Violet Cundiff is a small-town girl. She grew up near Bloomington in Ellettsville with a graduating class of just 129 kids. “We spent our weekends camping, canoeing, hiking, all that good stuff,” she says. She came to Indianapolis in 2003 and threw herself into her cleaning business and volunteer work, and she’s been here ever since.
The first time Violet walked through the doors of Coburn Place in 2015, she was in rough shape – physically and emotionally. She stayed for two years. Now she walks through the doors every day as mentor supervisor, a new role she took on after serving for a year as a mentor. Coburn Place mentors are the front line – greeting guests, answering phones and just being there for survivors.
Violet came to live at Coburn Place after going straight from the hospital to Salvation Army. She says she was running on adrenaline. “I couldn’t sleep for a couple of months,” she says. “I was still just up and down. A loud exhaust on a van would freak me out. But to just walk into my apartment and lock my door and know no one else was coming in there, to turn that TV on and watch whatever I want – things like that matter.”
Violet says her desire to move forward and to succeed was greater than her fear. She was determined. Jacqueline Willett, MSW, was her advocate. “She was absolutely amazing,” Violet says. “She never forced herself on me. She knew the right time to say to me, ‘I think you really need to slow down’ when I was in fight-or-flight mode. She helped me to realize I was going to be here for a while and I needed to take a beat, take a breath.” Trust is hard when you’re focused on survival. One thing Jacqueline did was draw Violet out slowly, with a gentle nudge. “She was so smooth,” Violet says. “She knew I loved fruits and vegetables, and Gleaners Food Bank came one day. She knocked on my door and said, ‘Ms. Violet, Gleaners is here. Here are some bags.’” Jacqueline also connected her with Give Back a Smile to repair dental injuries from abuse, and her confidence soared.
While she lived at Coburn Place, Violet plugged into everything available to her. “You’ve got to invest in yourself,” she says. “I did group meetings, one-on-one therapy, yoga classes, a program through The Julian Center called Getting Ahead, Dress for Success.” In addition to her job as an elder companion, she started volunteering at The Julian Center. It was an advocate there who suggested she go back to school. “I thought, ‘I’m in my 40s. Are you kidding me?’” she says. But she went for it.
Violet became a Bowen Scholar at Ivy Tech. Because she is an animal lover, she wanted to work on the legal side of animal welfare and advocacy. Not one to sit still, while she was in school, Violet worked in the Ivy Tech Learning Center and at Indianapolis Animal Care Services as an adoption counselor. She also started volunteering with the Spirit & Place Festival and Beacon of Hope Crisis Center, answering phones and helping out with its Foster Pet Program, even fostering dogs herself for families escaping domestic violence. “I wanted to do that because I know you will stay for your pets because you don’t want to see them hurt, you don’t want to see them end up in a bad situation, and you’ll just … stay,” she says. She graduated with her associate degree in paralegal studies in 2018.
Violet says it was like everything opened up and fell into place when she saw the job opening for a mentor at Coburn Place. Soon after she started, Violet joined the board of directors for the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence. She serves on their governance and legal committees.
Violet loved being a mentor and loves her new position. “I’m Chatty Cathy,” she says. “I’m also interested. I want to cry with you; I want to celebrate with you. I loved everything about it. I still feel very honored and privileged to be part of someone else’s journey and to welcome our volunteers and guests. I feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m actually living out the purpose for my life.”
“Violet is the total package. She is professional, caring and knowledgeable about the population we serve. Violet is dedicated to the mission, and her passion for the families warms my entire heart. I could not think of anyone better for the position of mentor supervisor.” – Jacqueline Willett, MSW, Intake and Well-Being Services Coordinator
As mentor supervisor, Violet’s priorities are “security, security, security” and making sure mentors feel appreciated. She also wants to ensure we’re always focused on the survivors we serve.
“We are a 24-hour staff,” she says. “Anything that happens, we’re there first, and that’s a big deal. With all the good and all the celebrating with clients, there are those moments. Our job is to mentor, to not react, to give love and compassion and work through everything with them. Sometimes it can be hard.”
Violet says remembering why we do what we do makes it great to come to work. “It makes you get up in the morning and think it’s going to be a great day,” she says. “Someone’s life is going to change; someone has the freedom to walk outside their door. In my mind, I see my coworkers in a parade – this person has a streamer, and this person has a banner, and this person has a horn. Everyone is marching toward the same goal, and that just makes it so much more exciting.”
“When I tell you my heart beats for Coburn Place, I don’t even have the words to say it all,” Violet says. “Everything worked for me. It played a part in me moving forward and actually thriving in life. I felt like as much as I was trying to invest in myself, they were invested in me. Every day, I’m so grateful.”
We are, too.