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Wahl leads Southwest Crisis Center forward

Julie buntjer/Daily Globe Sara Wahl is nearing the end of her first month as director of the Southwest Crisis Center in Worthington. She oversees five advocates in Nobles, Rock, Pipestone, Cottonwood and Jackson counties.

WORTHINGTON -- Nearly a month into her new role as director of the Southwest Crisis Center in Worthington, Sara Wahl is drawing from her experiences in women's studies to ensure that victims of domestic violence have the support they need.

Wahl, a native of Springfield, took the helm on Nov. 16 and oversees five full-time advocates working in Nobles, Rock, Pipestone, Cottonwood and Jackson counties. She also works with a 13-member board of directors.

The Southwest Crisis Center provides immediate crisis help to women who are victims of domestic violence and social abuse. The center maintains a 24-hour crisis line in each of the five counties it serves, and advocates meet with victims in those crisis situations.

"We can go to the victims, we can have them come here to our office or we can go to an intermediary place," said Wahl, adding that advocates work closely with law enforcement, and often collaborate with schools and churches to provide services to victims.

"We are here to support mostly women and their children. We can take them through the court system, help them get orders for protection or harassment restraining orders," Wahl said. Victims can also be taken to safe houses in their communities or nearby.

Wahl joins the Southwest Crisis Center after a four-year stint as the director of the Women's Center and Women's Programs at Western Carolina University. She earned her undergraduate degree from Southwest Minnesota State University (SMSU) and her graduate degree in women and ethnic studies from Minnesota State University-Mankato.

"I was always interested in basic human rights -- rights to safety and health and issues like that," Wahl said.

It was an SMSU professor who encouraged her to pursue a degree in women's studies while she was in her freshman year of college.

By the time Wahl graduated from SMSU, she had already started a Students Advocating Gender Equality group on campus, which hosted roundtable discussions by bringing in local experts to speak on topics ranging from sexual violence and rape to healthy relationships, prevention and education. Wahl continued with that focus while in grad school, when she worked at a women's center in Mankato.

"I loved generating ideas and empowering students to become their own person," she said of the work she did with college students.

Now that she's in a community setting, serving a diverse population and broader age group, Wahl said she will continue to work on helping women be the best they can be.

"I want each advocate in each of my counties to feel empowered, to feel supported by me and to feel like they have everything to be successful," she said. "That same philosophy can transfer to their clients. Yes, they come in as a victim, but we're hoping that they will move away from that stage and become a survivor."

Though she's still settling into her new role and evaluating the success of the program, Wahl said she would like to reach out and do more awareness programming in the communities served by the Southwest Crisis Center. She also hopes to collaborate more with other established agencies.

"We want people to know that we're here -- that we're a resource," she said. "It has to be very difficult to come to the crisis center and walk through our doors. We understand that. It is very hard for these women to come in and say they've had enough."

As director, Wahl said her main roles will be in fundraising and supporting the advocates.

"They are the women who are on the ground, meeting with women, getting phone calls and doing work with the courts," she explained. "We need to be sustainable so we can keep doing that."

Wahl and her husband, Dan, returned to Minnesota in 2008 and resided in Northfield until last year, when they moved to Dan's hometown of Walnut Grove. Dan now teaches English and literature part-time at Southwest Minnesota State University (SMSU) in Marshall and was recently hired as the head speech coach for Tracy High School.

The couple has three children, Ezekial, 23, is a psychology major at SMSU; and twin girls Sirocco "Rocky" and Savanna are also in college. Rocky is a biology and chemistry major at SMSU, while Savanna is a women's studies major at MSU-M.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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