As we look forward to bringing in another list of remarkable Legacy Society inductees, we’re proud to introduce an inductee from the inaugural list – Cathy Adams, executive vice president and chief operations officer at Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta (FHLBank of Atlanta). Cathy has given her time and energy to the Partnership Against Domestic Violence (PADV) for more than 15 years, serving in a number of leadership roles. We are honored to have her join the Legacy Society. We spoke with Cathy about her work with PADV, including the ongoing relationship that FHLBank of Atlanta has with PADV. Here’s what she had to say:
How did you come to be involved with PADV?
I became involved with PADV about 15 years ago through Charlotte McRanie, who was the chairman of the PADV board and a close colleague of mine at FHLBank of Atlanta. The Bank has always been devoted to the PADV. A lot of people don’t know this, but PADV’s main office space used to be at FHLBank of Atlanta, which is indicative of our commitment to the organization. At the time, I was the human resources director at the Bank, and Charlotte would talk to me a great deal about hiring decisions for PADV.
In addition to business matters, Charlotte would often talk to me about the spirit of PADV. I learned about the challenges and what the organization was accomplishing. Domestic violence is a crime, and I didn’t fully believe or comprehend that at first. I thought we would help women find courage, and that’s part of it, but it’s also about the sacredness of home. Home should be a safe place. When you don’t have that, it comes before everything else.
Initially, I got involved with PADV because my corporation was involved. It was only after I got involved that I had a pretty significant transformation. In 2000, Charlotte McRanie transitioned off of PADV’s board and asked me to trade positions with her as a member.
Why did the issues become important to you?
I was very inexperienced being on the board of a nonprofit organization, so I went to every fundraising event and gathering PADV offered. I also visited the two shelters. I’ve heard many people mention that they cried when seeing the new Gwinnett Shelter because they were in awe of its beauty. I remember pulling into the driveway of the old Gwinnett Shelter and crying because it was so pitifully sad.
That was my moment of clarity, and I thought to myself, “We can do better than this.” I desperately wanted to create a safe alternative for these women and children. In that moment, something switched in my head and in my heart, and I realized the seriousness of this issue and the importance of the work.
There’s such a huge legacy for how the new Gwinnett Shelter came to life. It took years and years, and I’m proud to have been a part of the early work to transform that sad shelter into something magnificent.
Were there any major movements that happened during your time as PADV board chair?
During my time on the board, we were in the middle of the worst recession that many of us have ever known. At PADV, the demand for our services was going up and our ability to supply those services consistently was extremely challenging. When families are depressed and unemployment is high, the pressure exacerbates a lot of the factors that contribute to violence.
Part of our challenge as a board was that we had grown rapidly, and we were doing very programmatic things which were helpful, but we didn’t have as much experiential knowledge. As board chair, I established a governance board committee to help us do our jobs in the most efficient way. This reconnected the board to the people we were serving. I also added “a mission moment” to start board meetings with someone’s story, a picture or something to reconnect our meeting to the mission and remind us of the real reasons we were there.
Another important thing that happened during my time as board chair was that we changed PADV’s mission statement. Instead of saying domestic violence, we changed the words to intimate partner violence – because this happens in all communities at all levels. We also changed the statement to emphasize that domestic violence is criminal act. Previously, we had not come out using that kind of strong language. Our revised mission statement is something I’m proud of.
Current Mission Statement: “PADV works to end the crime of intimate partner violence and empower its survivors.”
How are you involved in the organization today?
What I do today is focused on making sure FHLBank of Atlanta continues to support PADV in every way. The Bank often provides space for committee meetings and night and weekend volunteer trainings. It’s a big deal to us, and it’s a contribution on behalf of the Bank. We also do an enormous amount of print work for the organization in terms of advertising, newsletters, event invitations, brochures, etc. And now, we have Sharon Cook on the board of PADV, and she has the full support of FHLBank Atlanta. Anything that the Bank can do to help her, we will.
People who have worked closely with PADV say that their experiences with the organization resonate with them in other areas of life. Has your work with PADV impacted aspects of your everyday life and/or work environment?
There used to be a time where if people didn’t come to work, they got fired. After working closely with PADV, I asked that we add a domestic violence policy to our employee handbook to provide a level of services and understanding, because we don’t want to penalize someone who’s a victim. The employer has a responsibility to become a part of the solution, not add to the problem.
My work with PADV has helped me be very careful to not form conclusions based on superficial indicators. There’s almost always an important story, and we have to take time to listen and be open. My experience at PADV has helped me to live up to my aspiration of always being patient and willing to lend an ear. If there’s a kinder, gentler, more patient Cathy, that’s who I want to be, and PADV has helped me get there.
What are some things you feel are important to growing and maintaining the legacy of PADV?
There’s not a week that goes by that I don’t hear a news story about domestic violence. I believe PADV has to maintain a strong presence and get the word out to our community. People have to connect the dots. Domestic violence is a pervasive mix of psychological and physical abuse, and we have to pay attention.