The longtime director of Yankton’s Domestic Violence Shelter will be moving on to a position at the state level at the end of this month.
After 12 years with River City Domestic Violence Center (RCDVC), Executive Director Desiree Johnson will be working with the South Dakota Network Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault, which helps domestic violence centers across the state and within tribal nations with their struggles against domestic violence.
“Every state has a coalition that brings together all the other organizations throughout the state,” Johnson told the Press & Dakotan. “It makes sure that all the (local) organizations that do direct services have good training, that there are good legislative practices in place and that there are good relationships and collaborations across the state with other disciplines.”
Johnson will be a consultant for the network, training the executive leadership, boards and executive directors of South Dakota’s domestic violence centers to support them in their mission.
“I will, largely, be working on training for things like how to comply with the federal mandates that we have with our victim service grants,” she said. “I will be helping to develop and establish multidisciplinary teams across the state, too, because ours, here in Yankton, has been pretty successful over the years.”
Johnson officially leaves RCDVC on Sept 25, but will stay on as a consultant until the transition to a new executive director is complete.
During her 12 years with RCDVC, Johnson has at some point done every job in the agency from the bottom to the top — experience she believes will transfer well to her new position.
“It’s not about us as professionals; it’s about the survivors and really learning what it is that they need,” she said. “(It’s about) learning from the experts — the people who have been doing this for 50 years — making mistakes and very humbly learning from those.”
Johnson said she feels like she knows all the struggles.
“It’s my hope that all the gifts that I’ve been given by the people, who have allowed me to learn from them, that I am able to give pieces of that back,” she said. “I love solving problems, I love innovative thinking, I love public speaking, I love dreaming. So all of these things just really line up with what this new position is.”
Johnson has also shepherded RCDVC through notable growth during her tenure.
“When I started with the agency in 2008, our budget was just over $100,000. I think right now it’s at $750,000,” she said. “We have tripled our team; we got this beautiful building and we formed all kinds of different support programs that were really meeting victims where they’re at.”
In addition to adding specific support programs for survivors of domestic violence, such as trauma-informed yoga and occupational therapy to help navigate life after trauma, RCDVC hosts events throughout the year to raise awareness in the community.
“In January, we do human trafficking awareness; April is Sexual Assault Awareness and it’s also Child Abuse Awareness Month; October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, so the team is gearing up for that right now,” Johnson said. “We just came off with ‘Walk a Mile in Their Shoes,’ and we’re going to be coming up on ‘Dancing with the Stars.’”
The group is also behind the “Angel Shots for Safety” program, which encourages local bar owners to take part in stopping sexual assault and domestic violence by adopting a code that customers, who feel they are in danger, can use to get help.
Johnson said she is grateful for the way the Yankton community has continuously supported RCDVC’s message over the years.
“The reason why I was able to stay resilient with this for 12 years is because of the community support, the way people in Yankton loved our mission,” she said. “We were able to make a lot of social change within our community over the last 12 years and really live by our philosophy of ‘We Believe.’ It was something that we spread throughout the entire community.”