Jessica McNear started at True North as a hotline coordinator before taking on the titles of domestic violence victim advocate and volunteer coordinator. Now, she is the training and volunteer coordinator of True North, which supports those affected by domestic and sexual violence. According to True North’s website, the shelter has been around since the 1970s to provide victims shelter and transitional support.
McNear has worked at True North for six years, and the majority of her job focuses on client services and training. She ensures that all volunteers are prepared to hear traumatic stories and respond in a compassionate way. Volunteers go through five days of training, which includes shadowing the role they are interested in. Elizabeth Herrera Eichenberger, executive director at True North, says McNear has had a tremendous impact. “We love having Jessica on the team,” Herrera Eichenberger says. “She’s making sure that we are keeping up with best practices and that volunteers are engaged, properly trained and always looking at what’s new and relevant to the work we do.”
How did you get involved with True North?
I had previously worked for the state of Missouri Department of Social Services as a youth specialist, and a past outreach advocate came and talked to my group about the mission of the agency. I immediately knew I needed to be a part of True North. I was really blessed that (True North’s) former Executive Director Barbara Hodges brought me in, had me interview and offered me the position. It totally changed the trajectory of my life. It wasn’t until I was in the domestic violence advocate role that I realized that I had been in an abusive relationship for a long time. It’s been interesting that this is where I ended up and then reflecting on what an impact domestic violence has had on my own life.
How has your outlook on life changed since working here?
I have the privilege to work exclusively with people who want change in our community, and that’s really powerful, especially in the world that we live in. My view on the world has changed in that there are still really good people and really phenomenal people who go to the ends of the earth to help people that they don’t even know. Some have been impacted by violence, and that’s their paying it forward to kind of stand in solidarity with victims and survivors.
How do you support volunteers who deal with difficult situations?
Lots of conversation. Lots of follow up. I always have an open-door policy where they can come in and talk any time. We have some volunteers who have been impacted one way or another by trauma. Some of them will come and talk with our counselors because they know they’ve experienced that. They’re wanting to empower others; they just might not realize how triggering it might be even if it’s 10 years later.
What has this role taught you?
I feel like things happen every day that just reaffirm why I’m here. I think that that’s been really helpful and just kind of a reinforcement of “this is where I’m supposed to be” and where I think I held a lot of resentment toward my ex for all of that. I came to the realization of this wouldn’t be my life had I not experienced this stuff, and while it was terrible, you can take it and turn it into something really great and giving back to the community. I think one of the other really great things about being in this role is being able to share it with my daughters and hopefully put them on a trajectory that is different than what mine was.
What is a favorite True North story?
We actually had a guy who applied for an overnight residential victim advocate. He was fresh out of college, and it was like, “That’s cool, but why do you want to work at a women’s shelter overnight?” He said, “I used to live (at True North) with my mom as a kid, and this was the turning point in my life.”