Thursday, July 16, 2015

'Applauding' John Gray's Insights

I've been following the wit and wisdom of local pundit, John Gray for so many decades it feels as if, even without ever having met each other,  we've grown wiser together, changing some of our viewpoints as life's lessons shaped our opinion and insights. Reading his Applause column today, I noted how in just a few sentences he takes a timely news story and thinks about how people are affected by it. In this case he's discussing (and for the most part supporting) Governor Cuomo's 'Enough is Enough' response to campus sexual assault. Gray's big worry was that in the heat of the moment (and may be with a bit of alcohol as a disinhibitor) young people wouldn't realize the importance of affirmative consent... and the consequences that can result by just assuming consent.

It's a good point. It's important that we have these conversations with our young people. Campuses are taking this responsibility very seriously; Skidmore and Wellspring are working very collaboratively and proactively to have increased prevention and awareness programs and on-campus access to a Wellspring  advocate. But the responsibility doesn't reside solely with colleges.
 Parents need to talk with their sons and daughters about sexual assault and about consent. Wondering how to start that conversation. Maybe we can help; here's two ways Wellspring can help you start the conversation:
  • Wellspring has a an interactive awareness program Rape or Regret. It's a video of a trial for a common date rape scenario (a party with underage drinking). Our staff present the video and facilitate a discussion session. We've had parents and teens watch it together. A mother commented months after attending a viewing that she'd always wondered how to start that difficult conversation with her daughters. After they attended  the program "the conversation just started... It  opened the  lines of communication, and now my daughters' friends also talk comfortably with me about these issues." We can bring this presentation to your  community group. It's free, enlightening, and interactive.
  • Need a quick and easy conversation starter? Here's a two minute video Wellspring developed about consent.
So Mr. Gray. You are so right; it's important we educate our youth about consent. And in response to your observation, "I think we are a short drive from a time when students will sign contracts before getting undressed. I’m sure there’s already an app for that."  There is indeed an app for that; it's called Are We Good 2 Go?


Friday, July 10, 2015

Shifting from Blaming to 'Generosity and Connectedness'

For too many decades domestic violence and rape crisis agencies' impact has been constrained because our focus (often determined by funding) has been limited to only one piece of the solution to these problems- crisis and support services for survivors. These services are critical, but they
  • address the issue far too late-- after the victimization has happened, and
  • place the responsibility for solving the problem on the very person who is the victim of the actions.
In no way am I diminishing the importance of this work. Every day at Wellspring we help victims of abuse to break free, heal, find a measure of justice, and emerge as survivors. But there are two other pieces to this puzzle that need to be addressed before we can solve it.
We need to focus on the actions of the person committing the abusive behavior, not on the victim. In the past year, we've seen a  shift in holding offenders accountable. The year's news stories have been peppered with incidents where public figures (athletes, celebrities) committed acts of relationship or sexual violence. While the 'sensational tweet of the moment' social media coverage of these incidents spans the gamut from voracious public shaming to prurient nosiness into the private lives of celebrities, the sheer volume of coverage about high-profile abuse has resulted in more thoughtful conversations about character-- with important career consequences. Where I hope we get to with these discussions is not the sensational, career-ending consequences after actions suddenly become public, but instead instilling character and ethical leadership as equally important attributes for excellence in one's field. Often talent, and its sidekick fame, buy privilege--that carte blanche that we offer to excuse, cover up, or ignore habitual abusive actions. Hopefully, we'll invest more resources in changing attitudes so that success depends not just on athletic, artistic or intellectual skills, but on character also... and this value will be taught early and often, to all. 
Holding people accountable for their individual actions is important, but that's addressing the issue on relationship at a time. So change will only happen as quickly as we can 'fix' each relationship. True change comes from realizing that  we all need to be part of the solution. Ending relationship and sexual abuse, is about changing social norms. When Wellspring staff work with kids in prevention programs, we teach then about bystander intervention-- the skills they need to know so that they can take action in a situation.  The title of a recent news article Here's How You Can Stop A Sexual Assault Before It Happens caught my eye. It's a discussion about the role of bystanders. And it's got a very potent message about how traumatized bystanders are when they've witnessed an assault, but through shock, confusion, or not knowing what to do, they didn't do anything to intervene. That feeling of helplessness can haunt them forever. Programs that expose youth (or adults) to the ethic of intervention and provide strategies they can use in situations prepare them. I especially like that the focus changes from a victim/perpetrator solution to a broader focus. The concluding words of the article sum up that difference quite eloquently:
It’s not saying, 'You are the problem,'” explained Miller,
who has published research on bystander education.
“It taps into a sense of generosity and sense of connectedness.”

