BY CARMEN SIERING
It’s been more than a decade since Debra Morrow finally acknowledged she needed help dealing with an abusive relationship. She found that help at Middle Way House, the Bloomington nonprofit agency serving survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault.
Eventually, she and three of her four children (one son was attending Purdue University) moved into The Rise!, Middle Way’s transitional housing program. And Morrow, who had dropped out of high school when she became pregnant at 16, decided to return to school.
“I was crying so hard while I filled out the application,” Morrow says of her decision to attend Ivy Tech Community College–Bloomington. “I was sure they wouldn’t take me.” Not only was Morrow accepted at Ivy Tech, she went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Indiana State University, where she was named Criminal Justice Student of the Year and graduated magna cum laude.
In January, Morrow, 49, was named executive director of Middle Way House, succeeding Toby Strout, who held the position for 30 years before retiring in August.
“This is a huge responsibility and a huge job,” Morrow says. “And honestly, I don’t think anyone can fill Toby’s shoes. What I can do, however, is slip on my own shoes and move forward.”
Prior to being named executive director, Morrow spent seven years as community outreach coordinator for Middle Way. In that position she coordinated volunteers, represented the agency at state-level events, spoke on the issues of domestic violence and rape prevention, and, coming full circle, worked directly with residents at The Rise!
Morrow says prevention efforts will continue to be a part of Middle Way’s future, and feels that working with children is key. “As kids grow up, we teach them two plus two equals four, and they don’t ever question that,” she says. “We need to teach them what healthy relationships are and when they grow up, they won’t question that, either.”
Morrow says she thought long and hard before applying for the job of executive director, but now that she is in the role she knows she made the right choice. “There’s no place I would rather be at this stage of my life,” she says. “Of course, there are days I get tired, but it’s so short-lived. And I’ve proven to myself how much I can accomplish, so now it’s like, well, what else can I do? And then I just keep going.”