The REACH Annual Meeting: It happens every year, and every year we walk away inspired and rejuvenated to continue this important work. Here’s a recap if you weren’t able to join us:
The evening started with a reception, full of wonderful food (as promised!) and a chance for folks to mill around, chat, and check out some of our photo displays. We chose to highlight three programs that REACH is working on right in our own backyard, our hometown of Waltham: Peers Against ViolencE (PAVE) at Waltham High, the Latinas Know Your Rights program, and our Waltham Organizing network. Once everyone had their fill of food, we moved into the auditorium to begin the program.
We started off with a poignant remembrance of the 13 lives lost to domestic violence in Massachusetts last year. Folks with various connections to REACH stood and read each name and the circumstances surrounding their deaths, and then lit a candle in their honor. The candles were collected and displayed at the front of the auditorium for the remainder of the program. Following that we heard from a survivor speaker, Nicki, who told us about the first time she was physically assaulted by her former fiancé.
The next morning I had bruises in the shape of hand prints on my arms, a bruised knee and I couldn’t raise or use the arm he had twisted behind my back at all.
I was so embarrassed that I wore clothes to cover my bruises while I was at work. I had trouble looking people in the eye because of the shame I felt. I was ashamed that I had allowed myself to be treated in such a way. Presently, I am no longer embarrassed or ashamed nor do I blame myself for what happened that night because I now have a clear understanding of the abuse I was subject to. I have learned that love doesn’t try to break your arm, it doesn’t force you into submission or tear you down as a person. True love would never leave destruction and despair in its wake. I will never fall prey to false love again.
Today I am a college graduate and a strong independent woman. I am still working to improve both my life and the lives of my children. REACH Beyond Domestic Violence was key in helping me get out of the abusive situation I was in. When I was forced to leave my home, my belongings, and my job behind it was REACH’s shelter that I found safety and solace in. The staff at REACH were an amazing support, even after I left the shelter. When I finally moved into an apartment of my own REACH helped to furnish my place and even brought me things like cleaning products to help get me back on my feet. The yearly Christmas party is also a very big help. I know that my kids will have Christmas presents every year, even if I can’t afford them. Finally, joining the Speakers Bureau has been a delightful and healing experience; telling my story empowers me and is a small way to give back some of the amazing support I have received from REACH and from others in my life.
A well-deserved standing ovation followed.
Next up, Executive Director Laura Van Zandt took to the podium to welcome everyone and introduce our awards for the evening.
Over the past year, I have thought a lot about safety. Global, national and local violence can make our lives feel precarious. As I retreat to my home – shut off the news, play with kids, talk with my partner, I realize that this safe place is precious. Being home and safe enables me to recharge my soul, clear my mind, and feel comforted. I gain strength from my family and friends and I feel fortified to face the day because I have a refuge from the bad and the dangerous. But for too many people, home is no refuge.
Abuse by someone who has been there for you is devastating. It robs you of that safe place. It destroys trust and can decimate self-esteem. Without a safe place, where do you go to clear your mind, recharge your soul and find the strength to face a new day? And how do you protect your child from a dangerous world when you must constantly struggle to maintain a delicate safety at home? The technology that can keep us in touch with friends and family can also be manipulated to distance us, distract us, defame us and destroy us. Young people are especially challenged by this – and adults too – as devices enable abusive partners to follow and track and keep a firm grip.
You know that REACH helps increase safety for children, youth and adults in the communities we serve – the communities in which we all live and work. On your way into the auditorium, you saw some examples of how we help… Tonight we honor three people who do this work – in very different ways. They are reaching beyond domestic violence, creating safe and healthy tomorrows. They are Voices for Justice.
Our awards went to:
Senator Susan Fargo, who has been a champion in the work to end domestic violence, having represented the Third Middlesex District for 15 years until her retirement this year.
Joan Heilbronner, whose tireless work coordinating the food for our annual Holiday Gift party brightens hundreds of lives every year.
Pat Tutwiler, the Principal at Wayland High School who strongly supports our work to promote healthy relationships and end teen dating violence in his community. (He couldn’t be with us because of graduation-related festivities in Wayland, but sent us this video greeting.)
These three individuals provided a great example of how everyone can do their part to build healthy communities by ending domestic violence, whether advocating for legislation at the State House, promoting healthy relationships among teens, or cooking in their own kitchen.
REACH Board President Christine Konys ended the evening by inspiring us each to think about the ways we can be part of this work. She talked about how surprising it was to receive a call from a REACH advocate one time who dialed the wrong number trying to reach a survivor. The advocate started the call the way we so often do, by asking if the person on the other end was safe to talk.
That call stunned me then, and I still remember it so well. ‘Is it safe for you to talk?’ Who was the woman she was trying to reach? And was she safe to talk?
Life is like that for most of the people our advocates work with. They aren’t safe in their own homes. They’re not safe if they burn the toast, if the dinner isn’t exactly on time, if the baby is crying, or worse, if they find out that they’re pregnant. Pregnancy is a major risk factor in an abusive relationship.
When we at REACH talk about safety planning with clients, we’re talking about trying to leave without being in jeopardy for your life or that of your children. It is very real. There are some incredibly frightening high risk situations that our advocates deal with week in and week out.
And then… there is the day that a survivor has had enough and has the courage to leave her abuser and arrives at our shelter. You may have read the description of the first two days in the shelter of one survivor as written in one of the REACH blogs. At first, they’re surprised at how warm and roomy it is, and that they have their own space, not just a cot in a big room. Then they realize that now, finally, they are somewhere safe, maybe for the first time in years.
It will take time for them to work through all the difficult tasks that will be needed for them to address most of them have to take care of legal matters such as immigration, restraining orders, or facing their abuser in court for the first time; most have medical issues, and then later finding a job or a class that will help them find a job. Sometimes its waiting until the new baby arrives. Sometimes it’s helping their kids work through issues with school.
What REACH advocates do, with such care and support, is not to fix their problems, but to help them find their stronger selves so that THEY can find the answers and move on. I think of it as sacred work.
So – if you have never had to answer the question – “Is it safe for you to talk?” but would like to help those for whom the answer is ‘No’, there are many ways you can help. Those of you who have heard me before have heard the litany of all the ways to get involved. But maybe, just maybe, this is the year you decide to take the training and volunteer to answer the hotline or help out in the shelter. Or you join our Stars committee and help find corporate sponsors for our fundraiser. Maybe you decide to put REACH at the top of your list for charitable giving, or do a diaper drive, or help with back to school supplies, or the holiday party.
You CAN make a difference to those for whom the answer to “are you safe at home” is no. You can help save a life. I hope you will.