For more than 20 years, Elizabeth Irvin ’93 has dedicated her career to providing compassionate and effective mental health care for women who have experienced trauma. She is this year’s Community Service Award recipient, selected by the Hotchkiss Alumni Association.
Irvin says she was surprised when she was told about the honor. “Knowing all the amazing work and service done by our fellow classmates, let alone all Hotchkiss alumnae, I could not imagine how the committee came to select me,” she said. “I am deeply humbled, grateful, and proud to receive this award.” She will be honored during a ceremony on campus in April.
Irvin is the executive director of The Women’s Initiative, a nonprofit with multiple locations in Charlottesville, VA, that empowers women in times of challenge and change. She joined the organization in 2009 as its first Spanish-speaking therapist. Soon after, she founded the Bienestar program to create a safe space for Latina women to heal and grow. Irvin became executive director four years later, and under her guidance the agency has become the second-largest provider of mental health care in the Charlottesville area.
The Women’s Initiative offers trauma-informed, culturally responsive care—regardless of ability to pay—through services such as walk-in and call-in wellness clinics, individual counseling, groups and social support, and education and outreach programs. Recognizing the importance of affinity-based healing, there are specific groups to support Black women overcoming racial trauma through the Sister Circle program, as well as unique offerings for the LGBTQ+ community. The organization is committed to racial and social justice and addresses barriers to care such as cost, stigma, language, culture, and transportation. “COVID has heightened the already significant need for mental health care, and the disparate impacts on Black, Latinx and other communities of color have deepened,” Irvin said.
When Irvin arrived at Hotchkiss as a lower mid, she already knew she wanted to pursue a career as a therapist. "I feel so privileged and fortunate that my parents encouraged me to go to Hotchkiss. I had many great teachers there,” she said in her September 2018 Alum of the Month profile. “I am appreciative of my time at Hotchkiss, which taught me to think critically and globally. It gave me some of the greatest friendships and best memories of my life."
Irvin received a joint degree in law and social work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Before joining The Women’s Initiative, her work with survivors of trauma began at the San Miguel Resource Center, a domestic violence and sexual assault crisis agency in Telluride, CO. She also helped incarcerated women through an alternative sentencing program in Asheville, NC.
As a therapist, Irvin says she emphasizes a strengths-based perspective as she supports clients on their healing journeys from past traumas. She believes that every person possesses the strength and resilience they need to heal. "I get to bear witness to a woman's courage to heal and regain her strength,” Irvin said in her Alum of the Month profile. “I am honored to come to work every day.”
Presented annually, the Community Service Award honors the service contributions that Hotchkiss graduates have made to their respective communities, whether local, national, or international. The award seeks to recognize individuals who—in the estimation of the Nominating Committee of the Board of Governors of the Alumni Association—demonstrate through their volunteer and/or vocational endeavors an exemplary sense of caring, initiative, and ingenuity.