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Hot Yoga Saratoga Offering Benefit Yoga Class

Note: If you read yesterday's blog post,  the information about this fundraiser was incorrect. Please not change of location. Many thanks to Hot Yoga Saratoga!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Code Blue- Thinking about the coldest days of winter as I sit in the warm sunshine

Come to The Blue Party sponsored by Fingerpaint then stay the night. The Sleep Out Challenge encourages local individuals to raise $500 or more to participate in an outdoor sleep out for solidarity as a symbolic showing of support to those who must sleep outside all year long. This will take place overnight on June 26 in Fingerpaint’s parking lot. You bring your own sleeping bag, pillow and whatever non-alcoholic beverages and snacks you’d like. We’ll provide you with dinner and breakfast and some treats in between. Plus you’ll enjoy all the perks of the party and plenty of shout outs for your awesomeness! Email bgoliber@fingerpaintmarketing.com to sign up.

The Blue Party will be held on on June 26, 2015, in Fingerpaint’s parking lot and will include food, non-alcoholic beverages, live music, entertainment and an outdoor movie under the stars. Your $100 donation will be directly contributed into the Blue Needs You fund in our effort to raise $150,000. There will not be alcoholic beverages served at the event, but you’ll be given a bracelet to show you’ve made your donation so you’re granted re-entry.

Special thanks to the following vendors: 
LongfellowsPJ's BAR-B-QSA,Primal Your Local ButcherPrime at Saratoga NationalEsperanto of Saratoga SpringsFunFlicks Outdoor Movies Upstate New YorkBowtie Cinemas Saratoga, and more!

Dinner will be served from 7-8:15. Snacks and popcorn will accompany the movie, The Soloist, which will start between 8:45 and 9.

Live music by Mike Perkins and Friends, a dunking booth and children's activities from 
The Children's Museum at Saratoga are all part of the fun!


Thursday, June 25, 2015

Who is Standing Behind that Number?

44%                                   30%
25%                                  20%
             40%       22% 
So what do these numbers mean?
Average monthly income for a homeless individual- $348

Percent of homeless that did paid work during the past month 44%

Percent of homeless that have been homeless for more than two (2) years 30%

Number of Americans who now live in hunger or on the edge of hunger    31,000,000
Percent of homeless persons who are employed 25%

Percent of people in a soup kitchen line who are children  20%
Percent of homeless population that are Veterans / Vets   40%
Percent of homeless women who claim domestic abuse as the reason for their homelessness 22% 

I may be  writing statistics....  but as I write each number I'm thinking of the people behind that number.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

So I Stayed in the Van...

In a quick but poignant Ted Talk, Becky Blanton describes how a  choice to live in a van on 'one long camping trip' for a year spiraled unexpectedly into homelessness, depression and profound insights on how we value others and ourselves, "I don't know when or how it happened, but the speed at which I went from being a talented writer and journalist to being a homeless woman living in a van took my breath away." 

With the same limited resources as other people she saw at the homeless health clinic ("I just wasn't drunk or high") she felt like she was living their struggles...but they quickly noted that she didn't belong with them, "You have a job,. You have hope. The real homeless don't have hope." 

Like about 25-40% of homeless persons-- she represented the invisible homeless population of people who are working but just can't make ends meet. Increasingly here in Saratoga County, at our soup kitchens and food pantries, in our emergency shelters and at Code Blue, we assist people who are employed but find themselves without food and a regular place to sleep at night. Often they too were surprised at how quickly their lives spiraled into homelessness... and more often than you'd imagine they leave  work and spend the night  in a shelter, or a tent, or like Becky, they stlept in their car in the heat of summer and the cold of winter .

Tomorrow's blog post- some surprising statistics about homelessness

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

NYS ranks #3 in the nation... and that's not good

Census2014This is the 9th consecutive year that NNEDV the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) has provided a one-day snapshot of domestic violence needs and services across the country.

Here's the link to the  2014 National Domestic Violence Counts Report. Connie Neal of the NYS Coalition Against Domestic Violence summed up some of the most salient points relating to domestic violence services in New York State:

"Once again, New York State ranks #3 in the country regarding 'Total People Served' as well as 'Unmet Requests for Services'. Of the Unmet Requests for Services, the most frequently requested need in our state that could not be addressed was for housing.
The Census also indicated that domestic violence programs in New York simply do not have the resources that they need to maintain advocates, and respond to critical requests for domestic violence services."

