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Where Change Starts: Helping Those Who Help You

by Anne Keller

Anne Keller is an intern at Text Power Telling. She is a sophomore at The University of Delaware with intentions to pursue a medical track post-grad. Anne is a passionate advocate for the safety and rights of women.

An Interview with Robyn Mazur, Executive Director of Joyful Heart Foundation

The Joyful Heart Foundation came to life after actor Mariska Hargitay, who plays detective Olivia Benson on Law and Order: Special Victims’ Unit, realized she was capable of making an impact to help survivors that was much larger than the role she played. While working on the set she received thousands of letters from victims of abuse and soon came to the conclusion she wanted, and needed, to speak up for survivors, and she had the voice to do so. 

I met with Robyn Mazur, the Executive Director of the foundation, who has been working in the gender based violence space for 25+ years, and began working with Joyful Heart in May of 2023. “It was both within the work I've always done but in an organization that I admired and knew that there was an opportunity to add some new things,” she shared, later placing emphasis on the foundations two main points of growth, ending the rape kit backlog and helping professionals who are facing vicarious trauma. 

What It Takes to “End the Backlog”

Central to the Joyful Heart Foundation’s overall mission is “to transform society’s response to sexual assault” and create a world free of sexual violence. Core to the JHF’s purpose is responding to the backlog of unanalyzed rape kits, or untested evidence, that were denying survivors justice. JHF works tirelessly to  “End the Backlog, and get all rape kits, sitting in evidence rooms or other spaces, tested. 

Robyn shared one of the main reasons she came to the foundation, “The leadership and the incredible awareness and policy work around "End the Backlog," I think truly is the cornerstone, is the foundation of the foundation.” There has been incredible progress and reform made through The Joyful Heart Foundation including passing legislation to prevent backslide, support toward victims, and implement survivor-centered reforms. The “End the Backlog” initiative drives the other programs the foundation has created to not only help victims but also professionals spanning across a variety of fields including nurses, therapists, police and other first responders working directly with trauma victims.


Joyful Heart’s Approach to Helping First Responders Heal 

The Joyful Heart Foundation places a heavy emphasis on the value of treating those helping survivors in “Heal the Healers,” a special program founded in 2010. In February of 2024, the initiative was reconstructed and relaunched as a small grant making program for those in the field who are experiencing vicarious trauma through their work. Robyn shares that the core intention behind the reworking of the program has to do with sustainability and personal need. What was once a healing retreat for a handful of people has become a wide scale opportunity to make the same impact on a much larger scale of people and over a greater period of time. She discusses how the basis of the program is the same, bringing together those with second-hand trauma, but now the foundation is expanding the possibilities of how this can be done. If chosen for a grant, a community is able to decide how they wish to spend the money and what will help them in a much more personal sense than before. Robyn furthers the reasoning behind this change, “What they often need is to build a culture and community within their own office, within their own agency, where they can really have self care and have programs that help them deal with what they are hearing on a daily basis.” The largest reason for the renovation of “Heal the Healers” is to personalize each community's experience, what works for one may not work for another and this was recognized by the foundation. 

The Influence of A Personalized Healing Experience

Robyn described how their previous retreat was a magnificent experience for those who attended, however Joyful Heart wanted to expand on the idea in a more case-by-case manner. When receiving a grant, each group is able to acquire the resources they need to have the impact they are searching for, whether it be team building, relaxation, or something else completely. Something as seemingly simple as a monthly company pizza party to raise morale can have a long lasting effect on employees and by inspiring workplace bonding, employees have increased motivation, a stronger internal support system, and lose the common feeling of being alone. Though it may seem straightforward, unfortunately there are a lot more barriers than it may appear. During this interview, Robyn discussed the hardships many communities face without the help of a grant, “Often agencies, whether it be governmental or nonprofit, are not able to use their funding, for a variety of reasons, to pay for support and activities to support the trauma issues that are facing their own staff.” With this new initiative this won’t be a problem, and these organizations will have the funds to support staff who are suffering from vicarious trauma.

How Can Joyful Heart Help You?

The Joyful Heart Foundation has done so much to spread advocacy and assist those in need, and you can be a recipient of their helping hand. All nonprofit and government organizations working directly with survivors are eligible to receive one of their 4-6 annually awarded micro grants, which can be up to $5,000. If you’re interested in applying, all you have to do is visit their website and fill out the grant application form.

Robyn Mazur is the Executive Director of the Joyful Heart Foundation and is a seasoned non-profit executive with over twenty years of professional experience in gender and family justice. Prior to joining the Joyful Heart Foundation, Robyn was the Senior Director of National Training and Technical Assistance at the Center for Justice Innovation where she specialized in strategic program planning and implementation, partnership cultivation, relationship management and development of complex, large-scale programs such as the national domestic violence homicide prevention resource center. Robyn worked with legal stakeholders and communities who were interested in enhancing their responses to gender-based violence and provided training across the U.S. and internationally on the issues of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking. Robyn is an attorney and prior to joining the Center, she worked at the National Network to End Domestic Violence in Washington, DC and the House of Ruth in Baltimore, MD.


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