PINEDALE – Robin Clover said she wanted to work herself out of a job.
That may have been too tall of an order for someone working to end violence against women. But it gave her a tenable, admirable goal to work towards. She started by believing.
An early autumn sun glistened through the windows of the Sublette County Sexual Assault and Family Violence building. It glowed in refractions of light. Clover was there alone, busy playing catch-up at her desk. She’s loved what she’s done for all of the nearly 21 years she’s done it. And she considers herself incredibly thankful to have this second career, having started with SAFV at 41 years old when her kids were out of the house and no longer needed her as much. After leading SAFV for more than two decades she’s set to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wyoming Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault on Oct. 7. Another honor to hang next to the previous P.E.A.C.E. Award she earned from the state’s organization that hangs by her office’s entrance.
With various papers scattered across the expanses of her desk, weighted down by other papers, she said she took umbrage with one of the old adages.
“They say if you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life. Well, I’ve worked my ass off,” she said with an accompanying laugh.
She came to SAFV from a loving family and the nonprofit sector. That’s what got her excited initially – seeing a job opening for a nonprofit’s director’s position. Within months it became a passion.
She became galvanized through working with victims. She sat across that desk from victims, heard their stories and gave them resources for help. Through their work together she saw them empowered.
“It’s an honor to help these people and see their successes, it’s just unbelievable,” Clover said.
She’s also enjoyed the past 21 years because she’s had a supportive board of directors that’s allowed SAFV to grow from a one-person program to a support network with multiple locations in Sublette County. She said she couldn’t ask for a better staff, who all joined her vision.
“This has been my baby since day one,” Clover said. “I’ve grown this organization with the board and staff and state leadership.”
Collaboration has always been part of her ethos. She’d said she’s not a headbutter. She wants everyone to play in the sandbox even if there are disagreements. So, in one of her first actions, she contacted a social worker at the Department of Family Services to see if they’d be interested in collaborating. And since Clover’s goal of working herself out of a job meant a focus on prevention, they wrote and designed a prevention program to present to schools.
It centered on fairy tales. The very first one they did was an elementary-age specific presentation with Hansel and Gretel. They used the original version with its frightening events rather than glossed Disney versions. The ones that involved cutting off toes and such. In the original version, there’s a white bird that helps Hansel and Gretel. So Clover would ask the children who the white birds were in their lives. That helped build a trusting relationship with children who may have been hurt.
After that, Clover would receive young finger points accompanied by, “You’re the white bird lady.”
When the collaborative took their readings to junior high classes, they brought stories like Rapunzel and Little Red Riding Hood. When discussing Little Red Riding Hood they talked about predators. How predators live in the wild and may be beautiful but still wild – and how sometimes people are predators. Clover knew young girls being groomed by men nearly six years older than them and wanted to convey to the young women that wasn’t normal.
She also remembered how, in the second day of the two-day discussion on Little Red Riding Hood, they separated boys and girls to ask what they wanted to know from and ask of each other. The first thing the boys asked was “if you don’t really like us, why do you flirt with us?” The first thing the girls wanted to tell the boys was “our flirting doesn’t always mean anything.”
Clover was asked to return by the administration to discuss sexual assault awareness and dating violence to sophomore health classes. It was still early in her career but she found herself involved in multiple outlets working towards the same end goal.
“I had people taking care of clients, I was running this and doing the prevention outreach,” she said. “To me, that was the highlight of my career.”
In such an emotionally heavy profession, Clover took a pause when thinking how she kept coming back refreshed. She grabbed something off a bookshelf behind her and put it on her desk. It was pure glass, reflective and dense, bending the gleaming light into colors invisible just moments earlier. Compressed in the center of the glass cube was an angel. Forged through an intense molding process and surrounded by the protective, tough and beautiful glass. It sat undisturbed and uncovered.
Clover held up another crafted angel, this one noticeably created with hours of toiling hands. There was another angelic figure hanging from a board leaning against the wall and her desk like a Christmas ornament. These are the few that haven’t followed her home yet.
“These are what the people I help call me, their angel,” she said. “And they give me angels.”
There’s a former client Clover helped that will return to the SAFV offices on her bad days. This particular person has been out of an abusive relationship for years but Clover has remained in her support network.
Also hanging from the corkboard on Clover’s desk was a hanging “Believe” sign with its glittering stones glistening in the peaking sunlight. She also pointed to a stone, molded over thousands of years and ready to remain for thousands more. That stone sat at the edge of her desk, painted blue and green with “BELIEVE” written in white.
Clover said they started a campaign by believing. The same former client sent those gifts because nobody believed her when she was a child. SAFV helped her because Clover was there to believe in her.
“Very quickly I saw that I was making a difference in the lives of people and that’s a little heady to be perfectly honest with you,” Clover said. “Knowing that I could really make a difference and impact the lives of people, it was enough to keep me going.”
Now, she’s ready to retire. She’s picked next June as her time to step away. She’s also picked her successor. It’s bittersweet to leave the place that helped her mourn the loss of a son but she didn’t want to be one of those who people said stuck around too long. She’s also been frustrated with how the conversation on violence against women has been usurped by different movements. She said she doesn’t fit the model anymore. She thought that could be attributed to her age, her years of experience and that she’s a conservative.
She watched as much of the nation turned its attention to the search for Gabby Petito, whose body was found miles north of Pinedale. She understood the pleading for attention on missing persons cases in Wyoming among minority women, and believes the national media gave Petito’s case too much attention. But why not use this as an avenue to talk about how violence against women transcends race, wealth and background, she said.
“Don’t lose sight of the fact that a young woman is dead because systems failed and its happened all over the country, regardless of what color or race or sex or gender identity you are,” she said. “It’s happening everywhere, so let’s stay focused on the fact that it’s happening and not who it’s happening to. I’ve lost my patience for that.”
So Clover is ready to walk into retirement and simply step away. She said she hopes to share the memories and goodbyes as she is ready to accept the Lifetime Achievement Award and not on her last day. She wants to just walk out and go.
She didn’t work herself out of a job, though not for lack of effort. Through that effort, that playing in the sandbox, a thoroughly supportive community made her job easier – though she thinks some still don’t welcome her as a local because her parents didn’t go to school in Bondurant. She knows those relationships matter especially when with SAFV.
The job may still be needed, though maybe not forever. And that’s something worth believing in.