When one thinks of starting a movement, they often think of thousands of people taking to the streets and marching for their rights. But sometimes all it takes is for a single person who’s willing to walk in somebody else’s shoes, understand what it means to be them, and help in a way that makes sense. For Vanessa Milio, this is what compassion means— and it is at the heart of everything that she does.
Vanessa has been the Executive Director of No More Stolen Childhoods since October 2017. She is a Maryland native living in Anneslie with her teenage son. In addition to her work with NMSC, she also runs a retail business called Taken that highlights Maryland artists, makers, and confectioners at pop-up shops across the area.
She spends her free time outside, in the garden or hiking with her son. She’s active at Central Presbyterian Church where she is a member, and volunteers with Genesee Valley Learning Center, a nonprofit committed to experiential learning in nature. She is also part of Tuesdays Together, a network of creatives who work together to support the creative community in Maryland.
Vanessa first started out wanting to write children’s books for kids whose voices were not being represented. Her love for kids and fine arts background made this a natural fit. But after spending some time with kids through direct service in arts after-school programs, she came to realize that their voices weren’t only underrepresented—they weren’t being heard, either.
“I decided that it was more important to try and create safe spaces for them in that moment.”
So she gave up her dream of being a children’s book author and traded it in for a bigger dream: one that would help to honor and share the stories of hundreds of children and seek to better their lives. She dove fully into the nonprofit sector and devoted her efforts to direct service in youth serving organizations.
“That was a really powerful time in my life because I got to see the work. You get to literally see somebody’s life improve and had proof of the efforts that you’re making, and that’s awesome.”
In her own way, Vanessa has still managed to live out her dream of telling others’ stories. After many years of direct service, she switched gears and began to collaborate with nonprofits on the business sides of their organizations. Before joining the NMSC team, she was doing consulting work for nonprofits in and around Baltimore that focused in leadership development and marketing.
“This notion of how we communicate is really at the core of what I do. How do we tell each other stories? How do we transmit information? How do we create community through that process? How do we advocate through those shared stories? And I think ultimately, that’s what binds us together, is that sort of shared experience of life.”
So when No More Stolen Childhoods approached Vanessa and asked her to help lead the organization in its mission to change the conversation around childhood sexual abuse (CSA) and offer healing to its adult victims, it felt like the perfect fit. NMSC is driven by the inspiring and powerful story of Wayne Coffey, who was able to turn the traumatic tale of his own childhood sexual abuse into a story of redemption and healing and use it for good.
It is Vanessa’s goal to tell Wayne’s story and let those affected by the epidemic of childhood sexual abuse know that they are not alone. It is a hard subject for people to even acknowledge, let alone join a movement to try and stop it.
“I’ve started to grow accustomed to people when I say, ‘Oh we’re an organization that works to address childhood sexual abuse,’ either saying, ‘I’m sorry’ or the conversation just ending.”
But lately, in meeting with potential partners, whether they be donors or organizations who deal with similar issues, Vanessa has been pleasantly surprised by those who have asked, “How can we help?” Both the power of Wayne’s story and the compelling way in which Vanessa has worked to share it with others are turning the tide for the fight against childhood sexual abuse.
Behind Vanessa’s desk at the No More Stolen Childhoods office reads a framed poster that says, “Stand up for what is right even if you’re standing alone.” Her mother gave it to her as a gift right before starting her first job out of college.
With compassion and grit, through storytelling and creation, Vanessa has dedicated her career to walking in others’ shoes and ensuring that the help she offers empowers them and works to put an end to the multitude of issues that our society faces today. Her hard work and dedication aim to cultivate a world in which no one is standing alone, and each and every one of us is willing to join the movement and march on, one step at a time.