Laura Kussman/staff photo                                Dave Dunaway in the SAFE San Juans Eastsound office.

Laura Kussman/staff photo Dave Dunaway in the SAFE San Juans Eastsound office.

SAFE San Juans hires new executive director

Dave Dunaway cares about his team.

After accepting the position as the new Executive Director for SAFE San Juans this summer, Dunaway was tasked with leading a staff retreat.

The nonprofit SAFE San Juans (formerly DVSAS or Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Services of the San Juan Islands) houses a team of trained community and legal advocates, therapists, educators and fiscal managers who offer free and confidential services to anyone involved in domestic violence or sexual assault, regardless of whether or not the criminal justice system is involved. SAFE San Juans’ mission is to support individuals affected by domestic violence and sexual assault and to lead the community toward eliminating these abuses of power.

“One of the first questions the staff posed was ‘what are you here to accomplish and how will you know you accomplished it?’

“They’re pretty fearless in their questions,” Dunaway said with a smile. “I thought, what I’d really like to do is support the staff; be their ally and make an environment where they can thrive. I want to knock down barriers which prevent this team from providing valuable services.”

DVSAS began during the battered women’s movement of the 1970s when the fight for visibility was inordinate. Volunteers began to provide safe-aid for women. Presently, the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office states domestic violence accounts for more than half of all the calls they receive.

“What we learn in this agency is quite different than that of a professional counselor, law enforcement officer, prosecutor or medical practitioner. We build safety planning,” Dunaway said. “No one else is trained and geared that direction. We actually have quite a bit of DA (domestic assault) and SA (sexual assault) related issues in our county. Our agency is equipped for it.”

From July 2018 through June 2019, SAFE San Juans staff provided 890 hours of domestic violence services to 84 clients, or on average 7 clients per month. During the same period, SAFE provided 648 hours of sexual assault services to 55 clients, and 201 hours in 158 prevention education activities provided to 3,220 participants. SAFE receives federal and state funding but is only allowed to use 4.7 percent towards prevention work.

“Those are just the people that show up. It takes a lot of courage for someone who is managing a violent situation at home to show up here,” Dunaway said.

Dunaway brings a Bachelor of Science in business administration and finance along with a masters in counseling to SAFE San Juans. After studying finance in college, Dunaway became a pilot for the Airforce. Needing to find work, he started an indoor golf simulation company and learning center. After 12 years, Dunaway was offered a position as a pastor in New Zealand and eventually on Whidbey Island. He worked as a pastor on Whidbey for six years until he transferred to pastor at a church on San Juan Island.

“There was one church I felt was a fit for me. There was an opening in Friday Harbor at Christ the King Community Church. I ended up there for eight and a half years. The reality of being a pastor in a small town is it’s bi-vocational. There’s no way the congregation could support us financially, so I got other work,” Dunaway said.

For five years he was a Behavioral Health Specialist for San Juan County Health and Community Services, where he managed mental health contracts for the county and helped facilitate the Community Network — a social service for employees, employers and advocates to see how they could support each other.

“That gave me a really good picture of what’s going on in our county from a social and health services framework,” Dunaway said.

He was encouraged by his friend and previous SAFE San Juans Executive Director Kim Bryan to apply for the position.

“Everyone who works in a domestic violence or sexual assault agency has had personal experiences or has worked with people closely who have walked that road. To come back in proximity to it is to reopen that pain,” Dunaway said. “There’s a price people pay emotionally for doing this work, and you have to decide that you’re willing. I think about the people we serve, it’s a tremendous gift they give us to be there with them.”

Dunaway is married with four kids. His daughter and son-in-law own Madrone Cider and Cellars on San Juan Island.

“I’m 58. I really wanted something that I thought would challenge me deeply. I’m just not done. Do I actually want to do something hard? Or do I want to just go off into the sunset? I’m way too young to sail off into the sunset. I never want to stop growing and learning.”