Beth Morrison didn’t set out to save the world. As a Central Michigan University student, she thought she’d become a school teacher. But in her second year of college, Morrison volunteered at a new domestic violence shelter simply for the sociology extra-credit a professor was offering. And she found her calling.
“Back in the ‘70s, you didn’t hear much about domestic sexual violence, and I wasn’t raised in a violent home,” says Morrison. “I fell in love with the field. I’ve always had a real sense of justice. I wanted everything to be fair and just in my world and the world around me and I was able to see how unjust the world was, for women in particular.” From then on, Morrison dedicated her life to being a part of “trying to right the wrong for women.” With a bachelor’s from CMU and a master’s degree from the University of Arizona, Morrison has worked “in the field of helping women” ever since.
Regardless of the degree of wealth or poverty a woman experiences, “violence creates the feeling of being stuck,” says Morrison. “The violence defines their life and stops them from doing what they want to do, finding what would make them happy. Survival becomes the daily chore.” Women in such circumstances dream only of living a life free from violence. ”There are women who’ve had careers and worked throughout the violence but when they’re free from the violence, they realize the career they’ve been in isn’t what they wanted to do – they got stuck in it. They never had the energy or permission from their partner to be able to do what they want to do.” Many women get stuck even without enduring violence in their lives, Morrison admits. “Many women are put in positions of taking care of so many people – spouses, children, parents, friends, loved ones – we tend to absorb that caretaker role and then we forget about ourselves.”
Morrison is grateful that she has never felt stuck. Her partner has always encouraged her to follow her dreams. It’s important, says Morrison, to have open lines of communication and surround oneself with people who share your dreams and thoughts, who are encouraging. She advises women to write in a journal – “sometimes you’re afraid to say it out loud, so write it down and go back and reflect. It can help you think and dream and plan.”
While Morrison’s entire career has been driven by the higher ideal of creating safe havens for women and eliminating violence, she agrees that everyone needs to devote themselves to a higher ideal, a goal beyond their own gratification. At midlife especially, when kids have fewer demands, it’s a perfect time for women to find their passion and devote themselves to community. ”If we’re not active, we slow down, and being part of something bigger is also fun,” says Morrison. “It exposes you to different people and different ways of thinking. Finding a cause that you can sink your teeth in and really believe in – there are so many good ones out there – you feel like you are making a contribution. For some people it’s easy to write a check, and for others it’s getting their hands in there and giving of their time.”
Morrison herself has found a personal cause now that she’s sent her son off to college: running marathons. ”That was to challenge myself and do something different,” she says.
Beth Morrison is President & CEO of HAVEN