Legacy House: On Extending Empathy

LH Christmas Lunch 4

Legacy House Staff, Christmas 2014

Like many who are in the nonprofit world, Michael Hurst has spent much of his life working with under-served populations. A lawyer by training, Michael engaged in public sector legal practice for 20 years and spent four years with the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention & Prevention. Now, he serves as the Executive Director of Legacy House. Michael says, “[Our clients] have experienced some significant trauma related to criminal violence and they come to Legacy House for trauma counseling to work through all of the ways that that violence invades every domain of their lives.”

As the brother of a homicide victim, as well as the brother of a suicide victim, Michael is no stranger to the pernicious effects such tragedies can cause. “I know what it’s like to grow up in a household that has experienced trauma,” he says. When Michael was only nine, his mother received the call that her older son had been killed. She was paying bills at the time. Michael says, “Every single time that she sat down to write a check in the years that followed, she was reminded by that act of the violence that the family had experienced.”

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Comfort Dogs, Sophie & Gracie

The team of trained counselors and therapists who work with the adults and children utilize numerous approaches to help their clients recover, like individualized one-on-one talk therapy, support groups, art therapy, play therapy and more. Legacy House even boasts two Bichon comfort dogs named Gracie and Sophie who come to work everyday, roaming the halls, joining in on sessions, and sitting with those who are awaiting counseling appointments. Michael tells the story of a child who met Sophie in the hallway. He says, “As soon as this child laid eyes on Sophie, a smile came across his face. He became animated. He started to talk like the ever-ready bunny.” Michael laughs. “We’ve got all of these tools around us here and people come for one specific thing—this trauma counseling—and you never know what tool is going to draw somebody out and help them through it.”

Legacy House takes referrals from the IMPD as well as community partners, but their doors are always open to those in need. “There doesn’t need to be anything formal about it,” Michael says. “We take walk-ins.” And if there is someone who is in the midst of a crisis, Legacy House can even be prepared to provide counseling to that person within the hour, if necessary.

Michael is especially passionate about educating the community on the dangers of victim-blaming. “Every single time we look at the victim’s conduct instead of at the perpetrator’s conduct, we’re engaging in more trauma-inducing behavior with that victim,” he says. “No matter what your biases are, the one thing you need to remember is that somebody else did something really bad to cause that trauma.” Ultimately, Michael wants to remind others that victims are just people, no different than the rest of us. He says, “We’re a big community and I believe very, very strongly that we are meant to serve one another, to support one another, to figure out what our gifts are and to give them away. And so I would encourage [everyone] to go deep. Find that empathy you were born with and extend it.”

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