Thursday, August 18, 2022

Meet the Diocese’s New Safe Environment Coordinator

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Suzanne Hammons
Suzanne Hammons is the editor of the Voice of the Southwest and the media coordinator for the Diocese of Gallup. A graduate of Benedictine College in Kansas, she joined the Diocesan staff in 2012.

After many years of service, Deacon Paul Endter and his wife Valerie have retired as the Safe Environment Coordinators for the Diocese of Gallup. The position of the Coordinator is crucial, as that person oversees the trainings, background checks, and implementation of safety policies throughout the whole diocese. 

Leslie Farrell has been hired as the new coordinator for the diocese (her dad, Russ, also works in the Chancery in the finance department). After her first couple of weeks on the job, the Voice sat down with her for an introductory interview, presented below.

From everyone at the chancery offices, we also wanted to take a moment to thank the Endters for their hard work in the position. We wish them well, and hope they have many happy well-deserved years with their family. 

Voice of the Southwest: Tell us about your background.

Leslie Farrell: I graduated from Benedictine College with my degree in psychology and a minor in theology. And then I took the job at the Cathedral as the youth director over there, and so I run their youth program, and then I’ve taught for a while for different schools in the diocese – St. Bonaventure and Sacred Heart School.

Why did you go for this position?

Well, I really really like the atmosphere of the chancery. I’ve volunteered here before and I really like the way it’s run – I just like being here. And I really like the VIRTUS program. I’m a VIRTUS facilitator and I’ve had to teach all of my kids VIRTUS through the “Touching Safety” program. I just understand the program and think it’s a value to the Diocese, and so I wanted to make sure it continues in the best way possible.

What does a typical work day look like for you?

The job entails processing all the background checks [for the diocese], but also checking up on them ad making sure nothing is there that’s a red flag. It involves maintaining the VIRTUS system for the diocese, approving new users, making sure they’re doing their bulletins, things like that. Trainings, so I do VIRTUS trainings here at the chancery. And then all the CCD programs who need safety training for the kids, you gotta make sure that they’re all doing that. And then looking over all the safe environment procedures and protocols – those big binders that everyone gets.

And with your background in psychology, how does that tie in to learning and implementing the program?

So the very first live VIRTUS training I took was from my psych professor, which was very very cool. I was able to connect it – there are a lot of things, like grooming, which I don’t think a lot of people talk about that predators do, and the way their mind works toward children that’s way different than normal people. Regular people don’t think the way predators think, and you can see that in the way VIRTUS is teaching – it’s very psychologically sound in showing the different tactics they use and the way they think about things.

Like how people use the latest apps or social media like Snapchat for fun, without realizing how it can be exploited.

Exactly. It seems like a lot of work, but it really is [important] – when you put your mindset in that of someone who does want to take advantage of people, they will use any means necessary. Knowing that mindset – and that’s what psychology is all about, knowing how a person thinks – I think the VIRTUS program is doing a good job with trying to get that through to people.

What are you excited to be able to do with this job?

I’m excited to continue the education for people. I think that a lot of people maybe don’t understand the VIRTUS program or think “ugh, it’s something I just have to do” and they don’t understand how valuable it actually is. So I’m excited to keep that alive and keep it focused on that. I’m excited to keep things updated, because the internet is getting updated so fast, and we need to keep on top of it and help educate people who don’t understand the different loopholes or different apps. I don’t even understand all of them, but luckily I have a sister who explains things.

Actually, that’s a good point – growing up in a big family, you’re the oldest, so having some younger siblings who are still in high school or college, do you feel like this job is personal in a way?

It really really is. I’m the oldest of five, and so I always feel protective anyway of them. Not only as a teacher and a youth director. My sister is 15 and I see her on the phone and different things she’s doing and I’m like, “What are you putting on there?” *laughs*

Anything else you’d like people to know?

I’m very approachable! Don’t be scared to call and ask me things. I’m still learning – there’s a lot that goes into this job, so bear with me!

I’m born and raised in Gallup. I really do like this area, I really like this diocese and want to see it thrive.

If you have any questions or comments for Leslie, she can be reached at [email protected]


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