Huntingdon Survivors

An Interview with Huntingdon House’s Executive Director

Jean Collins is the Executive Director of Huntingdon House, which is an organization that provides resources for survivors of domestic abuse. Collins has lived in central PA for thirty-six years, and she is very used to the area. She has been the Executive Director of Huntingdon House for five years, where she says the work can be very challenging, but she receives incredible community support.

Before working here, Collins worked at the Centre County Women’s Resource Center (CCWRC). CCWRC is a much larger center with a higher population, which she describes as having much more specialization among staff and more resources. In Huntingdon, Collins describes the work environment as being very close, with fewer staff (comprised of ten people) who learn to do more general sets of skills. They often provide referrals to services more available in places like Centre County.

Collins started her work in rural areas, and she is familiar with the cultural differences that living in Huntingdon entails. It’s sometimes used as a joke, she says, but everybody really does know everyone around here. Sometimes she says that can work against her organization’s interests, since some survivors “might not feel that it’s safe because they think everyone will know if they come [to Huntingdon House], but that’s not true.” In terms of support, however, she emphasizes that if Huntingdon House ever needs anything, there’s always someone there to help them out, or “someone who knows someone.”

Jean Collins says that the relational aspects of her job are important in Huntingdon’s culture. “If I’m running into somebody on the street, I need to talk to them and stop,” she explains. “People from here often know a whole lot better than people who aren’t from here about how things work,” she added. The culture involves a lot of active and supportive people, she says, but it’s important to know that there are established ways of doing things, and that you need to acknowledge when you’re working against their prevailing worldviews.

Collins is excited to see that people are working to create and enhance Huntingdon’s welcoming atmosphere and make it available for everyone. She says that while she enjoyed being welcomed and her organization enjoys a lot of community support, it has to be acknowledged that it can be a difficult and conservative place for minorities or outsiders. She says that while the perception that there are a lot of very conservative values and attitudes is true, it’s not the whole picture, and Huntingdon is more diverse in thoughts and ideas than people might expect.

There are safety concerns, she says, for minorities and LGBTQ+ people, which is why Huntingdon House is a member of Diversity Huntingdon, and she supports the non-discrimination ordinance. She says that while Huntingdon is a hard and potentially uncomfortable place to be LGBTQ+, that there are a good number of people who want to support this ordinance, even though she knows people of color and LGBTQ+ people who have had really negative experiences here. “I have found a lot of people who are supportive, who live here and are out,” she adds, saying that she hopes Huntingdon can expand to include more community organizing opportunities that encompass many identities, including people of color.