I begin most mornings in our Waltham outreach office and check the local news and Twitter to catch up on what is happening around the city. It is helpful to know what residents are talking about, what their concerns are, and how that ties into domestic violence prevention. Sometimes there are stories that require our immediate attention like an incident of domestic violence.
Today in my inbox there’s an email from a survivor who is interested in becoming more involved with REACH and in her community. She has been out of her abusive relationship for a number of years now and is looking for ways she can be involved in prevention. She saw photos from our Waltham Neighborhoods Fall Festival on the website and thinks that might be a good way for her to be connected. Each year our planning committee looks a little bit different depending on who is interested in being involved. We strive to have voices at the table who want to see a change in their community. We know people are affected by domestic violence in many ways – some have witnessed it, some have family and friends who have experienced violence and some have experienced it themselves. I let her know that we’d love to have her as part of the committee and that I’ll be back in touch with her this summer to start the planning process.
I check my calendar to see if I have any appointments scheduled. Meeting community members and talking over a cup of coffee is one of the best ways for me to connect. Talking about shared values, encouraging ways we can connect with neighbors, and talking through difficult stories of domestic violence that are shared in the news – I find opportunities to learn and to share insight. Since people’s schedules are packed, this doesn’t happen as often as I would like and there’s nothing on the calendar for today. I send an email to Dan, who I haven’t heard from in a while, and give Roberta a call to hear her thoughts on a recent community safety meeting.
At lunch time we are having a pizza party to celebrate the work of the four Masters-level Social Work interns who have been working at REACH this past year. Two of them have been working as part of our Prevention team and provide a great deal of assistance in covering activities in the 27 communities REACH serves. Kate, a first year MSW intern from Wheelock College, has facilitated meetings with students from Waltham High School who are part of the Peers Against Violence (PAVE) Peer Leadership group to talk about Teen Dating Violence. Katie, a second year MSW intern from Boston College, has been able to do some community engagement work in Burlington to better understand how we can support residents there who are already doing incredible working to raise awareness and involve their neighbors in prevention. The interns have been great additions to our team and we wish them well as they move on towards a new field placement and graduation.
I spend time planning a meeting I have later this week with some of our PAVE students at Waltham High School who are working on their own project to bring the conversation about teen dating violence and healthy relationships to more students. Since it’s getting towards the end of the school year, their schedules are filling up finishing classes and spring sports. Our meetings take place during third lunch – for 20 minutes – while students eat, share ideas, and make plans to implement their project. It’s a lot for them to take on and their motivation inspires me!
At 2:00 I have a phone call with a member of our Learning Community. Since I am the only Community Organizer at REACH, it has been important to connect with others in the greater Boston area that are doing similar work in domestic and sexual violence prevention to share ideas and support each other. The other members of the Learning Community include staff from Close to Home, The Network la Red, the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, and Fenway Health. We discuss a document we are working on to describe our vision for the work that we hope to share with others who may be interested. The line that speaks to me the most is, “Collaboration between individuals, business owners, non-profit organizations, and civic organizations is necessary to foster a world without violence beginning in the communities where we live, work, and play.” Prevention is a process that needs to involve everyone and start in community.
In the afternoon I get a phone call from a Waltham resident I know well. He has been worried about a friend who is experiencing violence from her partner. He shares some of her story and how the violence has escalated. She lives in a community I don’t know as well so I don’t have personal contacts to share. He tells me that she feels safe checking in with him and he has been able to tell her that he is worried about her safety. I affirm the importance of sharing his concern and let him know it’s great that he’s doing so in a way that is non-judgmental and supportive of what she wants – he’s not telling her what to do. “It can be really hard to feel like you’re helpless as you hear what your friend is going through,” I say, “But listening and being a safe person for her to go to are so important.” These are key tips we talk about in our What to Do/What to Say Community Trainings. He and I talk for about 45 minutes and before we end, I look up the number for the local domestic violence agency closest to her. I also agree to email him a copy of a safety plan that may be helpful in conversation with her. It’s clear that his friend feels comfortable going to him before she reaches out somewhere else to help. That’s the most important message for me – having supportive resources in your own social network make a huge difference.
REACH Community Organizer Allison Berry at a recent meeting with Congresswoman Katherine Clark