Meet Team Avalon

Meet our Founder and CEO

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Kimberly Hurst
Founder & CEO

Kimberly Hurst is a Certified Physician Assistant and Forensic Examiner. She is the founder and Executive Director of the Wayne County Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner Program, or WC SAFE. She has specialized in emergency medicine, trauma and sexual violence for 20 years. She received her Bachelors of Science from Michigan State University in Exercise Science; her Master of Arts in Kinesiology from the University of Minnesota and her Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies at Wayne State University. She has worked in Detroit her entire professional career.

Kimberly has served in numerous work groups and think tanks on behalf of the issues surrounding sexual assault and abuse at the local, state and national levels. She is heavily involved in education and training to the community, as well as to other professionals working with survivors of sexual violence.

Kimberly Hurst, BA, MA, MS, DFAPPA, PA-C Bio

Kimberly Hurst is the Executive Director of the Wayne County Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner’s Program (WC SAFE). Kimberly has a Bachelors of Science in Exercise Physiology from Michigan State University (1995), where she worked as an Athletic Trainer, and then a Masters of Arts in Kinesiology from the University of Minnesota (1997), where she was awarded a Graduate Assistantship with the University of Minnesota Men's Athletics Big 10 Football Program and then worked as a Certified Athletic Trainer for 3 years in high school athletics. She then received her Masters of Science in Physician Assistant Studies from Wayne State University (2001). After getting her Physician Assistant Degree, she immediately began working in Emergency Medicine and in the underserved city of Detroit where she has now worked for 20 years. Here, Kimberly saw on a daily basis the overall lack of availability of specialized services to sexual assault patients.

In 2001, she took a Basic Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner course, and was hooked! She began working as an independent contractor for Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Programs in both Oakland and Macomb counties. After gaining experience in the field for 2 years, she felt it necessary to embark on implementing SAFE services in Wayne County.

It took two years more to obtain start-up funding and their 501c3 status, but in January of 2006, WC SAFE opened it doors out of one small clinic location in northeast Detroit, with only Kimberly and a handful of SAFE nurses. That first year they cared for approximately 120 sexual assault survivors. Each year the number of patients served grew and in 2010, WC SAFE added additional services to become the first stand-alone comprehensive sexual assault center in Southeast Michigan. This now included providing not only 24/7 medical-forensic services, but crisis intervention, advocacy, counseling (individual and group), community outreach, prevention education and social change work. Now, in their 14th year of service, WC SAFE services over 1,500 survivors annually with numbers growing each year – reaching over 17,000 survivors of sexual violence to date.

These services have been provided at no cost to all ages of survivors of sexual violence.

Under Kimberly’s leadership, WCSAFE has grown to 6 clinic sites around Wayne County and employs 25 full time staff & 5 contracted SAFE nurses and recently rebranded as the Avalon Healing Center. The expert witness testimony that Kimberly and her Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner team have provided over the years has helped to hold sex offenders and rapists accountable through countless guilty convictions. Working to build a safer community and change rape culture in this country.

Avalon Healing Center is the largest and busiest program of its’ kind in the state of Michigan and in the top 5% in the country for patient/client volume.

Kimberly is heavily involved at the local, state and federal levels in improving protocols and services for sexual assault survivors in all communities. She is a sought-after speaker on the topic of sexual assault/violence and provides health care providers, law enforcement officials, prosecutors, other advocacy organizations and the community with imperative information on how to respond compassionately and effectively to sexual assault survivors. She is also a Distinguished Fellow of the American Academy of Physician Assistants.

In addition, Kimberly has been an integral part of helping to have solved the issue of un-submitted kits in Detroit. She has participated in research projects on this issue and has been invaluable, helping develop best practice approaches to this particular issue for sexual assault survivors.

She has served on numerous work groups at the local, state and national levels, as well as participating in think tanks relating to issues of sexual violence.

Kimberly also continues to practice Emergency Medicine as a Physician Assistant in the Beaumont Health System.

She has received several awards and acknowledgments and is recent graduate of Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business Executive Leadership Program. Some of her awards include:

  • Crain’s Healthcare Hero 2020
  • Esteemed Women of Michigan 2020
  • Wayne State University Arthur L. Johnson Community Leadership Award 2019
  • McGregor Fund Fellow 2018
  • Molina Healthcare Community Champion 2015
  • Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association - Liberty Bell Award 02014
  • Twilight Foundation Civic Honoree 2013
  • Wayne State University Most Distinguished Alumni - Physician Assistant Studies 2008

Kimberly also supports Breast Cancer, the American Heart Association, ALS, and the Jay Fund – an organization that supports families of children with cancer and other childhood illnesses.

Kimberly has been a proud Detroiter and Michigan native all of her life and has been working in the community for over 20 years. Bringing these specialized services to survivors of all types of sexual violence in Detroit has become a passion from the heart.

