Powerful Women: Let's Talk – 79: Tara Aday
Tara Aday, Director of Innovation and Advocacy for Safe Haven Ministries, is Jennifer's guest on this edition of Powerful Women: Let's Talk
Tara Aday is the Director of Innovation and Advocacy for Safe Haven Ministries. She has launched numerous training and education initiatives focused on empowering people and systems to reduce violence in their communities. Tara is a relational leader that believes in the collective power of community to solve complex issues and drive change.
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Jennifer Moss: Hello, everyone, time for Powerful Women, Let’s Talk! Thanks so much for joining us today. I’m Jennifer Moss and it's a pleasure to bring you today's powerful woman, Tara Aday. Tara is the director of Innovation and Advocacy at Safe Haven Ministries. She's also the co-chair of the Domestic Violence Community Coordinated Response Team. Tara is guided by 12 years of experience across a wide array of roles in the domestic and sexual violence field. She has worked locally in nonprofits, in higher education, and at the national level to create lasting change to prevent violence and enhance system response to domestic and sexual violence. Tara is a relational leader that believes in the collective power of community to solve complex issues and even drive change. So glad to welcome you here today Tara Aday to Powerful Women, Let's Talk.
Tara Aday: Thanks, Jennifer.
Jennifer Moss: Yeah. So, you know, a little bit more about you Tara before we dive in, under your leadership as the director of Innovation and Advocacy, Safe Haven Ministries has launched numerous training and education initiatives basically focused on empowering people and systems to reduce violence in their communities, and recently in your role as the co-chair of the Domestic Violence Community Coordinated Response Team, you led Kent County's first domestic violence homicide review which is a tool basically to improve system response to domestic violence. So again, Tara, we thank you for joining us. You know, we see powerful women in so many areas in our community and nationally and you are making quite a dramatic change in the areas of advocacy and preventing violence both domestic and sexual violence against women. This is incredible and very important work and I imagine it's quite the journey. Albeit, probably sometimes a difficult one at times, tell us a bit more about the work that you're doing.
Tara Aday: Yeah, thank you. You know, it's hard work, but it's really rewarding work. I'll be honest, it wasn't what I thought I was going to do. You know what I want when I first started going to school but, I think what pulled me in and really grounds me in this work is the stories of folks that I've had the honor to walk alongside as they try to leave abusive relationships and then community members that are just working so hard to ensure that they can live in a healthy community, and so a lot of the work that I do is helping to bring people together to look at you know why is our community so impacted by violence? We are talking about it a bit more as a community now and I think it's you know because it's been in the media a lot lately but, it's asking those tough questions of like how did we get here? And what can we do to truly make a sustainable change because we can't keep going at the rate that we're going because people are losing their lives.
Jennifer Moss: And it's something that a lot of people don't want to talk about. Right? I mean, that's been one of the hurdles. Yeah?
Tara Aday: Yeah. I think when I was growing up, when I was going, to school, this wasn't a topic that people talked about. When I first started my career at Safe Haven, a lot of what I was doing was going into classrooms and talking to middle schoolers and high schoolers about what is a healthy relationship and what does a healthy relationship look like, and to be frank, those were not conversations that were happening in my community and my school and I think that became a really big why, you know, I first stepped foot at Safe Haven as a volunteer thinking, to be honest, I didn't know much about Grand Rapids, I googled places to volunteer and Safe Haven popped up, then I started folding laundry and making meals with residential clients and it really pulled me in because I got me thinking like why? Why wasn't this apart of my life and why wasn't this a part of something that people talked about? And it really.
Jennifer Moss: Why didn’t you know about it?
Tara Aday: Yeah, like why didn't I know about it? Why is it so hard to talk about it? And is there a way to go about doing this work where it's going to be hard to discuss, it’s going to be hard to name because it means looking within our own lives and acknowledging that there's a lot of hurt and pain but, how can we do that in a way that is honoring to survivors and still creates accountability that we've got to do better as a community?
Jennifer Moss: I don't know if you have stats off the top of your head but, you work at Safe Haven Ministries. Tell us what Safe Haven really does, for those who don't know and then maybe some stats of how bad the violence can be in our community that we people are just not aware of.
Tara Aday: Yes, Safe Haven is a comprehensive domestic violence and human trafficking organization. We shelter survivors that are leaving and that are in dangerous relationships and situations but, we also offer services like support groups, court advocacy, legal advocacy and a lot of the work that I do with my team is around preventing violence, disrupting you know, systems that make it easy for abusers to get away with their violence and that's a lot of the work that I also do with the Kent County Domestic Violence Community Coordinated response team and when we talk about the prevalence of violence in our community the statistics are alarming, one in four women and one in nine men will experience some form of domestic violence at least once in their lifetime and like let that sink in for a moment.
