Grace Coleman is well known for her work as the executive director at Crisis Center North (CCN). Recognized throughout the region for her work and dedication to the center since 1999, Coleman’s work has touched thousands over the years.
But what many may not know is that her husband, John Chapin, is also dedicated to preventing domestic violence. And thanks to his work, Chapin was recently honored by the Department of Justice with the Crime Victims Research Award, one of only 14 awards given nationally, and the first of its kind for research.
Chapin has served as a volunteer at CCN for 23 years and has worked with his wife in numerous research collaborations. A professor of communications at Penn State-Beaver Campus, Chapin has spearheaded documentaries and research in the field for years.
“John’s work has been invaluable to CCN. He has produced a body of over 50 research publications, and because of that, we can confidently say that we know we are making a difference in the community,” said Coleman. “Not many programs have the luxury of having a research partner at their disposal. John’s work provides indisputable data that helps us generate the funding needed to sustain our programs.”
Chapin’s roots with domestic violence run deep—he came from a home riddled with domestic violence.
“The term domestic violence was coined in 1973. My mother had already been in an abusive marriage for more than a decade,” Chapin explained. At that time, there were few shelters for victims of domestic violence and with nine children and no job, Chapin’s mother had very limited options.
As the youngest child, Chapin said he was often shielded from the worst of the violence. “ I would see my mother in the hospital, but not how she got there,” he explained.
When he was 12, Chapin witnessed firsthand the abuse of one of his siblings and had to testify in court. “Over 40 years later, I remember every detail about that day sitting across from my father being asked to tell a judge what happened at home,” Chapin said. Obviously, these experiences made an impact on the young boy.
Since Chapin saw school as his ‘out’ from a violent home, his teachers were the safe adults in his world. “I wanted to be like them. I took that literally and majored in elementary education,” he said.
Over the years, Chapin worked in education in various roles. He completed his master’s degree and earned a Ph.D. from Rutgers University, where he worked with at-risk youth. This led to his lifelong passion for research in violence prevention education.
Chapin’s work in the field has been extensive: he has developed training curricula and evaluation measures for violence prevention education, medical advocacy, and legal advocacy programs. He also shares his research and expertise with local school districts, nonprofits, churches, and schools.
Part of this work is a video library for training created by students under his direction. The library is shared by 13 domestic violence and sexual assault centers in 10 Pennsylvania counties. “We were part of a team that won a Governor’s Award for creating an online training (WRTI) that saved programs $120,356 in training costs in its first year,” Chapin explained.
Not only does Chapin volunteer at CCN, but he has also served on the board at the Women’s Center of Beaver County. He also shares his experiences with his students at Penn State. “I self-disclose in classes to open the door to students. Someone always come through. I connect them to local resources,” he said.
Chapin encourages his students to use their skills in the community. “I find ways to connect students with nonprofits and victims’ services as part of service-learning projects, research projects, volunteerism, and internships. Many of them continue their volunteer work after graduation or seek employment in victim service organizations,” he said.
Some of Chapin’s research and work has been in partnership with Coleman, including the video library. The couple met while students at Bloomsburg University. When Coleman started working at CCN, Chapin started volunteering.
“I have been working with CCN to develop and assess prevention education programming that has reached over 200,000 students since its inception. All of my research is applied,” said Chapin, who also shares these results with schools and other organizations.
It isn’t only the couple who is involved in domestic violence work; their daughter, Sierra, has volunteered at CCN and their dog, Penny, has served as a therapy dog there for over 10 years. “She was the first domestic violence canine advocate in western Pennsylvania,” said Chapin of what has now developed into the PAWS for Empowerment Program. “Our younger dog, Ari, continues the work, providing therapy services at CCN and court services at district magistrate courts.”
Coleman added, “We didn’t imagine that our conversations at 18 and 19 years old on the steps of Carver Hall would have evolved into our family’s mission, but they did. My work in the field is inextricably tied to John’s story and the impact that domestic violence had on him as a small boy. He has dedicated his entire life to creating a body of research with the intent of ensuring that no child experiences what he did growing up.”
Coleman said that they are both equally dedicated to the mission. “John goes to work determined to illustrate the impact domestic violence has on families. I go to work imagining that every child I see at the center was once him,” she said.
As for his recent honor from the Department of Justice, Chapin said it was “unexpected and humbling.” “The best part was hearing about all of the amazing work being done by people and programs around the country. I left satisfied with our piece of the puzzle in our corner of Pennsylvania knowing like-minded people are out there doing amazing work,” he said.
“There was no doubt that my research area would focus on keeping children and adolescents safe,” he added. “I get great satisfaction knowing that my students will carry on making their own impact. My advice to them and to others is to do your part and be confident that the cumulative impact of all of our work is making a difference.”
For more information, visit www.crisiscenter.north.org, call 412-364-5556, or text 412-444-7660.