Looking back on a busy, difficult, inspiring, saddening, and change-filled 2018, we can see struggle and achievement, loss and resilience. We are celebrating some important successes and we see how much work there is yet to do.
We started, in January, at the very beginning, thinking about consent – even with young children, and how starting young can help our kids – and us – better understand boundaries and how to communicate with each other. We continued our advocacy for our immigrant neighbors and friends. We continue to see the impact of this difficult environment where immigrant survivors are left feeling vulnerable and unprotected by the justice system.
It gave us so much joy to welcome supporters, partners and survivors for an open house in our new space. We continue to feel so glad for this functional, respectful space. “So many people were part of creating the vision for this space. What I envisioned was the product of all of our hopes and dreams and intentions. This space is everything I envisioned because the people who helped create it are here with us – working, volunteering, planning, collaborating, supporting, giving – everyone is part of creating space for conversation, healing, empowerment and change.”
Soon it was February – Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. REACH is working to change the norms that sustain abusive behaviors – and the Waltham PAVE peer leaders never cease to impress. This new office creates space for students to meet and we can offer so many more opportunities for interns and volunteers. Tamia, an intern from Brandeis, shared her thoughts about being a resource for the people in our lives. With so much in the news, there is always a lot of talk around the table, the office, the copier. How do the things we say impact survivors, and how can we be more thoughtful? In schools, salons, libraries, and around kitchen tables, our prevention team is helping family, friends, and neighbors build skills and shift the norms.
In March we were at the Massachusetts State House – taking these conversations to our elected officials as they considered legislative and funding decisions. We celebrated a victory on trans rights and continue to fight for Safe Communities and campus safety legislation.
As spring arrived, and Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April, our community engagement specialist wrote about an inclusive approach to support survivors. Yes, it can seem overwhelming, the work to reach beyond domestic violence. REACH is part of a statewide coalition, Jane Doe, and together, we focus on three strategies: 1. Support and believe survivors. 2. Invest in responses and remove barriers to access. 3. Focus on prevention – educate, discuss, call out and dismantle.
In May, we continued our strategic planning process with refreshed vision and mission statements and newly articulated values to take us forward as we welcomed new staff, volunteers, interns, and consultants. Our amazing volunteers continue make such an impact on our staff and donors and survivors. We can do more – with more heart – than ever before. Sala, a graduate student at Brandeis Heller School, examined domestic violence responses in the US and Ghana. Our volunteers welcome guests, offer homework help, provide child care and smile from a seat at our new reception desk. A team of knowledgeable, passionate, insightful change makers from the Heller School dedicated six weeks to a consultancy supporting our strategic goals. We profiled some of these incredible people and hope you will join them! We have a volunteer training coming up soon.
With so much good energy, we believe change is possible. As spring turned to summer, we wrote about how we do our work from a place of hope – not despair. Holding our peers accountable for their words and actions can be an act of love – and it is how we dismantle the rape culture that supports abusive behaviors. Those behaviors can happen anywhere, among any group. A REACH volunteer shared her experience bringing the knowledge to her faith community. When someone discloses about abuse, how we listen matters and what we say matters too. Attorney General’s changes to the asylum rules sent a very frightening message – and have created very real complications – for survivors. We are grateful for the men who had different messages to share. We heard from a member of our board and a student volunteer with their thoughts about masculinity.
As the school year came to a close, it was so pleasing to look back at a busy year for the PAVE peer leaders at Waltham High School. They dedicate themselves to this work – during the school year and while teaching and learning at their summer training.
In the midst of difficult national conversations, we celebrated the independence that makes us free – and the interdependence that makes us sustainable. Safety, stability, connection, mastery and access to resources all impact our wellbeing, and this understanding guides our work at REACH. We wrote about the intersections of domestic violence and substance use, and how judgement and shame can keep people from seeking help. These complexities make it hard to listen to and believe survivors because we don’t want to think it can happen to someone we know and love. Survivors struggle with disbelief too – and often blame themselves for the abuse. When perpetrators are not held accountable for the pain they cause, it becomes all too easy for them to ignore the truth of others’ experiences. We saw this play out in the public sphere as the nation watched Christine Blasey Ford testify about her experience with Supreme Court nominee (now Justice) Brett Kavanaugh.
During Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM) in October, we made it clear that “Your Voice Matters.” Survivor voices guide us if we listen. Creating space to hear the many voices speaking out about abusive and unhealthy behaviors is what will lead to long term change. And that is what we do at REACH. Listen and believe. Create space. Build community. One survivor shared what that means to her: “Everyone at REACH sees me.”
The holidays bring so much joy and also can be difficult. We shared some thoughts on getting through the season as a survivor, and supporting survivors around us. As one year ends and another begins, there is no better time for reflection. Can we truly examine ourselves with honesty and courage? What can we learn and how can we use it?
The generosity and love of communities who care brought us pure joy this season. “You have given hope, strength, and happiness to my family.” Thank you for sharing our vision of healthy and safe relationships for individuals and communities. Lifting survivor voices creates space for change. Together, we will reach beyond domestic violence.