The new director of the Rape Crisis Center of Medina and Summit Counties doesn’t have the traditional background of the head of a victim advocate agency.

Sandy Parker has been a police officer, a sexual assault nurse examiner and a court investigator. Her experience with a victim agency is limited to being an intern and volunteer at Victim Assistance.

Terri Heckman, executive director the Rape Crisis Center and the Battered Women's Shelter, said she liked Parker’s unique resume.

“I thought, with the expertise of the staff and my background, I didn’t need a clone,” said Heckman, who has been in the victim advocacy field for decades. “I was excited to find someone who did not take the traditional path for us.”

Parker, 47, is thrilled about the position she started earlier this month overseeing an agency with 20 employees and a $1.5 million annual budget.

“I’m planted exactly where I wanted to be,” she said.

Heckman chose Parker from six finalists for the position that’s been open since August when Cindy Bloom, the former director, announced she wasn’t returning from maternity leave. Kelli Cary, a counselor with the agency, served as the interim director but wasn’t interested in the job permanently. She’ll remain a counselor.

With the hope of creating a succession plan, Heckman created a new position of assistant director and hired Kate Sass, who will start June 10 and will work in the agency’s Medina office. Sass formerly worked for rape crisis centers in Cleveland and Key West, Florida.

Parker has spent most of her life as a nurse, getting her start in North Carolina, where she raised her son and daughter.

Parker took a break from nursing to work for a few years as a police officer in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and as a sheriff’s deputy. When she decided to return to the Akron area in 2009, she opted to return to nursing, rather than staying in law enforcement.

She worked for a few years at Akron General and then moved to Wooster Community Hospital, where she eventually became a sexual assault nurse examiner and then a coordinator in this specialty.

In 2013, Parker went back to school to get her master’s degree in forensic nursing from Cleveland State University. She recalls her husband asking why she was doing this. She told him, “I’d love to retire one day and head up a rape crisis center,” not realizing this would happen.

In working with sexual assault victims, Parker draws on personal experience. She was sexually assaulted by a family member when she was in college. She sought counseling to cope with what happened and also how some people didn’t believe her.

“That was the most difficult part for me,” she said.

During her seven years in sexual assault nursing, Parker said she only knows of one person out of the estimated 70 people she assisted who lied about having been assaulted. She said that person was prosecuted.

“I think people have a misconception about how many victims are not telling the truth,” she said.

Parker said she hopes to help educate people about this misconception in her new role with the Rape Crisis Center.

For her first few months, Parker plans to evaluate the services the agency provides and how they could potentially be improved or enhanced. She wants to look closely at the services being offered to residents in Medina County, students with disabilities at the University of Akron and immigrants in Akron’s North Hill neighborhood.

Parker has essentially returned to her roots. She grew up in North Hill and is the niece of the Rev. Bob Denton and his ex-wife, Stella Long, who founded Victim Assistance. She has snapshots of her as a young girl playing on the grounds of the agency’s original home on Furnace Street.

Parker did an internship for Victim Assistance as part of her master’s degree and then volunteered there, even earning a volunteer award in 2017.

Leaders at Victim Assistance said they are pleased Parker is now heading up the Rape Crisis Center, an agency they work with closely.

Dana Zedak, a former Rape Crisis director who now is the senior director of education services for Victim Assistance, said Parker is the perfect person to take on this job at a time when sexual assault issues are changing — and getting a lot of attention.

“Sandy has such a heart for this work,” Zedak said. “She will do whatever it takes to advance the Rape Crisis Center.”

 

Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705, swarsmith@thebeaconjournal.com and on Twitter: @swarsmithabj.