Amy Fleischauer, Director of Survivor Support
Raised by a family that emphasized service and the importance of community, Ms. Fleischauer is the Director of Survivor Support leading her department in assisting vulnerable populations from 45 different countries.
What do you feel your role is as the Director of Survivor Support at the Institute? Do you think your position has changed since starting here?
[AF]: So, when I was hired in 2006, there was only a part-time AmeriCorps person and myself working on this issue. She worked with all the victims of domestic violence and I assisted all the victims of human trafficking … while trying to create a program without any roadmap or best practices. Today we are a department of twelve people, so the program has grown considerably. My job now is twofold: to support my staff in their direct work with the 450 survivors who seek our services each year, while also working with community partners to ensure that their services are accessible to survivors once they make the courageous decision to come forward and seek assistance. We work closely with the criminal justice, court, social services, medical, mental health, and other systems to ensure that all crime victims, regardless of their immigration status, can get the help they need. Given the unique nature of this work, we are also being called upon to conduct training and technical assistance at the state and national level more consistently. It’s an exciting time!
Can you talk about your academic credentials and how you ended up at the Institute? How is the work of your department relative to other programs around the country?
[AF]: I have my Master’s degree in Social Work, with a focus on program planning and anti-violence work. I did a number of different things, but have always worked with vulnerable populations. I have noticed that most people who work at the Institute came here because of their passion for the foreign-born population, they have had their own experiences working and traveling internationally. For me, I wanted to create something new for a population that was under-served, so that was what really drew me to the position here at the Institute. When I started eleven years ago, there were only about 20 programs in the country that were doing what we are doing. It is still a fairly limited field, but I would say, that we are the primary organization in Western NY that works with trafficking survivors and the only program working specifically with immigrant survivors of domestic violence. The fact that we are working with hundreds of people a year from about 45 different countries of origin makes our program very unique.
What have you valued most about working for the Institute?
[AF]: I think the Institute has achieved a level of excellence in the services that it provides. The reason that our services are strong is because we take our lead from clients themselves; we want to hear their ideas and help them find resources to solve problems. And I think the other piece of it is that we understand, at our core, that we are a human rights based organization that happens to engage in services … that advocacy piece is very strong in every department of the Institute, and everyone here understands that it is an important part of their work.
What is the first thought that comes to mind when I say “International Institute of Buffalo”?
[AF]: Human rights.
What is one accomplishment that you are most proud of? Why?
[AF]: I would say how much our program has evolved and grown is a big accomplishment. Our ability to make services accessible and attractive has increased significantly—our staff should feel really good about that. I am truly so proud to be a part of this amazing team.
Since the Institute works with diverse people from all over the world, can you share a little about your own heritage?
[AF]: I am fourth generation German. When we used to do the tours here, I always said that while I have German roots, being raised Catholic was more of a “culture” than my German ancestry. For my family, being Catholic meant being really service-oriented and stressing the importance of community, which really influenced my decision to become a social worker.
Given the International nature of the Institute, have you traveled abroad? Any places on your bucket list?
[AF]: Not a ton, actually … I have been to Europe quite a few times. I would like to go everywhere [laughs], but for work it would be really helpful to go to Burma given how many of our clients are from there.
Favorite international food?
[AF]: Another huge plus of working here is receiving generous gifts of authentic food from our clients. So, my favorite ethnic food is any dish that is made by our generous, courageous clients. It’s such a fun way to connect with them in a new way.
[AF]: Gregory Boyle’s Tattoos on the Heart. A book written by a Jesuit priest who started Homeboy Industries in California, whose tagline is “nothing stops a bullet like a job.” The book really talks about social justice through practical means for a vulnerable population. I read that book once a year just to remind myself not only why I do what I do, but how I should go about doing it.
What can you tell me about your life away from the Institute?
[AF]: I am a runner and I have a three-year old foster son. I also sing in my gospel choir at church.
What three traits would you say define you?
[AF]: I am a community-builder, an enthusiast, and a big-picture thinker.