Two Citizen Potawatomi Nation employees received a scholarship recently to attend a conference and bring back expertise to help victims of domestic violence.

Domestic Violence Advocate Melody Ybarra with House of Hope and CPN Police Sergeant Donnie Lewis received a scholarship to attend the Conference on Crimes Against Women, which is held annually in Dallas.

Both Ybarra and Lewis have attended the conference before, so they know what to expect, but they said each year is different and provides valuable training and information.

“It’s just great training,” Lewis said. “You never know what you’re going to learn or who you’re going to meet. You can exchange information and stories and experiences.”

The Nancy Ann Hunt Foundation Scholarship, just one of four scholarships for the conference, was designed for an out-of-state multi-disciplinary team with a background in domestic violence and investigation.

Ybarra said in the past, the conference has included guests such as the prosecutors from the Bill Cosby case, who discussed the information they presented at trial. Panels include speakers across all disciplines, including investigators, family attorneys, judges, probation officers, prosecutors, nurses and others.

“There’s stuff about tribal law. There’s stuff about tribal statutes and codes and regulations, about filing protective orders,” Ybarra said. “There’s just a whole array of different types of topics they go over, all having to do with crimes against women.”

The conference lasts four days, with multiple sessions offered throughout the day, and attendees can pick the classes that will be most helpful to them in their line of work. Attendees get input from people from a variety of backgrounds as they discuss how best to help victims of domestic violence.

“We’re able to see an officer’s point of view, a judge’s point of view, prosecutors’ … so we’re able to bring that together and work together as a team to serve victims,” Ybarra said. “So that’s kind of the importance of this conference, bringing all of these people together.”

Lewis also said he finds it helpful that the conference brings together not just people from different backgrounds, but also people from a wide variety of locations — he even said he met a detective from Guam one year. Sometimes, getting to know people from other locations can help them establish connections and learn things from another perspective.

“Not only are we learning, but we’re able to network with other people that are in our service area,” Ybarra said. “They might be struggling with the same things we’re struggling with.”

In addition to networking with others in their fields, they’re also able to bring back accurate, up-to-date information to benefit coworkers at CPN.

“That’s a big reason I go,” Lewis said. “I have young officers who see me as a veteran, and they’re always asking me questions. I don’t want to be giving them the wrong information.”

The two will attend the conference in May, and the scholarship covers the fees for the conference as well as the stay.

“It’s just a good opportunity,” Ybarra said. “We’re able to take whatever we learn at the conference and bring it back and implement it into our programs.”

Ybarra has been working as an advocate for House of Hope for seven years. She was recently named the Victim Advocate for Pottawatomie County in 2023 and received a Citation of Recognition from the State of Oklahoma House of Representatives for her work with victims of domestic violence. Before working with House of Hope, she also completed internships with a drug and alcohol prevention program and with a domestic violence shelter in Lawton, Oklahoma.

Lewis has worked in law enforcement for about 28 years, 14 of those years with Citizen Potawatomi Nation. He is currently the evidence officer for CPN.

For more information about House of Hope, visit For more information on the Conference on Crimes Against Women, visit