Last week at the annual Hannah Humanitarian Awards dinner held by the Committee to Aid Abused Women (CAAW), Amy Saathoff had the kind of experience that would seem unlikely in fiction. She encountered a 12-year-old girl and discovered the girl had been named Amy, after her, by an abused mother Saathoff had helped 14 years ago when she was a CAAW staff member. While Saathoff was surprised, those who know her as a person of great kindness and gentleness were not. Over the years, events have come full circle. After leaving CAAW and doing good works elsewhere for eight years, she is now back at CAAW as a fundraiser and community relations worker.
What got you into domestic abuse work?
When I was in college, I took a women’s studies class … and one of our projects was to volunteer at either a domestic violence program—this was in Kansas—or on the suicide hotline, and then there was a child abuse hotline. I was the only one in the class who went for the domestic violence program.
How did you end up in Reno?
I just graduated from college, and I was still waiting tables, and I really needed to do something different with my degree, so I just picked Reno, and I love it here. My parents have some friends here, and I stayed with them for a while. I knew nobody other than them. I like the area. I like the temperature. You know, coming from Kansas, where it’s so humid and muggy, the dry sounded pretty good, the dry climate.
When you got to Reno, how did you find your way to CAAW?
My parents’ friends that I called my aunt and uncle, they helped me look around, and we tried to figure out what the local domestic violence program was because I really felt like that was where I wanted to go. And I saw CAAW. We kept watching, and then an ad came up in the paper, and I was so excited. So I applied for that, and that was in 1992.
What did you do for CAAW?
When I first started, I was a child and family advocate in the shelter. I did that for about two years, and I loved that. That’s the best job. You work with a family. … I applied for a promotion, and I got the position of development director [fundraiser]. And I did that about another four years.
You left to go to …
The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. I was an information specialist, and then I became a program manager in charge of their training that they put on in domestic violence around the country.
You did that for eight years?
Yes. I realized that I was traveling so much. … I needed to get a life again, and I was ready to jump back into my life. I took some time off, and they took me back to CAAW.
You have a namesake. When you encountered her, did you know she was named after you?
I had no idea. I had no idea. I actually thought she was [her older sister]. The one that I thought it was, was six at the time. … I was visiting with her mom. Her mom doesn’t speak English, and so we communicated through the child. So she was translating for us, and I kept looking at her daughter and saying, “Oh, do you remember me?” … And I said, “Gosh, how old are you now?” Thinking that she’s older than 14? She looks about 14, and I thought she was quite a bit older. … It turns out that she’s 12, and I still wasn’t putting it together. … I said, “What is your name? You’re not Kathy, are you?” And she said, “No, no, I’m not Kathy, I’m Amy.” I looked at her mom, and her mom just smiled and said, “I named her after you.” Big tears. It was very sweet.
You remember the case?
Oh, yes. Oh, yes. I’ll always remember the family. I remember a lot of them.