Here's some info on the scope of services provided across the state. About 3/4 of the 96 providers across the state responded to the survey. On this one day alone they provided:
  • Emergency shelter and transitional housing for 2,230 individuals (1,242 children and 988 adults)
  • 1,854 non residential services such as counseling and legal advocacy
  • 1,045 hotline calls
  • 1,041 individuals with prevention education programs (52 training programs total)
And here's what we couldn't do:
There were 605 unmet requests for services (40% of these were for housing).

Why couldn't we meet these needs?

         Cause of Unmet Requests for Help
  • 29% reported reduced government funding.
  • 13% reported not enough staff 
  • 8% reported cuts from private funding sources.
  • 8% reported reduced individual donations.
Why is this important?
Because without the funds for essential services to help survivors of domestic violence, this mom who fled abuse in the night and had no supports to help her, wouldn't  months later transition with her son from shelter into their own apartment free of abuse,

"[The staff at Wellspring] supported me and helped me when I was going through a very tough moment in my life. They were there for me when I needed someone to talk, to advise me how to get help, supporting me during the court days.
The staff were also always nice and helpful with my son. They made our stay as easy as possible. They supported us with summer camp for day care when I could not afford it so I could keep working."


Monday, June 15, 2015

I Wish We Didn't Need This

June 15th is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day

It's sad that  our world needs a day to raise awareness about elder abuse. I think of all the traditions where honoring one's elders is a sacred foundation on which family, community and society are built, and I wonder how we've gravitated away from this core  value.  The number of elderly in our country is experiencing unprecedented growth, and that presents challenges.  Studies show that ~10% of elders are abused. Abuse may include physical abuse, social isolation, psychological abuse, financial control, sexual abuse and neglect.

Elders are frequently very reticent to tell anyone about the abuse. Sometimes because it's a spouse, son or daughter who is abusing them and they fear involving the police because of the impact on someone they love. Sometimes they are afraid of losing their independence. And often it's because they were raised in a time when private matters were kept private. 
America's Growing Elderly Population
This graph from the National Center on  Elder Abuse  shows the increasing
numbers of people 65+ and 85+ in the US.

Often the elder is abused by a trusted family member. friend or caregiver. Unlike decades ago when families remained close to home, increasingly people are scattered across the country or the globe. Often, when abuse is discovered, family members are shocked that someone they trusted would abuse their loved one. So it's up  to all of us to be aware of the signs of elder abuse and watch out for vulnerable seniors.

Related posts:

Saturday, June 13, 2015

12 Hours Well Spent

The New York Times reports that a study of a rape prevention program piloted on 3 Canadian colleges showed highly favorable results- the incidence of rape among female college freshmen who took the course was 50% less than those who didn't. The program had three components:

  • assessing risk
  • learning self-defense techniques, and 
  • assessing personal boundaries.
It's inevitable; the program has its critics. Some fault the program for focusing on those who may be victims rather than getting to the root cause of sexual violence- individuals choosing to commit the assaults. I don't disagree, but I'm loathe to wait for a perfect world before giving a person knowledge to protect (him)herself. Yes, we need to address the root causes of sexual violence. And we need to give bystanders awareness, skills, and investment in stepping in when they see a situation. But it's equally important to have discussions with college women- and men- so they can consider how their actions can detract from or enhance their safety. Is it right that a young women who is intoxicated is at increased risk of rape? No... but it's a reality. Knowing this information, she can make different choices about limiting the number of drinks... or may implement safety strategies before a night on the town. And knowing the risks, friends may also more actively watch out for a friend who has had a few too many. 

What really struck me about the study was the verifiable impact. According to one of the study's authors, "Only 22 women would need to take the course to prevent one rape from happening." That's a powerful outcome from a 12 hour prevention program. In New York State, scores of rape crisis agencies lost funding for prevention activities last year when the NYS Department of Heath unexpectedly changed their funding strategy. For many programs, Wellspring included,  the DOH funds had been the sole source of funds supporting prevention activities. Before these funding cuts more than 4,000 participants attended Wellspring's  prevention programs each year. We know the programs make a difference, because students tell us they've changed behaviors we know increase risk of sexual violence,  but we need more research like this into cost-effective prevention strategies to guide and substantiate our impact.