Stacy Starzl Hansen warmly welcomed me to her office to talk with me about the Rivercity Domestic Violence Center (RDVC) and her role. Starzl Hansen, Executive Director, initially worked under Desiree Johnson as the Family Connections Coordinator, which works with families that need safe exchanges and supervised visitations. She moved into the Director of Program Operations position and recently moved into Desiree’s position as Executive Director.

Starzl Hansen has a history working with both children and nonprofits. She first worked 10 years in a nonprofit with children that needed a mentor in their life before graduating from the University of South Dakota with a BA in Psychology and a minor in Child and Adolescent Development with an emphasis on Child Trauma.

As Executive Director, she works with the grants they receive to make sure they are abiding by the grant requirements and the federal guidelines, ensuring that the victim’s needs are being served. She also maintains a constant connection to activity within the shelter and with the clients, continuously assessing their needs. She commented that 2020 was a challenging year for them but they found ways to keep needs met.

I asked her about their connection to the Yankton Women’s and Children’s Center. When the new facility was built in 2010, the Yankton Women’s and Children’s Center was renamed to Rivercity Domestic Violence Center and Rivercity Family Connections is their sister agency.

She explained her aspiration for working for children. “I believe my passion for nonprofit work started when I was young and started volunteering at the hospital in 7th grade and continued for three years.

I have always had a passion for helping individuals that may need a helping hand to find the resources to live their best life.”


She explained her role at the previous nonprofit that she worked for. “My role was to show these children that the life that they’re living right now is not the life they have to grow up and stay in.” They would introduce the youth, ages 7-17, to various outings and camps, giving them the opportunity to experience life and explore places. One venture with the children was a trip to Lewis & Clark Lake in Yankton and she recalled some children not realizing there was a lake in Yankton. This showed her that the children weren’t aware of what opportunities were in reach.

She had a long relationship with many of them. “These kids grew up with me. It was just amazing to see how they grew and what they decided to do.” As she attended USD, she saw some of her previous mentees and reconnected with some, now keeping in contact with them on Facebook.

Starzl Hansen instantly had a positive impression of the RDVC. “I just fell in love,” she smiled. She explained that the group works as a team, sharing the same goals and values. She complimented Desiree’s leadership, feeling lucky to have learned from her and hoping to follow in her footsteps in how she led the staff.

“The biggest thing is that we all have the same philosophy and the same values, and that’s to help the victims that come in and help them through their journey. No one judges the shoes that they’ve walked in and we just want to walk along side of them.”

The RDVC works with men and women who find themselves in situation of power and control that need assistance or guidance to get out of. These situations can involve emotional abuse, psychological abuse, financial abuse, physical abuse, and violence.

She shared some statistics with me. In 2020, they served a total of 310 male and female victims and there were 1,264 shelter nights. There were 6,685 duplicated victim services and 1,046 unduplicated services. The services continuously increase, especially in the past year with the additional stressors from the Covid pandemic. Nationally, services are about 40% higher since the Covid pandemic began.

The goal of the RDVC is to give the clients the tools and resources to become independent. This isn’t a quick process; they continue to work with the client until they are independent. Some clients use the services for a few days and some for much longer. She mentions that, on average, a person will leave a bad relationship approximately seven to eleven times before leaving completely. This often reflects on someone’s stay at the facility, some only staying a night or two and their stay lengthening with each returning visit.

Their assistance extends beyond shelter at a secure facility. They help the clients work toward the Thirty Days to Success program which helps them to gain their independence. They continue assistance after completion of that program, helping with financial independence, protection orders, accompany to court hearings and finding employment and housing. They have a team of individuals that help with the process including the Yankton Police Department, Sheriff’s Office, EMT’s, Department of Social Services and Emergency Room staff. This group meets monthly to discuss the best way to serve those in need. The RDVC works closely with Call to Freedom in Sioux Falls, a network that fights human trafficking, and works with a local anti-human trafficking group.

I talked with Starzl Hansen about how someone can get help. A 24-hour crisis hotline is available by calling (605) 665-1448. They can also

call the office at 665-4811 during their open hours, Monday – Friday 8:30 AM-5:00 PM. Each person who calls will be assigned an advocate to begin assisting immediately, helping the client with every step in the process. They do not offer advice but are there for support for what is needed at that time.

Though their range only extends to Yankton, Hutchinson, Bon Homme and a bit of Clay counties, anyone can call to get assistance on where to go for help. They offer assistance and shelter for those who need it, but someone doesn’t have to be in-shelter to receive help. She lists the services that they offer:

• Individual, legal, and medical advocacy, including accompaniment to court and to an exam with a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner.

• Provide emergency shelter, access to a 24/7 crisis line, and help create safety plans.

• Work closely to help them apply for financial assistance, budget planning, employment, and housing.

• Help survivors by doing outreach to surrounding communities to help them have access to their agency (brochures, social media, billboards, education through community groups).

• Provide a great referral system to other agencies and companies in our area, as well as provide trauma informed yoga and support group.

• Survivors use their sister agency for safe exchanges or supervised visitation, helping create a safe way for the children to connect with their family and build a strong relationship with them.

Starzl Hansen welcomes volunteers to assist them in one of their various operations: Operation Squeaky Clean helps assist with cleaning, Operation Moving Forward helps a client with the moving process, Operation Green Thumb assists with landscaping outside, Operation Clothed in Dignity helps organize the selection of apparel or volunteers can assist with babysitting during the weekly support group.

Volunteers can sign up through the United Way or can call the facility at 665-4811. Volunteers must assure confidentiality of the information and depending on which program they assist with, may have to complete a background check.

I asked Starzl Hansen about the items that can be donated. Items always welcome are cleaning supplies, laundry detergent and hygiene products. They accept closing on a need by basis and will post a notice on Facebook when they are needed.

She explains the most rewarding aspect. “Facilitating the support group and watching these women and how far they have come. I don’t even have words for it. It’s just that awe inspiring feeling.”

She foresees continued growth in their future, explaining that the phone calls and their services are growing every day. She strives to get their name out and educate the public so more people can get help if needed. A primary goal is to be more accessible to those not able to reach out, finding ways for clients to get in contact with them.

Starzl Hansen loves watching her staff interact with the clients and desires to provide them more opportunity to grow with additional trainings, explaining there is a wide variety of training available. She would love to see a larger facility in the extended future.

Her biggest belief is walking alongside those who need assistance, not making decisions for them.

She smiles warmly, “When you work with a survivor, you gain a relationship with them. To watch them on their journey to healing is amazing. I am always in awe of what they go through and how they come out on the other end. We don’t ever judge anyone that’s coming in here. We’re just here to help them get through the process and work through healing and on that journey."