It was only supposed to last six months.
However, six months has turned into 30 years for Lisa Lee, working at the Advocates to End Domestic Violence.
She was 26 when she first walked into the Carson City Domestic Violence shelter to volunteer.
“When I first started it was only going to be six months, I wanted to volunteer and it was really a one person office at the time and I showed up and she took me to the shelter to interview me and it was horrid,” Lee said, describing the dingy, dirty place. “It just looked like a mess and all I could think was that my mom wouldn’t have left and taken us to this place, and she said why don’t you do something about it and be part of the solution not the problem. So I said I will give you six months and in six months I should be able to get it cleaned up and make a change.”
But within a few years, Lee was still working at the shelter and had risen though the ranks and had taken over the shelter as the manager. But it wasn’t an easy transition, when Lee took over the shelter was in shambles financially.
“The agency hadn’t been paying our payroll taxes and we owed $70,000 to the IRS and here I am 26 and I am negotiating with the IRS,” Lee said.
Lee was able to haggle with the IRS and get the bill reduced to $35,000 but they still didn’t have the finances to pay it back.
“And we didn’t have it; we didn’t have any assets, we had nothing,” Lee said. “The Board of Directors had to go put their homes up, we had to go find a bank that would give us money for equity of their homes.“
It was then the board asked Lee to take over the shelter as the director.
“I thought OK I could do that for six months,” Lee said.
In order to get the shelter out of their financial deficit, Lee worked at the shelter for two years without pay so they could pay back the loan. Lee said in hindsight it was a foolish thing to do for her family but at the time, she loved the shelter and knew that was the only way to help it.
“I did that job for two years without pay, but we were able to pay off the loan and then slowly kept rebuilding,” Lee said. “People say they love their job but I’m not sure a lot would do it for free for two years. But people had their homes on the line so they would have lost a piece of their equity so you had this obligation and a need to protect them. Who needs money?
“So it turned out I went from I’ll do it for six months to I’ll do it for two years and pay off the loan, and then it turned into I’ll do it until they are stable and then you look back and say oh it’s been 30 years.”
For Lee, going down any other career path would haven’t been as satisfying in the long term.
“I see the people I went to high school with and they are retired from the state and if I had done something else I would have been retired, but I don’t know if my round hole could have fit into that square peg,” Lee said. “I don’t think I could have done that, I may not have a lot of money but every day I feel like I did something.”
She said the joy she gets from helping others is what makes up for the long hours, worked weekends and hard work.
“When I think about the other steps I would have taken, I probably would have been retired but I don’t think I would have been happy,” Lee said. “There are a lot of jobs that are just jobs but mine has never been a job it has always been a passion. I think what else would I have done?”
Lee said she will have past clients approach her around town from decades ago and tell her about how much the shelter changed their lives.
“I was in Costco about two months ago and this lady comes up to me and she says ‘I was in the shelter eight or nine years ago and I just want you to know everything turned out well. I went back to school I got my degree and am working and I just want you to know that my life really turned around,’” Lee said. “It was one of those things you walk away pushing your cart thinking wow. There is something to be said having that affirmation.”
The advocates determined over the past 30 years, Lee has helped nearly 4,000 clients.
“When you think about Lisa, you think advocates,” said advocate Traci. “She represents advocates, she has grown this agency from falling apart to its thriving in not only our community, but our state.
“She gives her heart and everything to make sure the clients have hope and she gives them back their lives.”
Traci said all who work in their office really look up to Lisa for what she has done over the 30 years.
“She does everything, she gives her all all of the time,” Traci said. “She is an inspiration to so many and I am lucky to have her as my boss and mentor. I hope to be a quarter of what Lisa is. Her heart and soul is to make sure the clients have what they need in life.”
For Lee, running the shelter is just what she loves to do.
“I could see loving designing drapery, I could see loving building something, I could see loving interior design; it is odd to say I love domestic violence,” Lee said. “It seems like a weird dichotomy to say I love crisis intervention but for my nature to feel like I am solving someone’s problem or I am stepping in and helping is what I love to do.”
Lee hopes to keep expanding the organization, including relocating the thrift store, adding an office and finding land they can own instead of rent like they’re currently doing.
“We’ve been projecting doing it bigger because there is a difference if you are offering shelter for 30 days or five months, because if it is going to be a home it has to have a different kind of feel than an emergency,” Lee said.
But the shelter is now a stable part of the community.
“If someone told me when I first got here that I would be here for 30 years I would have said no, come one I just want to volunteer, this isn’t my path,” Lee said. “…But now this is very much like my child; it was like birthing it and getting it going and getting it stable and on its feet and watching it run now and run well. It is respected and it’s a strong part of the community doing good.”
After 30 years Lee doesn’t plan on stopping.
“I don’t have any regrets,” Lee said. “How many people can say that?”