Center for Social Entrepreneurship

at Middlebury

Friday Speaker Series: Alisa Del Tufo

Written by CSE guest blogger Will Henriques ’16

The Middlebury Center for Social Entrepreneurship kicked off the Spring Speaker Series last Friday with a talk by Ashoka Fellow Alisa Del Tufo.

Del Tufo spoke about her life-long work with communities, families, and individuals affected by domestic violence and her experiences in pursuing change around domestic violence policies and perception in communities. She has founded three different nonprofits that focus on the issues surrounding domestic violence: Sanctuary for Families, CONNECT, and most recently, the Threshold Collaborative.

Del Tufo picked up the thread of her story – “a long, winding road, not at all a straight road,” she warned – with the creation of her first non-profit, Sanctuary for Families. It was an organization founded “to help women [in New York City] regardless of their income and provide non-residential services…[Sanctuary for Families offered] victims legal aid, services for their children, and a transitional housing program with job training.”

Looking to understand domestic violence and find new ways of having conversations about domestic violence, Del Tufo embarked on a project in the late 1980’s to collect oral histories from 45 battered mothers answering the question: What is it like to be a mother in an abusive relationship?

The collection of powerful stories that emerged from Del Tufo’s oral history project led to the creation of a policy task force in New York City. The task force produced a report, Behind Closed Doors, and the city later adopted every single recommendation put forth in the report.

Alisa stepped away from this experience with a strong sense that meaningful change around domestic violence could only be made if the change was embedded within the suffering communities, and not in services delivered to or for the community by an external party; the community must own the issue.

With these lessons in mind, Alisa left Sanctuary for Families and founded her second non-profit, CONNECT, in 1993. CONNECT was created as “a training institute with a mission to expand the number of professionals and community members who have a deep understanding of the dynamics and consequences of violence in the family.”

Alisa eventually moved away from CONNECT to found the Threshold Collaborative, which “takes her work at the intersection of domestic violence, child welfare, and community well-being to the national level.” The Threshold Collaborative “focuses on the root causes of these problems (poverty and trauma, sexism, and racism) by working with communities to develop local strategies to support safety for individuals/families and to build community assets.”1 According to the project’s website, the “Threshold Collaborative uses stories to promote personal, organizational and community change.”[1]

Alisa concluded her talk with some valuable advice for the assembled students poised and eager to foster social change:

“Once of the best skills I ever learned was how to write a grant proposal. I knew what my vision was, and I learned how to communicate it. So first, learn to communicate your vision. And second, do! Produce something, move forward with your project. Understand that you have a lot to give.”

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