Last week, the late winter sun was casting an uncommon stream of sunlight through the window of Emily Bilcher’s new office. But the unassuming house on First Avenue in Driggs has been home to this kind of rare brightness in the midst of often unseen darkness.
“We deal with big, difficult things day in and day out in terms of the violence and abuse that exists in our community,” said Bilcher leaning forward in her office chair, her easy smile dropping with punctuated seriousness . “One of things that allows us to do that is the culture of our office and staff who are really focused on the reality that we bring our whole selves, every day, to do this work.”
Bilcher has served for the last four years as the Director of Client Services and Outreach for the non profit Family Safety Network, an organization that has for more than 25 years in Teton Valley, served thousands of community members looking for and needing the kind of hope that this team strives to deliver, 24 hours and day, seven days a week. This November, she assumed the role as the new executive director.
Bilcher is joined by Alyson Harlan, Victim Advocate, Monica Carrillo, Bilingual Victim Advocate, Cheiska Cheeve, Administrative Assistant and Jennifer Pfaltz, Director of Development. Together this team works beyond the headlines and together they unapologetically strive toward ending violence and abuse.
“We really do come to work with hope, because we are working to end violence and abuse. We want to see our numbers go down,” Bilcher said.
Teton Valley is not unlike many rural, western communities who have realized domestic violence and sex assault numbers climbing for a variety of reasons. A 2017 study from the Teton County Prosecutor’s Office suggested that domestic violence and sex assault numbers were climbing in the county at a rate of 4,000 percent – that’s not a typo.
“I am so excited to have Emily at the helm of FSN,” said Teton County Prosecutor Billie Siddoway in an email to the Teton Valley News. “Her empathy for victims and understanding of criminal justice make Emily an ideal candidate for this job. I look forward to working with Emily and FSN in the coming year.”
Siddoway also offered a letter of support to the FSN board prior to Bilcher being offered the position.
“Part of FSN’s mission has been to provide training and resources to law enforcement to further the shared objectives of victim protection and crime deterrence,” Siddoway wrote to the FSN board chair Missy Colyer at the end of October. “Honesty, trust and dependability are key to making these relationships work. At the same time, we need to maintain independence so that it does not appear that the county is biased toward victims to the unfair detriment of defendants, and to ensure that FSN is willing to support victims even when they do not want to cooperate with prosecution of an offender. This is perhaps a long way of saying that Emily is someone I can trust.”
Bilcher was first hired by long time Family Safety Network executive director Susie Fenger who, along with the longest standing victim’s advocate, Theresa Allen, helped shape her understanding of the organization.
“I feel like they emphasized the need for self care and working together to do this work,” said Bilcher of Fenger and Allen. “It was instilled in me early on. It became real when I experienced crisis in my own life and realized I needed to be honest about that. I’m grateful that each person on the staff gets that we are all human and together we will continue to learn what it means to take care of ourselves in order that we can care for others”
Carrillo has worked along side Bilcher for the last four years and said Bilcher’s new title doesn’t change the passion by which she works. “Our system partners recognize Emily as the face of this organization and so does the community,” said Carrillo. “She is passionate about her job and the mission and that is what really matters. The reality is, it’s not the title. It’s what she does here and her commitment that matters. She is someone who really cares for our mission.”
Board chair Missy Colyer echoed this sentiment. “Emily is so collaborative and that is so important in the community that we work with and serve,” Colyer said. “She excels at that and we are looking forward to the bright future with her at FSN.”