For nearly three decades, Lauren Shaivitz has advocated for the rights of victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. So becoming the new executive director of CHANA — the Jewish communal program that provides crisis intervention, education and consultation to people who experience abuse and other forms of interpersonal trauma – was a natural fit.
“This has been my lifelong passion,” says Shaivitz. “To be able to continue the work I have devoted my career to in my own Jewish community is an honor. I take it very seriously and will continue to ensure that the vulnerable among us get the best possible services we can provide.”
A Baltimore native and mother of two, Shaivitz, 47, first discovered her interest in working with abuse victims during her freshman year at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y. She was invited to a training session at the local YMCA on how to be a rape crisis hotline volunteer.
“I signed up for an 80-hour training, and after completing that would carry a pager around with me every Sunday night at the same time each week to answer calls,” Shaivitz recalls. “Throughout my time in college, I stayed passionate about the field and decided I wanted my profession to focus around supporting victims of abuse.”
Shaivitz enrolled in a dual-degree program in law and social work at the University of Maryland. After graduating, she took a job at the House of Ruth Maryland’s Marjorie Cook Domestic Violence Legal Clinic. It was there that Shaivitz “refined my expertise as being a domestic violence attorney.”
Shaivitz went on to work at a handful of other organizations, including a private law firm where she provided pro bono domestic violence services to the community.
She also implemented domestic violence training sessions for medical personnel at Sinai Hospital’s Family Violence Program, as well as crisis intervention services at the Baltimore Child Abuse Center, where she worked as a forensic interviewer.
In 2012 Shaivitz joined CHANA, a program of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, as director of programs. In November, she succeeded the organization’s longtime executive director, Dr. Nancy Aiken.
“I see my new role as trying to build relationships with Jewish Baltimore and enhance our relationships with all the Jewish institutions so that places know they can turn to us when they have concerns,” says Shaivitz, a Lutherville resident and Chizuk Amuno congregant. “I want victims and survivors to not only know about our services, but to feel safe coming here. I hope to continue to maintain the trusting relationships we have already built in this community as a resource for abuse.”
Shaivitz says she feels “blessed” to have worked under Aiken, who will serve as CHANA’s first executive director emerita.
Marc B. Terrill, president of The Associated, describes Shaivitz as “the ideal candidate to lead the organization forward. She has dedicated her career to serving the needs of those suffering from abuse, while building strong, trusting relationships with clergy, health care and legal professionals and other community members.”
Since its inception in 1995, CHANA has evolved to respond not only to domestic violence but also to victims of sexual abuse and elder abuse.
“Our goal is to help people feel empowered and help those who have had their power stripped,” says Shaivitz. “Our hope is that people feel less shame in coming forward when they have something to say, that they realize these aren’t isolated events and they know they have a voice and there is a safe place for them to go.”
With 11 full-time employees, CHANA provides free services to anyone in the community in need, as well as prevention education work for people of all ages.
“We want to educate everyone in our community about what abuse looks like, how to recognize it, respond to it and understand the resources that are available,” says Shaivitz.
Shaivitz recognizes the “tight-knit” nature of Baltimore’s Jewish community, and says CHANA makes privacy a top priority.
“Confidentiality is of the utmost importance to us so people can feel safe and know when they step in the doors of CHANA, their information is held sacred,” she says. “Safety is one of our most important values and with every action we take we are monitoring the impact on someone’s safety. We also strongly value self-determination. We give people all the information, education, emotional and legal support they need and then we respect their decisions.
“None of us are immune to abuse,” Shaivitz says. “It doesn’t matter how successful or how smart you are, we are all susceptible to finding ourselves in a position where we can experience trauma. There is no shame that abuse occurs in our community, because it occurs in all communities. The shame would be if we didn’t respond and didn’t meet the needs of the vulnerable in our community.”
For information, visit chanabaltimore.org. CHANA’s crisis helpline is 410-234-0023.
Aliza Friedlander is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.