After leading Loudoun Abused Women’s Shelter for the past five years, Nicole Acosta is stepping down as its executive director.
She will continue her work with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, which has been her lifelong passion, but just over the county line. Next month, she’ll start a new job as countywide domestic violence coordinator for Fairfax County’s Office for Women and Domestic and Sexual Violence Services.
Judy Hanley has been appointed interim executive director while the LAWS board of directors searches for the organization’s next leader. Hanley serves as the director of the Loudoun Child Advocacy Center, a program LAWS launched in 2008.
Acosta got her start with LAWS in 2005 working overnight shifts at its shelter. It was a perfect fit. She wanted a job where she could serve victims of domestic violence, but needed her days free to work toward her master’s degree in social work. “I had previously done an internship at a domestic violence program and I really loved that work. And the hours worked well while I was in graduate school,” she said.
As she learned more about LAWS, Acosta loved the organization’s mission to provide free, confidential services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. So after earning her master’s degree in 2006, she took the position of its director of Youth and Child Services, providing direct services and counseling to child victims of domestic and sexual violence. She served in that role until 2012, when she was appointed the organization’s executive director.
Acosta acknowledged that she had big shoes to fill. She was 29 years old, and taking the reins from Susan Curtis, who had been with LAWS for 20 years. “Sue Curtis was so well respected as a community leader. … and the community didn’t really know me because I was coming up from within the organization. Those were some enormous shoes to fill.”
Acosta is now very much seen as one of those well-respected, well-known leaders in Loudoun’s nonprofit community, said Amy Owen, executive director of the Community Foundation for Loudoun and Northern Fauquier Counties.
Owen called her a change-maker. “Her work broadened a host of essential partnerships to address domestic violence in Loudoun County. And, she shared her skills and capacity to benefit all of the Loudoun nonprofit sector for the greatest good,” she said. “She leaves a void of great proportions.”
Acosta is most proud of her work to help open the Child Advocacy Center, a public-private partnership dedicated to child victims of abuse, and her work in the past 18 months to help reduce the domestic violence homicide rate. In early 2016, she worked with law enforcement groups to introduce a new strategy meant to identify victims of abuse who were at risk of being killed by their abuser. In March, with the help of a 100WomenStrong grant, she hosted a conference to provide training to industry professionals in how best to identify people who could be murdered by their abusers and how to help them.
“I’ve been really passionate about that in terms of what we can do as a community,” she said. “We’ve seen a lot of progress in this, which really means a lot.”
Acosta is quick to pass off any kudos that she’s received from community leaders. She says the power of LAWS’ work is not just in the people on staff and the volunteers, but the clients themselves who are willing to trust them.
“It’s scary to come and ask for help, and it’s even risky sometimes,” she said. “So the fact that all the clients trust us enough to ask for help is a huge honor for us.”
And on occasion, she and her staff will receive visits and thank you notes from people they have helped navigate some of their most difficult years. “It’s a nice reminder for us that what we’re doing helps people, but it also is a nice reminder for all victims that it can get better,” she said. “Even in their darkest, scariest moments, if you take the leap to come get help, then it can get better.”
Learn more about Loudoun Abused Women’s Shelter at lcsj.org.