How A Collaboration between Domestic Violence Agencies and Tech Development Company Aims to Enhance Services for Victims

By Lisa DiMuccio-Zgela

In March 2020, as COVID-19 cases started to increase across the nation and “Stay at Home” orders began in response to stop the spread of the virus, domestic violence agencies in Western Pennsylvania were concerned that this “forced” social isolation would increase calls to crisis lines.

Agencies prepared and redesigned services to brace for increased calls, but, surprisingly, those calls did not come. Early in the pandemic, agencies realized a need to shift focus and quickly create online and virtual services using social media, text/chat options, and telehealth platforms. However, the strength of the state’s domestic violence services has been its seamless service delivery that creates a state-wide safety net. While initial efforts provided the desired access to services, the fragmented nature of these early modifications presented some barriers to services for survivors.

The pandemic spotlighted the challenges faced by domestic violence victims and shed light on the need for safe, improved communication tools between victims and domestic violence agencies.

In the fall of 2020, OhanaLink Technologies™, a woman-owned technology development company based in Pennsylvania, was approached by the executive director Lizette Olsen, of Mercer County AWARE, Inc., a Western Pennsylvania-based domestic violence agency.  She inquired about the company’s existing technology platform, wondering if it could help domestic violence agencies address the overwhelming need for better communication channels that are safe for survivors to use.

“For many of my younger staff, their lifestyles are directed by their feeds and cell phones. Agency structures need to catch up to where people consume and deliver services,” explained Olsen. “To help meet our victims’ needs, we needed to propel our agency forward, embrace technology, and provide the technology they expect.”

“Ohana means family, and since domestic violence has touched nearly every member of my team, it fueled our mission for creating a solution that would make a difference in the lives of our users—a true labor of love,” said Wasser. “My sister is a survivor. Watching how it impacted her life and how she moved forward successfully, I knew I needed to find a way to give back in any way we could to provide a safe network for survivors and families.”

In addition to working with AWARE, Inc., OhanaLink Technologies engaged in conversation with the Alle-Kiski Area HOPE Center located in Tarentum, PA and five additional domestic violence programs in Pennsylvania to explore the potential for a cloud-based service using OhanaLink’s proprietary communication and support platform.

“The COVID-19 pandemic shed further light on the overwhelming need for better communication channels between community-based agencies providing victims’ services,” said Wasser. “As we began to research how to create a solution designed to enhance communication, connectivity, and support, we discovered we had to work side-by-side with these agencies to ensure the resource would meet their needs and the survivors’ needs.”

OhanaLink and the seven agencies brainstormed and strategized what features would most benefit the agencies and their client’s needs to create a solution designed to enhance communication, connectivity, and support. OhanaLink Purple™—a  cloud-based, agency-driven services delivery system for better coordination and collaboration for agencies, victims, and family members—was developed from this collaboration. OhanaLink Purple was released in May.

OhanaLink Purple provides domestic violence agencies with a series of tools to safely enhance communication and improve secure access to resources for victims. As a safe, private mobile communication and support tool, OhanaLink Purple is delivered through a concealed mobile app with proprietary Trackless Safety Features™ that can be used on smartphones or tablets.

The mobile delivery system is free for a domestic violence agency’s client to use and provides the client with immediate access to many features, including a client profile, updates, chat, planner, directory of support organizations and contact information, and a library of useful resources to help survivors and families. More enhancements are scheduled for an upcoming product release.

“OhanaLink Purple allows us to directly connect to clients when it is safe to do so, and knowing isolation is one of the greatest tools an abuser uses, Purple provides connection to family and friends safely. Another benefit of OhanaLink Purple is that a client interacts with a human being, NOT an automated app–nothing automated, and we can provide services in real-time and at times that suit our client’s needs,” said Michelle Gibb, Executive Director of the Alle-Kiski Area HOPE Center. “This is a true game-changer for domestic violence agencies and survivors.”  

Currently, fourteen domestic violence agencies have completed on boarding or are in the process of completing user training on OhanaLink Purple over the coming weeks.

Lisa DiMuccio-Zgela
Lisa serves as the Chief Marketing Officer leading the sales and marketing efforts for OhanaLink Technologies. As a senior marketing and brand strategist, Lisa has spent nearly three decades developing and implementing large scale marketing, public and media relations, communications and customer acquisition strategies in a wide range of industries. Lisa launched her own marketing consulting firm designed specifically to help small to medium sized businesses succeed by providing a unique business model. Lisa holds a BS in Communications, completed her professional certification in Marketing and Public Relations, is certified in grant writing, and is a graduate of a leadership program.