She has been happily married to her life partner for over 25 years and is the mother of two very active boys – ages 11 and 13. She always says she couldn’t do this amazing work without their love and support. Some of her favorite things to do include traveling, shopping, reading, spending time with her family and sitting by a wood fire, enjoying a tasty beverage.

Avalon's staff consists of 26 dynamic and dedicated individuals who are passionate about supporting survivors of sexual assault. Due to the nature of our work, several staff prefer to remain anonymous. Below, meet a few of those amazing staff members!

Meet our Staff

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LaShonda Miller
Sexual Assault Advocate
LaShonda Marie Miller is a graduate of Michigan State University with a Bachelors of Arts in Psychology. She holds her Masters in Mental Health Counseling through Capella University and is a Limited Licensed Professional Counselor. She currently works as a Sexual Assault Advocate at Avalon providing advocacy and counseling to survivors of sexual assault. She holds a certification in trauma informed care and is a nationally certified counselor. She hopes that one day Avalon can be a national example of an organization that provides the best care to survivors of sexual assault.
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Sharron Fincher
Access Coordinator
Sharron is a native Detroiter and graduate of Detroit Public Schools. She attended Wayne State University’s school of social work and has been involved in the community for over 20 years. She has gained a theoretical care, as well as practical competency in case management. Sharron has worked with marginalized populations including LGBTQ, children with special needs and people of color in her professional life as well as through community service work and activism. Sharron is currently involved in many projects within the community. She is the Access Coordinator at WC SAFE where she works closely with marginalized populations who have experienced sexual assault and trauma. She is the Supreme President of Alpha Psi Kappa fraternity, Incorporated and sits on the Board of Directors for the Ruth Ellis where she is the Chairperson of the Programs Committee. Sharron is also a member of the Detroit Police Department Chief’s LGBT Advisory Board. In addition to these projects she occasionally writes for blogs and newspapers throughout metro Detroit, hosts a Podcast called The Cat’s Meow and is the creator and director for the documentary WoMan.
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Michael Nesbitt
First Response Program Coordinator
My name is Michael Nesbitt and I am the First Response Program Coordinator! Within my role, I supervise our First Response team, perform outreach, recruit and train volunteers, and perform on-call duties during the week. Prior to working with Avalon I received my Bachelor's degree in Psychology and Women's and Gender Studies. Currently I am attending Graduate School for my Masters in Social Work to further my knowledge and skills to provide effective assistance to clients that I work with. During the past two years here at Avalon, I have worked and interacted with so many survivors of sexual violence and have carried out the mission of the organization. I am passionate to continue providing our free and immediate comprehensive services, trauma informed care, healing, support, and empowerment to previous and future clients.
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Benita Robinson
Director of Crisis Services and Education
Benita Robinson serves as the Director of Crisis Services and Education for Avalon Healing Center. In this role, she oversees the First Responder program and specializes in ensuring quality, comprehensive, trauma-informed services to survivors of sexual violence. She also engages in community building through provision of education and outreach opportunities. Benita is a proud graduate of the University of Michigan-Dearborn where she majored in Sociology and Women’s and Gender Studies. A lifelong Detroiter, she is a passionate activist for equal rights and opportunities for underserved populations. Benita is currently pursuing her Masters of Social Work at Wayne State University. When envisioning the future of Avalon Healing Center, Benita is hopeful that survivors across diverse communities and identities will feel safe, supported and validated when interacting with the organization.
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Katie Smith
Director of Communications
Katie Smith is the Director of Communications for the Avalon Healing Center. In her almost 10 years with Avalon, Katie has worn and continues to wear several different hats; overseeing marketing and social media, co-planning and visioning events, office administration, volunteer coordinating, and community outreach. In addition she co-facilitates the art therapy program– which has been a great source of joy in her position. Katie is passionate about the arts and believes them to be a great healing tool for trauma survivors. “ I have been with Avalon for almost a decade now, I’m one of the original employees to start working with the company, when we were known as WC SAFE. It has been such a privilege to be on this journey, and to see us grow from a tiny, grassroots, non-profit to an organization that is expanding their communication platform, reaching more and more survivors in need of our services. I mean that is why we exist. To touch as many lives as we can. To be there for survivors when they need us most. The work I have done with Avalon comes from my heart and I’m so proud to work for this company. This is more than just a job for me, it’s a calling, a way to give back to the community and make a difference in any way I can.” She holds a bachelor in art history and a bachelor in communications from the University of Toledo. In her spare time Katie runs her company, Botanique Press, specializing in bouquet preservation and handmade pressed flower frames.
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Jessica Ojala
SANE Program Co-Director
Jessica BSN, RN, SANE-A, SANE-P is the Co-Director of SANE Services at Avalon. She has been a Registered Nurse since 2012, with a background working in the emergency department since 2011 and has been a Forensic Nurse with the program since 2013. She has provided well over 800 medical forensic exams, precepted Registered Nurses, Master’s students, pediatric physicians in fellowship and called upon to provide expert witness testimony in state and federal court. She maintains the national board certification for Adult/Adolescent/Pediatric Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, from the International Association of Forensic Nurses. She received the 'Forensic Nurse Examiner of the year' award in 2017 from the organization.
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Amy Smith
Director of Advocacy Services
Amy Smith (Dowd) is a licensed MSW and currently, the Director of Advocacy Services for Avalon. Amy has over 18 years’ experience as an advocate for both domestic violence and sexual assault survivors. Amy joined Avalon in 2011, when the counseling and advocacy program was in its infancy. Amy’s experience with other programs across the state was invaluable as Avalon set out to build one of the most comprehensive sexual assault programs of it’s kind. Amy, who is a survivor herself, has been awarded by Avalon the “Advocate of the Year” awards in 2013 and 2019 for her leadership and direct service work in the community. Amy has been an advising member to several ground breaking projects in the city of Detroit, including the 400 Project (which initially addressed the 11, 341 sexual assault kits found abandoned in a Detroit Crime Lab in 2009), the National Institute of Justice Rape Kit Action Research Project (which developed the first ever national best practices for un-submitted rape kit investigations) and the Wayne County Sexual Assault Kit Task Force. She is a trainer for the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards in the area of non-stranger sexual assault investigations and has presented both locally and nationally on issues related to sexual assault, trauma, and best practices. Amy has been invited by Eastern Michigan University, Wayne State and University of Michigan as a Guest Lecturer on topics related to gender based violence and the connection between trauma, mental heal and chemical dependency. Amy Dowd is a graduate of Eastern Michigan University where she obtained both a Bachelor’s of Science degree and a Master's degree in Social Work with concentrations in mental health and chemical dependency. She has been a licensed practitioner in the State of Michigan for 9 years and is a Certified Trauma Practitioner in the area of Clinical Practice.
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Trinea Gonczar
Director of Development