Jennifer Moss: One in four for women and one in nine for men.
Tara Aday: Yeah.
Jennifer Moss: And lot of people don't even put men in that category.
Tara Aday: Right, and I think that's part of our work at Safe Haven is to really look at how far-reaching this is. We know that one in three adolescents will experience abuse in their own dating relationships before they graduate high school. This, you know, issue disproportionately impacts the LGBTQ community, it disproportionately impacts communities of color. We don't have a lot of rich data for that because we don't often pay attention, but, we know that the numbers and the experiences are devastating.
Jennifer Moss: And you are calling attention to that and recently as mentioned, you did lead Kent County's first domestic homicide review. This is a big deal, an important tool against domestic violence and as we look at it further and try to prevent it. Right? I mean this homicide review, tell me about that.
Tara Aday: Yeah, I think you often, you know, talk about women, that inspire you and for me it is Katie Johnson, the mother of Dylan who she lost her son to domestic violence. I’m sorry, I misspoke on her name, Katie Hall she goes by and you know, she came to us and she said something's got to be done right, we can't just let this pass by and not learn from it and so the bravery that she had even in the midst of her grief to come forward and say we've got to do something different and so a group of us came together through the CCRT and engaged in this review process and really found four key recommendations a tool for this community, hopefully to listen, and pay attention to, and learn from so that Dylan's death doesn't happen for nothing.
Jennifer Moss: Absolutely and that's great work that you all are doing and every step counts and you're making great headway there. So, congratulations on that, I know it's difficult and it's a hard subject matter but, you're making strides and that's a good thing.
Tara Aday: Yeah.
Jennifer Moss: And for folks in the community to know about that. Again, your work is very critical, I’ve talked to so many women in Powerful Women, Let's Talk we look at what women do but, also how they got there. So, as we talk about powerful women, have there been any barriers that perhaps you encountered along your journey along the way before, you know, making those strides? Have you encounter that?
Tara Aday: You know, I started my career really young and so sometimes the greatest barriers were I think allowing myself to get in my own way. You know, when I started leading at Safe Haven, you know, I was supervising a team of really strong leaders. Really strong, you know, advocates who had more experience than I had time on this earth and I think as a woman, you can sometimes get in your head and think, you know, I'm not good enough, I'm not qualified enough to be in this,
Jennifer Moss: We can be our own barrier.
Tara Aday: We can, and I think a shift for me happened when I was able to really acknowledge it like leading, isn't this I'm up in front like in charge all of the things and that it's looking, you know, to the folks all around you and being able to see collectively as a team. That's where the work gets done and particularly this work, the folks behind the scenes are often the ones, you know, making all the change. They're the ones that sit with clients every single day and hear their stories and call, and, advocate, and just keep doing it day in and day out and so for me it was like I didn't have to know all the answers, I didn't have to have all the expertise because I could rely on the amazing team and colleagues and mentors in this work, in this field to also help me lead, and so I think recognizing that and acknowledging that was just huge for me.
Jennifer Moss: Yeah, move that little barrier out of the way yourself. Yeah. You got to do that and look at it differently. You know, and again on this road and our journey in life, you know, we want to move forward. A lot of us women say it took a while to get there facing those obstacles and challenges barriers and the like but, one of the things too, like you talked about yourself as being a barrier, what did it take for you to find your voice? You know, to be able to stand and say you are comfortable in your own skin.
Tara Aday: Yeah, I think I'm still discovering that quite honest but, I think for me this was a huge season for me like coming out of a pandemic, coming out of the time when we as a community, were just so isolated and separated and being able to have the honor to do this homicide review was huge, it was really hard work, but, it kind of is affirming that there’s meaning, there's purpose in that and I have the ability to impact change in my community and that self-critic that inner critic, it's okay to turn the volume down and it's OK to say like “I'm doing really good work,” or “my community is doing really good work,” we have enough.
Jennifer Moss: A positive affirmation. It's like yes, you know what, we're making a change here, we're doing something good.
Tara Aday: Yeah.
Jennifer Moss: It's okay. It's not braggadocio, it's not any of that, it is a good thing. So tell me which as you work with people, what are some of the leadership traits that you kind of rely on or that you look to see in people because you do work in teams? You said, you know, you do all have different jobs. You're working in different segments, advocating for those who are in need so, what are some of the traits that you look for?
Tara Aday: I think a willingness to be curious and to listen, I think the folks that we sat around the table with in the community have so many different life experiences, so many different viewpoints and ideas around like what things should look like and how you should go about creating that change and so the strong leaders that I see are often those that are willing to sit and listen first to hear and to realize that even if we have these drastically different ideas or philosophies that if we're willing to just authentically, look at the person across from us as also another human trying to do this really tough work that often there can be some common ground found and it's not in a way to kind of superficially silver line, things like everything's going to be okay, we're in this together but, I think it's that authentic realization that, you know, to be a good leader means to acknowledge the human in all of us.
