From Shepherd's inception in 1987, the nonprofit agency has made a meaningful difference in people's lives by:
- Creating community awareness about the problem of childhood sexual abuse
- Defining itself as an agency that provides individual and group therapy at the lowest possible cost
- Drawing on a pool of therapists who are distinguished by their training and experience in treating abuse and dedication to the clients served by Shepherd's
The insight of Sister Vera Gallagher
Shepherd's Counseling Services was created from the vision of a Good Shepherd sister, Dr. Vera Gallagher. Sister Vera spent 30 years as a principal for the Good Shepherd Schools for young women referred by the juvenile courts.
Sister Vera recognized that most of the youth she met had run away from sexual and/or physical abuse. Too young to provide for themselves, they often turned to life on the streets and came into conflict with the law.
Response overwhelming as word spreads
Sister Vera wrote her 1985 book, "Speaking Out, Fighting Back", which chronicled the experiences both she and Good Shepherd school staff nationwide had while working with adolescents who were sexually abused as children. In honestly portraying the challenges these girls endured because of their experience of abuse, she created a revolutionary book that broke the wall of secrecy throughout our communities and across the nation.
- The response was immediate and overwhelming
- She received hundreds of letters, phone calls and requests for therapy from adults who were sexually abused as children.
A licensed counselor, Sister Vera began providing group therapy for women. She was invited to give workshops throughout the U.S. and internationally. Her work with adult survivors led to another book, "Becoming Whole Again", a discussion guide for use in group therapy.
Needs grow, launching the nonprofit agency
By 1987, it was evident that the need for help was more than one person could handle. Shepherd's Counseling Services was formed, contracting with additional therapists and creating a Board of Directors. In 1993 the need to include services to male survivors was evident and Shepherd's hired its first male therapist to lead male therapy groups.
Sister Vera continued to see individual clients until 1996, and although she resigned from the directorship in 1993, continued to contribute:
- Devoting more time to writing
- As honored Founder by the Board of Directors
- As agency spokesperson
Struggle to survive; therapists stand firm
Sister Vera died in April of 2002 at the age of 86. The need for Shepherd's services never waned, but it was soon clear how much of the agency's funding depended on Sister Vera's passion and will to raise support. In 2003 the agency faltered as a recession drained social agencies.
The Board of Directors was faced with shutting the doors when three of Shepherd's therapists, inspired by the courage of their clients, stepped forward and vowed to continue with little or no pay, meeting on weekends to do planning and administrative work for nearly a year.
"Our desire to keep the agency afloat came from our deep respect for this work," recalls Janice Palm, now executive director of Shepherd's. "That was an incredibly intense time around here. We couldn't turn on our backs on our clients – we just could not."
Donors stepped in. Shepherd's hired a development director to stabilize funding, getting the agency to where it is today – financially sound and well managed.
"We are so oriented toward real, personal relationships," says Jill Armitage, Shepherd's current development director. "We have donors who have been supporting the agency for 20 years."
Sister Vera's vision lives on
Shepherd's has never wavered from its mission to offer scholarships to those who do not have the means needed for therapy. Thousands of individuals and families have been helped by the strength of Sister Vera's vision and commitment.
Like the clients it serves, the agency has shown remarkable resilience, always finding a way to get beyond the rough spots in continued dedication to the noble mission of its founder and visionary.