Wednesday, June 19, 2024 Jun 19, 2024
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Inside Genesis Women’s Shelter’s New Dallas Headquarters 

Opened May 8, the 30,000-square-foot non-residential outreach facility houses a legal justice center, a trauma center, staff offices, and more.
Four years ago, Genesis bought an old antique mall at 2023 Lucas St. They raised $20 million and hired the Beck Group to build their new facility. Tamytha Cameron Photography

Not all the furniture had arrived yet at the new Genesis Women’s Shelter non-residential center Thursday, but the crowd of press, donors, and church and city leaders chattered excitedly in the brand-new facility’s atrium. Staffers ushered everyone into the National Training Center of Crimes Against Women, where white chairs and bright florals had been set up. 

There, Genesis CEO Jan Langbein declared she was the “happiest person here today.” The nearly 30,000-square-foot facility, which officially opened to clients May 8, “is literally a manifestation of what we have always done and is now under one roof.” 

The Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support first opened 38 years ago to provide a safe space for domestic violence victims in Dallas. Since then, Genesis has helped more than 40,000 women and children. In 1994, the shelter opened its first outreach office—a 1,500-square-foot leased space on Lemmon Avenue. The office hosted Genesis’ non-residential programs, like counseling, support groups, and legal justice. Over the years, as the shelter’s services expanded, they expanded their on-site footprint, too. 

“Little by little we snatched up, when the Pilates studio went out, and then the chiropractor went out,” Langbein told D Magazine. “But there was no rhyme or reason to the floor plan.”

Eventually, they had carved out about 12,000 square feet at the Lemmon Avenue site and opened a thrift store nearby on Knight Street. Last year, Genesis opened a second non-residential office and thrift store in southern Dallas on Lancaster. But still, they did not have enough space, Langbein said. She had employees working all over the city, trading off who got to come and work in person in the office and who had to work from home.

They had outgrown the space, but their non-residential programs made up the majority of the services they provided. Last year, Genesis worked with 3,700 women and children, but Langbein said only 8 to 9 percent of abused women will seek shelter. “So, what are we going to do with 91 percent of the women who need our services?” 

Her solution came four years ago, when Genesis bought an old antique mall at 2023 Lucas Dr., just off Harry Hines Boulevard. They raised $20 million, razed the old building, and called on the Beck Group to build their new facility. Beck, Langbein says, “took a shoebox full of sticky notes and turned it into this dream come true.”

Langbein said when planning the facility, “we identified four pillars that we wanted this building to be built upon.” Those include Genesis’ legal justice center and its women and children’s trauma center, which oversees the counseling and advocacy services. They also wanted the space to create a national training center for crimes against women and to expand Genesis’ new occupational therapy program. 

The resulting three-story facility feels intentional, she said. It’s “30,000 square feet of amazingness,” she told Thursday’s crowd. After a dedication and several speeches, Langbein loosed everyone into the building to explore and learn at their own pace. Genesis employees were stationed throughout to talk about the various programs for the visitors.

The National Training Center 

The first floor features the national training center. For almost 20 years, Genesis, with the help of the Dallas Police Department, has run an annual Conference on Crimes Against Women. The event features keynote speakers and hundreds of workshops on various crimes women are often victims of, such as domestic violence and human trafficking, as well as how to investigate, solve and prosecute these cases.

The conference has grown from 400 initial attendees to nearly 3,000, Langbein said, but the need for this programming “never goes away.” According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in three women has experienced some form of physical violence from an intimate partner. In Texas, 40.1 percent of women experience intimate partner physical violence, rape, or stalking in their lifetime. The new training center will allow Genesis and other organizations to host programming to combat these issues year-round. 

The Legal Justice Center 

Also on the first floor are the legal justice center and family law library. Genesis already has several lawyers on staff and takes law school interns to assist clients free of cost.

Here, “women will be able to secure civil legal representation from lawyers who specialize not only in the law, but the strategies and the tactics that abusers deploy to try to manipulate the justice system,” Langbein told Thursday’s crowd.

The law library will have two workstations with preloaded forms, like divorce or custody papers, for women to fill out. A legal assistant or advocate will be on hand to help, too. The library will have pre-printed packets also, along with information for legal services in the surrounding counties outside of Dallas County. 

The Trauma Center 

The entire 11,000-square-foot second floor is Genesis’ Women’s & Children’s Trauma Center. Besides the women’s waiting room, the floor includes 25 counseling offices, three group rooms, a conference room, a teen room, two play therapy and one expressive art room, a sensory room, and a childcare room. The main role of these rooms is to provide space for counseling and advocacy work, said Ruth Guerreiro, senior director of clinical & non-residential services. 