Trinea Gonczar is a survivor and advocate for victims of sexual abuse including those who are impacted as a result. As a former gymnast from Lansing, Michigan and a survivor of the disgraced doctor Larry Nassar, Trinea's victim impact statement went global hours after she spoke. Her statement was aired on BBC, Al Jazeera, and World News Tonight. Exploring options for other survivors in her case, she recognized that even in such a public spotlight as hers, unfortunately there were minimal resources for survivors. In her search, Trinea found Founder and Executive Director, Kimberly Hurst and Avalon Healing Center. Realizing that in most cases of sexual assault, resources such as Avalon Healing Center, were given after the assault or in crisis. Trinea's focus is to raise awareness and to elevate Avalon Healing Center's business model nationally and globally. To bring attention of their services, before any assault or trauma occurs. Trinea currently serves as the Director of Development at Avalon Healing Center.

Trinea was featured in the HBO documentary At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal. Trinea was also featured on the NPR podcast "Believed" as well as the Audible book "Twisted". She was selected as part of the speaker panel "Sister Survivors Round table" on ESPN. Trinea was also featured in the book "The Girl's" by Abigail Pesta and "Start by Believing: Larry Nassar's Crimes, the Institutions that Enabled Him, and the Brave Women Who Stopped a Monster" by John Barr and Dan Murphy.

Speaking nationally about her experience has earned Trinea numerous accolades, including the Arthur Ashe Award at the ESPY's. This award inspired the name of her first child, Ashton (Ashe) in honor of the courage award of the year. She is also a recipient of the Humanitarian Award from Global Sports Development and the Humura Award from the EDJA foundation. She has been in named one of Glamour Magazine's 2018 Women of The Year. Trinea spoke at both the 2019 and 2020 United Nations Survivor Townhall with the group RISE, in hopes to help pass the World Wide Survivor Bill of Rights. Trinea has spoken on multiple panels and educational summits, congressional hearings and international medical forums. Trinea spoke at the University of Kansas Law, Aspen Ideas Festival, HBO Tribeca Film Festival, Women Sports Film Festival, University of Pennsylvania, Amazon Awesome Days and She Power Sport.

Trinea dedicates her time and efforts at Avalon Healing Center to prevent anyone from repeating her experience. She has a focus and passion to prevent any further trauma to those impacted by sexual violence. Trinea sits on the Michigan State University’s Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Advisory Board and is a graduate of Colombia College Chicago with a BA in investigative Journalism. Trinea lives in Detroit, Michigan with her husband Justin and two small boys Ashton and Lochlan.