Thinking Through the Long Game
Ed Liebzeit gives a voice to victims of the often-silent scourges of sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking, while helping to provide a range of services.
August 30, 2016
Nestled in the stunning mountains surrounding Jackson Hole, Wyo., this extremely private seven-bedroom home features a large kitchen and peaceful courtyard out back. The spacious garage can easily hide a car from an angry parolee who was just released after serving time for throwing his ex-wife around like a rag doll.
This isn’t a property description you’re likely to see in a real estate ad, but it’s exactly these features that provide peace of mind for the survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking who stay in the shelter run by the Community Safety Network. That peace of mind extends to local real estate pro Ed Liebzeit, a lead advocate for this safe haven, who rests easier at night knowing CSN is there for those who need it.
Jackson Hole Sotheby’s International Realty
Jackson Hole, Wyo.
As a former Air Force navigator who flew two tours in Vietnam, Liebzeit doesn’t represent the typical demographic of a crusader against domestic violence and sexual abuse. But since 2009, Liebzeit’s work as president of CSN’s board has been centered on understanding the needs of victims and figuring out the best way to help them recover. “That’s been the key to Ed being so helpful to this organization. And of course he’s brought a lot of great thinking from his business background,” says Sharel Love, executive director of CSN. “When it comes to our clients, it didn’t take very long for him to think through the long game. What is she going to do when he gets released from jail? It is significant when a man in a leadership position takes the time to think that through.”
Liebzeit hopes their outreach efforts can convince more males to stand up to such abuses in everyday life and in supporting organizations like CSN. “Men need to realize that they play a role here,” he says. “It’s about watching your own behavior, of course, but also not accepting someone else’s behavior and sharing the word.”
The seven-bedroom shelter in the Tetons—which has been open for 35 years—houses victims and their children for up to eight weeks. Love says this is a bit longer than many shelters allow, but with the high cost of housing in the area, “people just need a little longer here to figure out what to do next.”
“Out of all of the board members, I would say that Ed is the most passionate about the mission of CSN. He doesn’t just say it; he lives it. That’s what makes him such a good leader.” —Sheriff Jim Whalen
But even that’s rarely long enough. In 2001, CSN opened three long-term housing spaces, where clients can live for up to two years. Love says they’re always full, which is why they plan to open two more by year’s end. Clients who move into the apartments pay 30 percent of their income in rent and are required to participate in social service programs, which include financial literacy and coaching. “We’re trying to help them learn to budget,” Liebzeit says, noting abusers commonly manipulate their victims by controlling household finances. Due to confidentiality policies at CSN, Liebzeit rarely meets those being served by the charity. However, he does get the pleasure of signing a check they each receive at the end of their lease as reimbursement for the rent they paid during their stay. This helps victims afford a deposit on their next place as they establish a new, independent life.
Theresa (who asked that we not use her full name) first began contacting CSN for help out of an abusive relationship with her husband in 2000. After her husband forced her and her children to move hundreds of miles away, Theresa received remote support from CSN whenever possible. In 2012, she and her children were finally able to escape and return to Jackson Hole. With no money and no place to stay, they found a temporary home in CSN's House of Hope shelter, and Theresa filed for divorce.
Just before Christmas that year, Theresa and her kids moved into long-term transitional housing at CSN. The apartment allowed the four of them to feel secure enough to start rebuilding their lives in a community she’d left a decade earlier and helped them avoid having to go on public assistance. “It was the home that we needed,” she says. “I just wanted to keep that momentum that CSN was giving me. It really empowered me to be a good role model for my kids and go to the next level.” Theresa now lives in an affordable home of her own.
Educating the Community
CSN is the only organization in the state that not only provides shelter for victims but also offers an extensive suite of education and prevention programs for members of the community, which Liebzeit has worked to expand in recent years. CSN works with local schools, religious groups, and the area’s robust hospitality industry. “It’s not uncommon for a hotel operator to see the aftereffects of assault and not know what to do,” says Love. “We talk to hotel staff about what sorts of interventions are available both for their guests and their workers.” CSN also trains seasonal workers in the National Parks Service and other tourism organizations.
Liebzeit’s outreach includes bringing in community stakeholders who come face-to-face with sexual violence in their work. That’s why he asked Teton County Sheriff Jim Whalen to join the board. Whalen says his participation has helped law enforcement and the nonprofit communicate more effectively with one another and with victims. “Our focus in the past was, ‘Give me enough information to put this jerk in jail, and good luck with everything else,’” he says. He says CSN has heightened his sensitivities—and those of his colleagues—to the need to break the cycle of abuse. “We get it, and now we recognize that a part of our goal is to serve the victim.”
Part of the Solution
Love says when she’s trying to help other nonprofits think strategically about finding new board members, she always asks if they have a real estate professional involved yet. “To me it’s very logical,” she says, noting that agents often know when new home owners are eager to get involved in their communities.
Of course, not all real estate pros can devote as much energy to their community as Liebzeit. In 2014, he went as far stepping down from his position as president and COO of his brokerage so he could spend more time with real estate clients and on community activities (he also volunteers with a local medical foundation, an air-quality group, and the VFW). But Liebzeit says anyone can find ways to address the problems of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. “It’s just being alert for signs that someone might need help,” he says. “The easiest thing for all of us to do is nothing, and that isn’t right. As a society we shouldn’t allow that to happen.”