A Genesis client might come in once a week to get help on applying for housing or a protective order. Counseling, on the other hand, focuses on the interior. “We’re going to talk about her feelings, her thoughts, her body sensations—she gets to do that trauma processing,” Guerreiro said.   

Genesis’ counselors use a number of different therapies to treat post-traumatic stress, including Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), direct play therapy, and Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), Guerreiro said. Clients go through both group and individual sessions. While Guerreiro said Genesis’ counseling isn’t meant to be a long-therapy site, there are no session limits. Most clients, she said, average about six months. 

Finding childcare during a therapy session can be a barrier to appointments, said Jordyn Lawson, senior director of residential services. Many mothers don’t want to leave their kids at home, where it is unsafe, while they have a session. So, the second floor’s children’s waiting room, called the January Room, “is really a place for her to bring her kid and them to be safe and have fun and have different activities while she’s in her appointment.”

Lawson said the room was designed based on trauma healing research. “One of the best treatments for trauma is movement,” she said, so the room includes a curvy couch, toys, an aquarium, and stimulating bright colors. Here, children can do exercises, participate in group work, and get tutoring help—things that support healing, she said. The room has two full-time staffers and will also be supported by volunteers. 

Occupational Therapy 

Beyond the counseling and childcare services, one of the highlights of the second floor is Genesis’ newly developed occupational therapy program. “This is the next generation of how to address victims of trauma,” Langbein said.  

The program was piloted several years ago during the pandemic when Genesis brought in occupational therapy interns from the University of St. Augustine. During the program, mental health practitioners helped Genesis clients work through the dysregulating long-term effects of trauma and helped them to re-learn skills like emotional regulation and relaxation. “Occupational therapy really is that puzzle piece that connects the outside and inside of the counseling and the advocacy,” Guerreiro said. 

It was during that pilot program that Genesis began to notice the intersectionality between neurodiversity and domestic violence, Langbein said. Studies have shown that neurodivergent children, like those diagnosed with autism, are already more susceptible to abuse and mistreatment and have an increased risk of post-traumatic stress disorder. During the program, they noticed many children who had developmental delays had gone undiagnosed because the “abuser doesn’t want to get them to get evaluated, because the information might come out,” said Nadien Albanna, a graduate of that pilot program who now heads Genesis’ occupational therapy services.  

One of the major ways Genesis plans to help those children is therapy in the new sensory room, which will help promote development through play and a calming environment, Albanna said. The dimly lit room has soft mats and toys, aromatherapy, fluorescent string lights, a small trampoline, slow-moving lights on the ceiling, amongst other things. 

Albanna said the room was designed with the five senses in mind and all the items were “strategically picked out to meet the sensory needs of a kiddo.” Just spending a few minutes in the room can start to calm you down, she said. There are lots of textures to run hands across, such as sequins on the wall. A scooter board and mini trampoline help with balance and vestibular therapy.

Everything in the room, from the slow-moving light on the ceiling to the scooter, is “communicating to our brains to say, ‘hey, it’s safe here,’” Albanna said. That way, children can learn to understand what safety feels like and recognize when they are in an unsafe situation. 

Genesis’ counselors will refer women and children to Albanna if occupational therapy services are needed. Albanna will conduct an evaluation and refer clients to outside services. Meanwhile, she’ll give the clients immediate access to therapy and coping skills while they wait for those outside services, which can sometimes be delayed due to roadblocks, like insurance. Genesis plans to hire another occupational therapist, Langbein said, and bring on more interns so the OT program can treat around 800 women and children a year. She also hopes to be able to share the techniques they develop in this program with other shelters around the country. 

A Promise to Her

The third floor will house Genesis’ staff offices and will also include a lunchroom and a mother’s room. While the Lancaster location and Knight Street thrift store will continue to operate as normal, the Lucas center will be open for client services from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday. It is “30,000 square feet of promises,” to provide counseling, special needs services, and legal representation, Langbein told Thursday’s crowd. 

“Today we tell our future, we will continue to walk beside women and children,” she said, “that we will keep a promise to her, every one of hers, that there is help and there’s hope.”


Catherine Wendlandt

Catherine Wendlandt

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Catherine Wendlandt is the online associate editor for D Magazine’s Living and Home and Garden blogs, where she covers all…