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EVERYDAY HEROES: Shelter director strives for acceptance, peace

Mar. 13—The co-founder of TahlEquality and Help In Crisis shelter operations director is impacting the community by working to ensure peace and acceptance.

For five years, Shronn Schuelke was the child advocate at HIC, a nonprofit that helps victims of domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault and survivors throughout four counties. But as of last fall, she has served as shelter operations director Schuelke's job has her managing shelter programs with donors and community partners to make services more effective, and to host awareness events for families.

"I get to envision new ways of working with our community to assist our agency with monthly costs," Schuelke said. "I get to think of new ways to train staff and find new subjects for groups to educate and empower clients."

When Schuelke is not helping survivors, she holds free weekly acudetox clinics — ear acupuncture for stress, trauma, anxiety, and addiction — called "Acupuncture & Meditation."

"Phyllis Spears had been doing acudetox in rural communities for decades," Schuelke said. "After she trained me, I started offering treatments to HIC staff and clients."

Schuelke has offered the clinics since 2018 at the Unitarian Universalist of Tahlequah sanctuary on Thursdays, 4-6 p.m.

Schuelke is also co-founder of the local nonprofit LGBTQ+ and straight ally organization, TahlEquality. She and her husband, Carden Crow, decided to create TahlEquality in 2014 after they saw a need for a local pride group. Schuelke said the closest to Tahlequah was in Tulsa, so they wanted their focus to be on peace and acceptance for those growing up in this area.

"I'm so proud to see the chain reaction to our efforts," Schuelke said. "The momentum was ripe and ready for a community pride event. Since then, other rural areas of Oklahoma started to set up chapters with their own hometown pride events."

Schuelke stays involved in the community because this is where she lives and thrives.

"We can make a direct impact on our quality of life by working here at home," she said.

Schuelke said promoting the peace and acceptance of others can be difficult, because some in the community are not ready to honor people at whatever stage they are in their lives.

"We can be more fulfilled when we're able to learn from one another and validate each other's human experience," Schuelke said. "We all win when we're working for the whole."

Schuelke said continuous budget cuts for state and local government funding can also be challenging.

"Earlier this month, domestic violence and sexual assault advocates from all across the state went to the capitol to ask the Legislature to play a bigger role in funding domestic violence victim services and to strengthen domestic violence laws to hold the abusers accountable," Schuelke said. "We ask for help from the community because state and federal funds only cover a small portion of what we need to run victim services for our four counties."

Slow progress is difficult for Schuelke to deal with, but the responses from those she has helped is the most treasured part of her work.

"[It's] the response you get when you see the impact you've made in someone from the new twinkle in their eyes, the 'ah-ha' moments when someone is feeling more empowered than they were before," she said.