be far higher if not for the work of family violence programs that assist victims of domestic violence from such hazardous situations. One local Citizen Potawatomi Nation employee working on this issue is Kimberly Willis, a case manager with the CPN House of Hope.

A 2005 graduate of Dale High School, Willis initially played collegiate softball at Carl Albert State College in Poteau, Okla. before transferring to St. Gregory’s University in Shawnee. After graduating from with a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Science, she spent one year at her alma mater as an admissions counselor. Willis learned of an opening for House of Hope, and has been with the department as a case manager for two years.

“My heart bleeds for the individuals who have been through the trauma of abusive relationships, sexual assaults and stalking,” said Willis about her decision to take on such a challenging assignment. “Since I had worked for the tribe in the past, I knew it was a great place to be employed and where I could spend my time offering a helping hand to those in need.”

The workday at House of Hope varies from day to day. According to Willis, in addition to their normal duties, they can also spend their days in court rooms for protective order hearings or responding to calls from local police departments.

“Each day is different,” said Willis. “We do our fair share of clerical work and also spend time out on calls visiting and assisting clients in our three county jurisdiction. Sometimes it’s an 8-5 job, but it doesn’t end when I get home, because even there, I am still on call.”

The federally funded Family Violence Program offers support to clients in Pottawatomie, Oklahoma and Cleveland counties, and does not discriminate on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion or ethnicity. Clients do not need to be Native American to receive services, but simply need to reside in one of those counties and contact House of Hope for assistance.

 “The job can be tough at times, but each victim deserves to feel valued, and our program may be the only support that victim has. Each little success, each little obstacle overcome, makes a world of difference to these individuals and these families,” explained Willis.

While House of Hope is a tribal-run program, its services are highly collaborative with local law enforcement and family services throughout its jurisdiction. Just recently, Willis was named Advocate of the Year by the Pottawatomie and Lincoln County Coordinated Community Response Team for her work. 

“I’ve worked harder than I have in my whole life this past year, but I have never felt so passionately about anything. I have been very fortunate to have a supervisor that trusts my judgment and has faith in me, and to have co-workers that are willing to help and support me. I have always felt very deeply for this cause, and to be recognized by my colleagues was probably the proudest moment of my life.”

To learn more about FireLodge Children and Family ServicesHouse of Hope and the CPN Domestic Violence Program, please visit their website or call 405-275-3176. For those in need of an advocate outside normal business hours, please call the CPN Police Department at 405-878-4818.