From behind her desk in the basement of the former county courthouse in Keene, Katrina Nugent recalled a group of middle schoolers she worked with in a series of classes on violence prevention.
“They were just a great bunch of kids to work with in general. I think anybody would have also had this very endearing feeling about them,” she said.
But about three-quarters of the way through the violence-prevention education program Nugent was facilitating at the middle school, something shifted.
“They would start to stay after class and want to talk more. And I was like, 'This is cool, alright.' And then they would start to share things, and ask us for advice. I think in that moment I really felt like I could be somebody that was at least a safe person for these kids,” she said. “I think that is really when I really knew this is where I was supposed to be.”
For almost four years, Nugent, Prevention Education Program Director with the Monadnock Center for Violence Prevention, has dedicated herself to overseeing and facilitating such programs in more than two dozen area schools. She also works with local and state organizations to shape survivor-support violence-prevention policies and helps businesses learn to recognize when employees may be experiencing abuse.
The Monadnock Center for Violence Prevention is a Keene nonprofit that assists survivors of domestic and sexual violence by offering services including counseling, court advocacy and referrals to other agencies. In her role of prevention education program director, Nugent says she feels she’s doing the work she was meant to — but it wasn’t a straight path getting here.
Growing up in a military family, Nugent spent the bulk of her childhood living on Air Force bases in England. In her early teens, her family moved to North Dakota.
"I'm a child of the '90s, which was a really great time for feminism," she said, and in that era of third-wave feminism, she became more aware of social issues and discrimination against women.
She enrolled at Berklee College of Music to study vocal performance and production but soon realized the school and city weren’t the best fit for her. She moved to Nashua and was working in a restaurant where one of her colleagues was a student at Franklin Pierce University. Nugent decided to enroll at the university as well, and during her time there, she became involved in organizing fundraisers for MCVP.
She majored in English with a minor in gender studies, focusing on medical discrimination and joining the university’s Women in Leadership program. In 2016, she completed her master's in education in curriculum and instruction.
“I saw education as the way that I could take my childhood dream of changing the world into a reality,” she said. Nugent initially planned on becoming a public school teacher, but when she learned that MCVP was hiring a prevention education program director, she felt the role better aligned with what she wanted to do in life.
For nearly four years, she has worked with schools and communities, joined coalitions, and facilitated workshops with the goal of preventing violence and supporting survivors.
"We as a society, especially in this country, with all of our resources, can do so much better,” she said. “There's no reason for sexual violence to perpetuate the way that it does. It's completely preventable."
The center offers programming for all ages, and Nugent works with students ranging from preschool through college with the goal of helping them recognize the difference between healthy and abusive behaviors.
“Abusive behaviors are learned, and they’ve learned at an early age. Through prevention, we can stop that," she said.
Nugent said districts are sometimes hesitant to introduce the programming into their schools, “because of the misconceptions about what we actually talk about in the classroom,” she explained. “A lot of people think that we do sex ed, and that's not what it is.”
The programming that the Monadnock Violence Prevention Center brings to schools teaches students skills like setting boundaries, understanding consent from an early age, and communicating feelings effectively.
“It's not only learning what behaviors are healthy and what behaviors are abusive, but also making sure people have the right outlets and the right opportunities so they don't end up resorting to abusive behaviors as a coping mechanism," she said.
Nugent also serves on several committees and coalitions beyond the Monadnock Region, including the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, which does policy, outreach and education work throughout the state; the Governor’s Task Force on Sexual Misconduct, which is responsible for implementing a statute that establishes support for survivors at higher-education institutions; and the Juvenile Conference Committee under Keene's Juvenile Court Diversion Program, which she says is particularly special to her.
“Just being a part of that and being invited to be on that ... that's something I'm really proud of,” she said. “It’s just awesome to be a part of that whole process, and to be thought of someone that could help.”
Committee advisers like Nugent work with children who have committed misdemeanor-level offenses. The council works with those kids to outline work, like community service, to make up for their actions.
“Really it’s an effort to stop that pipeline to a prison system and hopefully get more kids the support they need, which is why they're acting that way in the first place,” she said.
In total, Nugent is involved with 15 different committees and subcommittees.
“I would love to be involved in more stuff, but that’s about it for now,” she said laughing.
Outside of her work with MCVP, Nugent enjoys hiking with her family’s 8-month-old boxer puppy and having after-school dance parties with her two young daughters to release the day’s stress. (“We’ll get home, we’ll blast the music, and just sort of dance it out … it’s good for me too,” she said.)
Looking ahead, Nugent said there's plenty to look forward to — building relationships, facilitating new workshops in the community, and shaping statewide policy.
But, Nugent said, following a year of mostly virtual programming, she's especially excited to once again connect with those who helped her realize this is her calling — local students.
"Doing all this stuff virtually — I can only imagine how teachers who are doing it every single day felt but ... it's draining. And I'm like, 'What am I doing? Am I getting through to anybody?'" she recalled. "And then my first in-person session [recently], it was right back, there was that spark again. It was a really cool feeling just to see their faces."