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Specialist Focuses on Violence

Joseph Wilson is named Man of Vision by the Virginians Aligned Against Sexual Assault.

Youth outreach coordinator Leon Evans wishes he had a camera two weeks ago when he saw Joseph Wilson take 10 children to the Sterling firehouse.

"You know some people who love their job, well, Joe loves his job," Evans said about the youth outreach specialist for the Youth Services Division of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Services.

Wilson, 32, works with the after-school program the department coordinates with Pembrooke to provide positive alternative activities for youth and to teach them about healthy relationships. Since he started with the department more than three years ago, Wilson initiated several youth programs and has worked with youth and adults on the awareness and prevention of domestic violence and sexual assault, both as a county employee and as teen violence specialist for Loudoun Citizens for Social Justice (LCSJ). A non-profit organization, LCSJ assists men, women and children in domestic violence situations and is affiliated with the Loudoun Abused Women's Shelter. "Our focus is not on sexual behavior. It's a piece of what we do," he said. "We try to talk about things before it gets to that point and lay a groundwork of information so they know what to do. ... We try to get the education out there before it becomes domestic violence."

FOR HIS EFFORTS in preventing sexual violence, the Virginians Aligned Against Sexual Assault (VAASA) — a coalition of sexual assault crisis centers in the state that aims to end sexual violence — named Wilson a Man of Vision.

"Men have historically not played a powerful role in the movement," Wilson said. At more than six feet in height and with a goatee, he calls himself a "softy." "There's a stigma with men working in this field. I feel that I'm here to break that."

In the past three years, Wilson has spoken to 10 men who are in his same profession and has worked with 600 girls and 100 boys through his work. "That's part of this male movement. We are men speaking out about male violence. The court system speaks out about it, but people in our community need to speak out about it as well," he said.

VAASA demonstrates that men are concerned about domestic violence and sexual assault, violent acts that can be perpetrated against both males and females. Wilson became interested in the issue after observing domestic violence in Lee County, which is located in an impoverished area of the state, he said. "Domestic violence was an issue in our community. I saw a lot of alcoholism and drug abuse in families. I saw abuse cases with my friends in elementary school, middle school and high school," he said.

After awhile, Wilson became desensitized to the problem until he went to college at the University of Virginia in Wise County, where he graduated with a psychology degree in 1995. When he found out his female friend was in an abusive and violent relationship, he realized he had to tell her how he felt about the relationship. "It took me a lot of courage to address the issue. … I had to do something. I had to say something. I couldn’t let that go on," he said, adding that looking back, he probably did not do the appropriate thing by confronting her, but he did refer her to services at the college.

"People don’t know where to turn when it happens," Wilson said. "Domestic violence is not isolated to males as abusers. There aren’t a lot of men who are speaking out. That’s what I do, I speak out about domestic violence."

WILSON TEACHES youth about the subject, following his goal to teach at the social level. He does not want to teach academically as some of his family members have done, including his father who is an elementary school principal, he said.

After graduating from college, Wilson traveled from 1995-97 in the Southeast with the former Toast band, playing his guitar in nightclubs, fairs and festivals. He returned to Lee County to work in water maintenance for the county. "There’s not a lot of opportunity there, at least not for me in what I was looking to do," he said.

Wilson talked to his father, who with his mother operates a family livestock and tobacco farm in Lee County and a second farm in Tennessee. "I was concerned about my family," he said. "I told my Dad, I got to go, there are things for me to do. He encouraged me and I left."

Wilson moved to Aldie, staying there for three months before relocating to Leesburg. He began working for the county and soon after volunteered with LCSJ, providing youth programming in both positions. As youth outreach specialist, he facilitates and develops county programs that provide activities for youth while helping them learn how to get along with others, such as through summer camps and youth concerts. One such program is a leisure education program for youth incarcerated at the Youth Detention Center to provide the youth with "alternative choices for positive things to do," he said.

"He seems to figure out ways to make these kids feel like they are individuals [who are] successful and positive and makes them feel like they are part of a larger community," said David Baird, also a youth outreach specialist. "He does a good job working with the kids and advocating for the kids."

Wilson develops and implements programs that are focused on youth issues and that aim to help them build their confidence and self-esteem. "We provide fun, interactive programs, and in that programming, we address bullying, conflict resolution and how to get along with people," he said.

"Joe has flourished in his role," Evans said. "He started to develop programs for youth of Loudoun County in terms of improving their quality of life and in terms of their options and choices."

Wilson also provides outreach to youth and parent groups, after-school programs, middle schools and clubs and organizations to raise awareness about dating violence and the importance of educating children about healthy versus unhealthy relationships.

WILSON VOLUNTEERED for one year before he began working part-time for LCSJ, something he has done for the past two years. He provides programming for children and adolescents to teach them about healthy relationships and conflict resolution. One of the programs is offered in three classes with different topics each day, including healthy and unhealthy relationships, ways of establishing a dating safety plan and conflict resolution skills.

Wilson helped the Department of Social Services with the Young Adult Project, an alternative school in Loudoun, on a pilot program called Choices that was implemented one and a half years ago. At his suggestion, the Department of Parks and Recreation partnered with LCSJ on the project to team teach the program as a seven-week course, which is now part of the school's curriculum, on gender differences, victim empathy and other social topics.

"We find out what kids think, and we try to help them see it's OK to step out of the box," Wilson said. He tries to effect change in how youth think about relationships.

Wilson and his wife Suzan Qawasmeh Wilson live in Leesburg. They married in July and have since opened a business, Electrolysis Plus, LLC.