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Designed for Action: Marine Corps Veteran Earns Victim Advocate Certification

October 06, 2022
Zabrena Grisi photo

At York College of Pennsylvania, students aren’t just reading textbooks and listening to lectures. They’re working on community projects, solving real-world problems, and using their education to effect change. In Designed for Action, we meet the students who are making an impact outside of the classroom.

Through her Victim/Survivor Advocacy and Services class, former York College student Zabrena Grisi earned a credential that will allow her to help others.

Former York College of Pennsylvania Psychology major Zabrena Grisi wants to help underserved clients, such as the homeless and children in government care.

“I want to work with the people who think there’s no one who cares for them,” she says.

That interest drew her to the Victim/Survivor Advocacy and Services course, a Human Services major class taught by adjunct faculty member Ashton Whitmoyer-Ober in fall 2021. The class offered an in-depth exploration of traumatic experiences and how to advocate for people in those situations.

Understanding Her Why

As part of the course, Grisi, who comes from Galway, New York, became certified as a Victim Advocate.

“I took the class because I want to know how to treat someone properly,” she says, “so I’m not coming at it from a more personal perspective, and I can be objective.”

Grisi served in the Marine Corps from 2006 to 2011, deploying to Afghanistan during that time. She brought that experience, along with a history of trauma and abuse, to the class. She had many preconceived notions about sexual assault and advocacy, but through the class, she learned to view advocacy through a new lens.

“I had to overcome a lot of my own personal trauma to be able to have an objective mind,” she says.

Learning from the Experts

One of the highlights of the class for Grisi was the opportunity to learn from a variety of instructors. At almost every class session, experts in the field shared their experiences and insights. Students heard from an emergency room Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE), YWCA advocates, and medical personnel who specialize in traumatic brain injury.

“That really made it stick in your brain a little bit harder,” Grisi says. “That class is phenomenal for anyone looking to go into human services, because many of the human services realms will touch on things you learn in the class. It will help you know and identify abuses people suffer without bringing it up outright.”

For years, Grisi has wanted to help those who have been victims of trauma, but she felt she lacked the necessary education. Now, because of the course, she feels better equipped. She also isn’t afraid to admit that being in supervision and having a therapist herself have been healthy steps toward assisting others.

“I need to be able to help myself before I’m able to help others,” she says.

While Grisi doesn’t plan to complete her degree work at York College because of extenuating circumstances, she values the time spent and education she received while enrolled. Outside of her courses, she especially appreciated the College’s focus on community engagement.

“They really like to give back to the community, and I really liked that,” she says.

Grisi knows that her time at York College helped her determine and bring into focus the career path she’s headed down.

“Progress isn’t linear,” she says. “Try new things. Embrace being foolish and don’t be afraid of being a beginner. A jack of all trades, master of none is still better than a master of one.”