MAKING A DIFFERENCE: Tillotson educates, helps victims of abuse

Published 7:00 pm Monday, October 8, 2018

Every day, Anna Burnett Tillotson has the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life.

As program manager for Haven House’s shelter, she supervises the shelter’s staff, ensures someone will always be available at the shelter to assist women affected by domestic violence and cover the nursery for their children.

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“Everything they need to have,” she said.

“I’m the backup. If somebody’s out, I will drive a van and pickup somebody from school or take them to work, just whatever is needed.”

The Vicksburg native said the opportunity to work with Haven House “came to me.”

“Walter Frazier, my stepfather, called me and said they were looking for, at the time, an outreach coordinator, who goes into the court and is responsible for providing awareness and education.

“I submitted my resume to them, they called me and I interviewed, and I really felt in that interview that I was where I was supposed to be. The way things had been turning, it was all the stars just lined up for me to be there.”

During her interview, she met with Haven House director Georgia Grodowitz, the shelter coordinator at the time and Haven House’s financial manager.

“I was excited, because I enjoy being out in the community, and this is another opportunity to go out into the community and teach something that is really important to the community.”

When she applied for the position, Tillotson said, she was not familiar with domestic violence or Haven House.

“I had been selling insurance for seven years, but I had a degree in educational psychology,” she said.

“I had taken counseling classes for school, so I had a little bit of educational background, but over the last three-and-a-half years I have taken a lot of training to learn, and Georgia has been wonderful in passing along a lot of wisdom and experience to me.”

Working as outreach coordinator, Tillotson said she was surprised at some of the cases she saw, adding when she helps educate people about domestic violence, “We let them know that domestic violence knows no bounds. Nobody’s immune to it. There’s no particular class. “Sometimes when you see people that you know or who are like you, it really hits home, because I believe we all still have that little bit of notion that it can’t happen or things don’t happen to us, so seeing that does really bring that into perspective.

“In the last three-and-a-half years I’ve been there, I think we’ve really done a good job of going in and really educating and showing people what it is, because so many people don’t realize exactly what domestic violence is.”

Domestic violence, Tillotson said, is more than physical abuse, “And when we start hitting on the mental abuse and the verbal abuse, I think it becomes a lot more real for people to understand what a large problem it can be.

“People get surprised, because there are a lot of physical scars or wounds other people don’t see. Nobody sees verbal (scars), and when we start explaining how it affects somebody and how it changes that person and how it changes their self-esteem, then people really get a grasp on it and understand what’s going on.”

Every day is different

Serving as shelter manager, she said, is an interesting experience.

“I don’t even know what I’m going to walk into day to day. I can have grand plans of what I’m going to do, and then five minutes of walking into the door, they may not happen.

“There’s days that I’ve helped change light bulbs and helped clean ceiling fans, and then there’s days when you sit with somebody who’s scared to go back to work and you talk to them about all the things they need to be aware of just to make it normal for them to go back their jobs.

“Some of the people don’t have jobs when they came in and we get to share in their enjoyment and excitement when they get a job.”

The average stay at the shelter, Tillotson said, is 90 days, which is the time it takes women to learn how to plan for safety and learn healthy relationships so they don’t go back into that type of situation again.

“We try to provide them anything necessary to get back on their feet to live free of violence the rest of their life,” she said. “When they find an apartment and they’re ready to leave, several of us have cried when they left, because at some point they all have a piece of our heart. They become a little bit like family to us.

“We develop a bond; we get to see somebody absolutely evolve and change. We get to see somebody go from maybe no self-esteem and no job and no money to being proud of their accomplishments and to be able to realize what their complements are. There’s a big sense of pride when you see what we do actually work.”

The high point, she said, is knowing the work being done by Haven House is having an effect; “We’re not just there to be food clothing and shelter. That we are giving them so much more than their basic needs.”


Tillotson said she wants to improve the program at the shelter.

When she became shelter coordinator in 2016, she said, she made minor changes to the shelter’s handbook, staff and the way they work.

“I feel the changes we’ve made have absolutely elevated the program and made it so therapeutic so that someone who needs to be there wants to be. The idea of shelter is scary; they don’t know what they’re coming to. To make is somewhere where they are comfortable in to me is a huge accomplishment right now,” she said.

“I’m here for the long haul. I want to improve the program. I love it.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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