Jennifer Moss: That was perfect.
Tara Aday: Yeah, exactly.
Jennifer Moss: You have a political science and journalism degree and a master's in public education. What led you? You knew that was coming. What led you to do the work that you do?
Tara Aday: Yeah. So, my first job out of college was as a reporter spoiler alert. I am not meant to be a sports reporter. It was not in me, that was not my thing but, working in a newsroom with the majority men interviewing sports coaches, which is also predominantly men and experiencing just a lot of really uncomfortable and just experiences and times when I would even try to advocate for that change with my colleagues like I remember one moment in particular where this colleague was making fun of the way that a coach talked and I remember like going to him and saying like that's not OK like, I didn't have the language at the time, but it was a microaggression and where I worked wasn't supportive of that you know, they kind of just said like, you know, keep the peace with him. It's not really something that we're going to do anything about. I think that was like the very start of me realizing that I went into journalism because I wanted to create change.
Jennifer Moss: Yeah.
Tara Aday: I wanted to be a voice to say like look at what's happening here, shine light on it, bring awareness to it and I think for me it was just the slight pivot that journalism gave me all the skills, it gave me the communication skills, it gave me the ability to do deep research, you know, but, sports reporting wasn't going to get me to that goal. It built some resilience in me. It taught me that, you know, you're going to get people that say no, but, make that part of your foundation to be even a stronger advocate.
Jennifer Moss: It gave you all the fundamentals you need basically to do what you are doing today because it has a lot of those components are in there just in a different, you know, schematic thing yeah, when you look at it, it's like okay of could apply this, I can apply that but, you're doing different work.
Tara Aday: Yeah.
Jennifer Moss: So, that's awesome. Let's talk about the personal side. What do you like to do to relax, maybe have fun with family and friends. I think I read that you like to cook?
Tara Aday: I love to cook. I cook, I can sometimes be a bit awkward in social settings. If you listen to this and know me, they'll probably agree but, food for me can be a way of telling stories and learning about people, learning about who they are for me. It's so exciting to make a meal and talk about it and share that meal with people. So I am always you know, I'm always up for trying something new. I'm a vegan so, I'm always I collecting cookbooks and so folks will often say like, why do you have all these meat cookbooks and dairy cookbooks? Because I like to take them and think like how can make them vegan?
Jennifer Moss: If you want to make that change. Look at you. You’re making all the change.
Tara Aday: Yeah.
Jennifer Moss: Okay. My favorite question of all time, every time I talk to somebody is like what makes you laugh? What are you finding joy in?
Tara Aday: Yeah. For me right now it is my partner and I are fostering dogs for the Kent County Animal Shelter. We started doing that in the middle of the pandemic and dogs are like, I wasn't a dog person until I started fostering, but they don't judge you, they're goofy, they make you laugh, they get you outdoors. You know, this morning I looked outside and my partner was out there with an umbrella walking around over our foster dog Muffin so that she wouldn’t get wet going to the bathroom.
Jennifer Moss: Wow.
Tara Aday: So that made me laugh this morning but, I think it's like reminding myself that, you know, domestic violence, sexual violence work is really heavy and it's really hard and if I want to sustain myself in this work, I have to have those other things that bring me joy in sometimes the most simple and purest ways and laughing at yourself, as you know, trying to get this sweater vest on a dog for a photo to get them adopted like that makes me laugh. That brings me joy.
Jennifer Moss: And I find it doesn't matter how big or small it is, if you can laugh, especially when you have that gut wrenching laugh. It is just like really good for the soul.
Tara Aday: Yeah.
Jennifer Moss: I mean that they say that, but I think it's really true.
Tara Aday: Yeah, it is.
Jennifer Moss: It just does something for you. So, you know, we've got a lot happening in this world that we live in today and people often looking for that encouragement that we're encouraging word, one little thing. Do you have by chance any motto, any encouraging words that you may use for yourself or for others as you advocate for those folks?
Tara Aday: Yes, I think one of the things for me lately has been to slow down, to listen, to observe, and it's okay to take a beat before you have to know the answer and so that's been huge for me.
Jennifer Moss: Awesome, awesome. Tara Aday, thank you so much for joining us today. I really enjoyed this conversation. Good luck in all the work that you're doing. You're doing some marvelous things that are a wonderful help for our community. So, we really do appreciate you. So nice to chat with you and thank you too for joining us for yet another edition of Powerful Women, Let's Talk. I'm Jennifer Moss, do enjoy your day.
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