Jessica Nicely is accomplished in many ways. She is a loving wife and mother and was Miss Arizona 1997. But her legacy lies in the thousands of women, children and men who have been victims of domestic violence that she has helped through her Gilbert nonprofit Winged Hope.
In 2013 Nicely founded Winged Hope with the goal of establishing more family advocacy centers around Arizona, described as one-stop-shops to help victims of domestic violence with needed resources. In those seven years, the organization has grown to include a comprehensive set of services aimed at helping people get out of violent and abusive situations while assisting with housing, training and resources. Remarkably, Winged Hope is run entirely by volunteers who are passionate about helping individuals in domestic violence situations.
The organization started offering direct victim services in 2015. “I didn’t necessarily want to get into direct victim services, being a survivor myself,” says Nicely. “I just felt like that was going to be so heavy and hard to do.” Other agencies and organizations began reaching out to Winged Hope and Nicely saw the opportunity to be of help to additional victims. “It quickly snowballed to where it is today.” Winged Hope is now routinely helping 100 or more victims each month, with some of those people being located outside of Arizona because they have fled a violent domestic situation. One way that Winged Hope differs from other similar nonprofits is that it helps the entire family.
“The direct victim services provided depend on what they need,” explains Nicely. Resources and assistance are offered to victims of domestic violence, child abuse, suicide survivors and families left behind by suicide, and victims of rape, sexual assault and sex trafficking. Services include everything from clothing and food to furniture and housing. The organization offers a strategic library of books covering a wide variety of relevant topics for those they help. “We set them up with some form of trauma therapy,” adds Nicely. “We have about 20 therapy groups around the state to which we outsource.”
Winged Hope also helps with advocacy center and shelter renovations. The organization will step in to help make those places feel safe, comfortable and peaceful to those who have been traumatized. Some of the centers that have been outfitted by Winged Hope include the family advocacy centers in the cities of Maricopa, Chandler, Mesa, the Community Alliance Against Family Abuse Domestic Violence Shelter and the ASU and Tempe Police Departments interview rooms.
“We partner with other agencies, too,” says Nicely. “We partner with Open Arms, Midwestern Food Bank and FANS Across America in Chandler. FANS is basically like a store for victims. They say what they need when they go in… That could be a car seat, dishes or lamps.” Winged Hope is also partnered with The Storehouse in Glendale that will furnish entire apartments for victims.
Informative training is also offered through Winged Hope. That includes classes offered at courts, police departments and churches. “We have child sexual abuse prevention training, mandatory reporter training, and training for staff that works with those who have intellectual disabilities,” says Nicely. “We’ve trained their staff and what to look for in terms of sexual abuse.” Winged Hope was also part of Gilbert’s Parent University and provides training at various schools.
Adverse Childhood Experiences & Trauma (ACEs) is the type of training that is provided most frequently. ACEs provides a “score” of different types of abuse, neglect, and other adverse childhood experiences that indicates a higher risk for problems later in adult life. “When we talk about adverse childhood experiences and the effect trauma has on adults as they grow, we touch on all of it… Domestic violence child abuse, suicide, addiction, everything.”
Nicely was raised in a home where she suffered abuse by her father. Growing up she dreamed of a more positive future for herself and knew that she wanted to help others that were in situations like hers. She positively channeled her experiences, becoming a spokeswoman for Prevent Child Abuse America, and eventually reconciled with her father who has since passed away.
Her memoir “All My Friends Are Zeros” recounts Nicely’s story of abuse at the hands of her alcoholic father. The title is a play on the scoring of an ACEs test and how throughout her life, Nicely had surrounded herself with people that led a life that she had hoped to have while she was growing up in an abusive home.
Winged Hope is always looking for volunteers. For additional information visit www.wingedhope.org or call 480-757-7030.