By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

An advocate for victims, and for change

Marcus Larson/News-RegisterSandy Haw is passionate about her work as a family advocate at Henderson House, where she has worked for 13 years.
Marcus Larson/News-Register
Sandy Haw is passionate about her work as a family advocate at Henderson House, where she has worked for 13 years.
Haw’s paintings are filled with color. Some reflect her interest in other cultures and people, as well.
Haw’s paintings are filled with color. Some reflect her interest in other cultures and people, as well.

Sandy Haw loves her job so much, she wishes it no longer existed.

Haw is a family advocate at Henderson House and manager of the domestic violence program’s shelter.

During her 13 years with the program, she has met hundreds of people who’ve been victimized by those who should love them most. Violence keeps occurring and victims keep coming.

“My dream, my fantasy, is that there will someday be no need for what we do,” Haw said. “I would love to see my job be eliminated because it’s not needed.”

Unfortunately, she said, “That’s not reality.” In fact, in the last few years of mounting economic worries, she said she’s seen an increase in the number of people seeking help from Henderson House.

More and more homeless women and children are turning up, she said, and many of those cases are rooted in domestic violence. “They’ve left their home out of necessity, and now they’re trying to survive any way they can,” she said.

Some things are getting better. Haw is heartened by Yamhill County’s interagency efforts to deal with domestic violence, for instance.

“We have an awesome domestic violence response team,” she said. “We’re looking at patterns and identifying the primary aggressors.”

But perpetrators of violence still aren’t being held accountable in many cases, she said, and children’s welfare doesn’t receive the attention it should.

And even today, society is more accepting of domestic violence, tacitly if not overtly, than it should be. “What it will take to change things is for men to step up and tell other men it’s not right,” she said.

Haw is eager to see that change, and passionate about what she’s doing in the meantime to help victims.

Her enthusiasm, obvious to anyone who talks with her for a few moments, was recognized last year the Oregon Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence training event. She received the appropriately named Passion Award.

Haw first entered the helping field when she joined the Yamhill County district attorney’s victim assistance program in the late 1990s. A good friend, Jean, was a victim assistance volunteer, and she suggested sign on as well.

“I wasn’t sure I could advocate for others, but I found that I could,” Haw said. “I was good at it.”

She had hesitated because she had been victimized herself more than a decade earlier. While working an overnight shift at a convenience store, she had been brutally assaulted by a stranger.

“I fell apart for years,” she said. But she also learned a lot about herself and about the world in the years since her attack, and turned what she’d learned into a positive outlook.

She recalled two important moments in her healing:

She saw her attacker again and faced him, rather than hiding. Years later, she encountered officers who had responded to her 911 call, and they reaffirmed the decisions she had made under fire.

“You can take any adversity and turn it around, as long as you learn from it,” Haw said. “I came out of it able to help others.”

As a family advocate at Henderson House, Haw runs a support group for victims of domestic violence. It’s one of several that are offered.

In addition to domestic violence support programs conducted in English and Spanish, there are ones that focus specifically on sexual assault, teach teens about healthy relationships and address children’s issues.

All the programs are education-based, Haw said. Hers focuses on teaching women to recognize abuse, understand how it affects them and how they respond, and learn to put it behind them and move on with their lives.

“There are so many different layers in domestic violence,” she said. “Some of the clients also are dealing with addiction issues, or they come from families in which there was also violence. They need to learn to grow beyond that and move on with their lives.”

She’s excited that Henderson House soon will invest in new curriculum, based on the latest research and understanding, for its support groups. She said she’s looking forward to being able to give the clients more tools for dealing with the trauma they’ve experienced.

In addition to her work at the Henderson House office, Haw spends 10 hours a week at the Yamhill County office of the state Department of Human Services. As the “co-located advocate” — a position that exists in every county in Oregon — she is available on-site to help people referred by other DHS workers.

She recently added shelter manager to her list of duties. As such, she oversees the cases of all the women and children who take refuge at Henderson House and manages the facility, as well.

Clients typically stay in the Henderson House shelter for four to six weeks. Haw said she is working to extend the length of their stays, in order to give them enough time to figure out how to become self-sufficient.

In addition, Henderson House Director Rhonda Fabreth is seeking a grant to provide transitional housing, so clients can move out of the shelter but still have support while putting together permanent plans. “We don’t want them to feel going back is the only option,” Haw said.

Haw also is working on improving the climate of the shelter. She eliminated the long list of rules and regulations, replacing it with a collection of a few “rights and responsibilities” to encourage clients to live together in harmony.

Recently, she said, domestic violence advocates have realized that shelter rules can feel, to traumatized clients, much like the laws laid down by their abusers. Clients have a much easier time accepting a guideline that says, “You’re responsible for keeping the shelter safe and secure,” rather than a rule that commands, “Never reveal the location of the shelter.”

“It may not sound that much different, but language is important,” Haw said. “I’m big on language.”

Since she made the switch to “rights and responsibilities,” she said, the climate in the shelter is much more relaxed. Clients are friendly with each other and willing to discuss the small problems that arise.

Often, she said, women who arrive at Henderson House have lost track of themselves. They’ve been trying to mold themselves into the perfect being their abuser demanded, and suppressed what they’ve wanted and needed.

“They’ve been told they’re stupid or ugly or that he’s the best thing that ever happened to them,” she said.

But when they’ve escaped that situation, they have a chance to look at themselves and decide what they like and what they can change.

“They have to learn to believe in themselves as they reinvent themselves,” she said.  “We’re focusing on empowerment.”

Haw said she hopes every client leaves Henderson House feeling supported and empowered, so they can move on with their lives. But she’s not always sure what happens to them after they say good-bye.

Some, though, contact Henderson House months or years later to say thank you and recount their positive changes. That delights Haw.

She’s happy for the women and for their children, as well. “Their kids will be raised in a healthy environment” without having to endure seeing their mother abused or being abused themselves, she said.

Starla Pointer, who is convinced everyone has an interesting story to tell, has been writing the weekly “Stopping By” column since 1996. She’s always looking for suggestions. Contact her at 503-687-1263 or


Being a family advocate at Henderson House is serious, but Sandy Haw finds plenty of enjoyable moments both on the job and after hours.

She’s representing Henderson House in the Biggest Turkey Contest, for instance. She and the other candidates — Dawn Vyette Witt of Homeward Bound Pets, Dr. Derek Rains representing the Willamette Valley Cancer Foundation and Jeff Yates of the See Ya Later Foundation — will be featured at 6 p.m. Friday, July 12, in the lip sync competition that winds up the annual benefit event.

In addition, Haw teaches a belly dancing class at Henderson House. As they practice the graceful moves, she said, she tells participants about the history of the dance, which started out as a way for women to communicate, rather than as a way to titillate men.

Her enjoyment of belly dancing is related to her overriding interest in other peoples and cultures. She is especially fascinated by the nomadic peoples of Mongolia. She would love to visit that country one day, and dreams of someday living in a yurt.

She currently lives in McMinnville with her cat, Sushi. Part of her home is devoted to an art studio,

She used to aim for strict realism in her paintings, she said. But then she concluded that she loves “kid art” and decided to “unlearn” many of the rules. Her resulting paintings are more playful.

“I tinker and have fun. I like lots of color,” she said.

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