Michele Minor Wolf, executive director at the Honesdale-based Victims’ Intervention Program (VIP) for the past 26 years, has announced she will be stepping down.
Wolf said she will be resigning as of June 1, 2023, to begin her new role as director of a non-profit addiction counseling and prevention agency.
Since her arrival at VIP in 1997, the non-profit agency has grown from a five-person staff in Honesdale, to 23 employees serving abuse victims in both Wayne and Pike Counties. VIP started to expand its services in Pike County in 2018.
“As years have gone by, especially the last handful, I’ve noticed such an intersection between survivors and substance use disorders. I’ve heard stories of the stigma faced by those with addiction and tried to incorporate assistance to them through VIP’s trauma counseling,” Wolf stated. “The time has come for me to embrace this new calling head-on.”
Michele Minor Wolf
During Wolf’s tenure, VIP has expanded from offering counseling services to survivors of domestic and sexual violence, to offer a variety of other services such as shelter services for survivors and their pets, rehousing services, Civil Legal Representation, court and hospital accompaniment, and service to victims of other crimes such as human trafficking, stalking, homicide, robbery, and identity theft.
Wolf has built resources to help survivors both escape their abuse and thrive as a result.
“It’s been very, very fulfilling and rewarding to work with victims and survivors,” said Wolf, noting she will continue to find ways to do so. “And I’m extremely grateful to have worked in Wayne County and with the community to better the lives of our residents. This community really is great!”
Of interest: We spent a day with victims advocates from northeast PA. Here’s what happened.
Fearless victims’ advocateWayne County Commissioners have regularly supported VIP, issuing proclamations whether they be Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October, or Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April. VIP staff were present for the latter on April 23. Seated from left are Ericka Thaxton, Michele Minor Wolf, Dave Mazzenga and Debbie Cosentino. In back are Commissioners Jocelyn Cramer, Brian Smith and James Shook.
Keith Williams serves as Housing Specialist at VIP in the Milford office finding safe homes for clients and their kids fleeing Domestic Violence. He first met Michele about 12 years ago when he was invited to join VIP’s board of directors. He served in that capacity until 2021 when he took his present staff position.
“I was impressed with her from the very first,” Williams said, noting her passion and leadership skills as well in the way she treats people. He said Wolf has been a great mentor to staff and both passionate and empathetic with VIP’s clients.
VIP’s work regularly intersects with the district attorney’s office. “Michele has been a strong advocate for victims in NEPA and throughout Pennsylvania,” A.G. Howell, Wayne County District Attorney, said. “Her strength, courage, and knowledge on behalf of victims will be sorely missed.”
Randi Bannon, Chief Program Officer at VIP, has worked for her the past 10 years. “Michele has been a mentor of mine. She has been a true leader, especially to me. She has left an indelible mark on the community, on the agency, on this movement and on me as a whole person.
“She is a fearless woman. She has overcome so much,” Bannon observed. “The work we do is hard; the community is not always accepting of the issues that we work directly with. She has always powered through in such a fearless way for the victims and survivors that we serve. That has always been her personal mission to make sure that the victims in our community are heard, that they have access to services. She has always shined a light on them.”
Wolf has accepted a position as executive director at The Center for Prevention & Counseling in Newton, NJ.
Wolf’s successor at VIP will be announced in the coming weeks.
Often speaking in public about victims’ rights, at a Wayne County Commissioner meeting in recent years where a proclamation was issued for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Wolf commented in part,
“As adults, we have to get very comfortable with the conversation so our children can be comfortable with the conversation. It has to be a whole social change,” Wolf said at a past Wayne County meeting recognizing Sexual Assault Awareness Month. “The community just has to change their ideas and beliefs and their attitudes about sexual assault.”
Wolf said part of the needed societal shift involves believing victims and not blaming them for the crime committed against them.
“The victim is never to blame for his or her assault. It’s the perpetrator and the blame needs to go to the person that’s committing the crime,” she said.
Regarding domestic violence, which saw a rise during the COVID-19 pandemic, Wolf commented: “For domestic violence a person does not need to be physically abused to receive services,” Wolf said. “We see domestic violence as the emotional abuse that can occur, the financial abuse, verbal abuse, sometimes there’s sexual abuse, and then, of course, the physical abuse. They can have just one of those or all of those experiences to receive services.”
VIP started in July 1988. Free, confidential services are offered by VIP 24/7 by calling 570-253-4401 or 570-296-HELP.
For more information about VIP, visit vipempowers.org, Facebook and Instagram.
This article originally appeared on Tri-County Independent: Northeast Pa. victims advocate moving on from VIP of Wayne/Pike