After months of searching, Canyon Creek Services’ board of directors appointed Kait Sorensen, their previous victim services director, as the organization’s new executive director on Dec. 6.
Sorensen first applied for a case manager position at CCS after a stint as a judicial assistant over six years ago after finishing her masters degree in public administration at Southern Utah University and dove head-first into the world of survivor advocacy. In her role as a case manager, Sorensen filled the role of a direct assistant to survivors of domestic and sexual violence.
“I was in charge of helping every person who came to our shelter, which can hold 28 people at a time,” Sorensen said. “I would help those people get back on their feet. I would help them create some kind of plan, connect them to community resources, find therapy and income. I would really just try to help them create new lives or jump into support systems they didn’t know they had before.”
Sorensen was also able to reconnect some survivors with family their abusers had alienated them from as well as medical professionals to treat injuries from being abused.
After a few years as a case manager, Sorensen took up the duties of an interim shelter director, and, shortly thereafter, Canyon Creek’s first awareness and prevention director.
Sorensen described this promotion as the appointment to establish a program out of a “hodgepodge” of community education initiatives including presenting on teen dating violence at middle and high schools in Iron County School District and communicating with other organizations and state legislators on legislation meant to assist community services like CCS.
“It was only about a year and a half that I did that because we actually lost funding for that position,” Sorensen explained. “Right before we lost that funding, our director of survivor services left and CCS offered me her position which I’ve now been doing for three or four years.”
It was for those years that Sorensen began honing larger administrative skills. She described her new responsibilities as ensuring all the advocates at the shelter and assisting survivors outside the shelter were able to do so in an “informed, client-centered fashion.”
Sorensen estimated she had helped 850 survivors per year on average during her time as the director of survivor services at CCS.
In August 2021, Sorensen applied to the recently vacated executive director position. CCS promoted the opening nationally, so Sorensen was in competition with a broad swathe of other applicants, she said.
Sorensen excelled against her local and national competitors and CCS’ board of directors placed her on a hiring shortlist at which point she interviewed three separate times — culminating in a brutal, six-hour process in which she interviewed for several groups, interacted with shelter staff and toured the facilities she had spent the last half decade managing as a new hire.
“It felt extra tricky because I knew the interviewers beforehand,” Sorensen said. “ It seems like, with strangers, you can loosen your story a little but with people like this, who I already know, they would just call me on any embellishments so I also really had to know myself and how to answer and respond. It was cool to have that experience and totally difficult.”
It was not until she overcame the gauntlet of interviews that Sorensen came out on top of the pile, now having access to the title of executive director, with a whole new world of duties and expectations.
“There are six different departments and I was only directing one before,” Sorensen elaborated. “So now I’ll have a grander role in making sure our agency is fiscally responsible, securing grants, working through administering our budget every year and working at the state-level to create new policies and coordinate funding and services to help organizations like ours. I’ll be the point of contact for other state coalitions as well.”
Sorensen also has taken up the responsibility of setting the staff’s minds at ease after a period of “limbo,” wherein they only had an interim director and leadership was unsure.
A new appointment does not just mean maintaining CCS’ current status quo and administrating the annual budget. Frequent cuts in funding and the fluidity of government priorities have left challenges for Sorensen and the CCS board of directors.
In the next five years, Sorensen said she is hoping to expand CCS’ operations into the counties neighboring Iron County, secure more diverse funding to compensate for a cut in Victims of Crime Act cash-flow to the CCS and initiate communications with state legislators to help build resources for CCS and similar Utah organizations.
In order to accomplish these goals, Sorensen and the rest of CCS need members of the community they serve to remember the stakes with losing resources like crisis shelters and the funding that keeps them floating.
“We need to stay in the community’s mind,” Sorensen said. “And it can be hard to keep these kinds of programs running when we have cuts in funding coming up. We could use financial donations, in-kind donations and volunteer hours. We need to make sure these stories are being told and that people know we’re here.”
Article by: Janzen Jorgensen
Photo courtesy of Canyon Creek Services