Monday, February 28, 2011

Changing The World… One Garden At A Time

I'm generally relatively optimistic about winter. While we get a couple of months of snow, our area has relatively little fear of weather-related catastrophes... blessedly few tornadoes, monsoons,  landslides, devastating earthquakes, etc. Winter is frosty and inconvenient, but I find that if I make time to play outside once in a while, I appreciate the beauty and am invigorated by delicate snowflakes, icy tree branches and crisp mornings.. BUT by early March, I generally have had MORE THAN ENOUGH  opportunities to catch snowflakes on my tongue and watch delightedly as my Golden retriever plunges his head into snow piles and comes up with a snow covered face.  It's time for spring! And spring means planning my garden, planting seeds and dreaming of green growth, warm soil and the sense of rebirth that spring brings.

And when I think of seeds I think of a local nonprofit that uses seeds and gardens to heal the scars of war-- scars  inflicted upon people, upon nations, and upon our earth:

Sue Johnson is the founder and director of Seeds for Peace, a non-profit organization that provides seeds and gardening tools to people affected by war, disease, ethnic strife, natural disasters, and poverty. In 1998, a Saratogian newspaper article planted the idea for "Seeds of Peace", gardens for war torn areas … and with unflappable tenacity Sue germinated tiny mustard seed of an idea into a project that has benefited 5,000 to 10,000 people worldwide!

In 2000, with the help of local volunteers, Seeds of Peace was able to provide seeds for eight "peace gardens" in Bosnia and Herzegovnia. The gardens provided a safe and supportive environment where people from different ethnicities work side by side to grow food for their families. The Bosnian War displaced over 2.2 million people, forced men and women into concentration camps, and resulted in a death toll around 97,000 people The Seeds for Peace beneficiaries were war widows and children trying to cope with the devastation of years of war. This isn’t just about food; it’s about healing and reconciling.

The packets of seeds and gardening tools Sue’s organization sends overseas enable war-weary and storm-stricken people to feed themselves, to regain human dignity, and even to work peacefully beside those they once called enemies. Sue tells the story of two war-traumatized women. One, a Bosnian lost her entire family; the other a Serbian lost her two children to the war. In a country filled with hatred, the two women have turned the earth, planted seeds, watered, weeded, harvested, shared the food with other battle-traumatized women … and they have become best friends. Peace is not achieved by governmental cease fire agreements… it is achieved by people building bridges that transcend the violence, devastating losses, and hatred. It is achieved by planting seeds for peace.

Sue visits women in these impoverished countries. Although the skin color, clothing, and language are very different, when she sits with them, gardens, cooks over open fires, they are as familiar to one another as sisters.

Recently the community in Bosnia that Sue visited and assisted in 2008 was in an article by the Communty Gardens Association. click here to read the article  Sue commented, "The article captures the real meaning of these community gardens. These Bosnians are still our biggest recipient of seeds and are in desperate need of help. I plan on raising funds for their spring season.  We need $ 1200 for plowing, maure and fuel for the greenhouse water pump."

You can help by sending donations to

Seeds for Peace
PO Box 10
Saratoga Springs, NY 12866  

For more information about Seeds for Peace, visit their website  http://www.seedsforpeace.net/index.html  

Friday, February 11, 2011

“Battered Women Taste Better” --- Huh?!


Yesterday domestic violence advocates across the state were incensed when it came to our attention that amazon.com was selling a tee shirt by Old Glory that read “Battered Women Taste Better”. For those of us who daily see the effects of abuse on families-- the terror, pain and disillusionment as a partner controls, humiliates and inflicts physical and emotional pain in the name of love, the trite play on words is perplexing and sad. What motivates someone to spend $14.95 plus shipping and handling on a shirt that communicates this particular message to the world?
Initially Old Glory was unmoved by calls of concern. Their representative commented by e-mail,

It is someone’s right to sell any product they wish as it is up to someone else, to
view it or buy it … this is not something my company will remove. …it is our right
 to sell the product. Have a wonderful day.”  

After Fox 23 became interested in the story the tee was removed from the website.

In our office there were many different reactions to the tee shirt… but speechless characterized the most frequent response.   It’s sad that after we’ve committed 30 years to helping victims and raising awareness that a manufacturer would market a shirt with this puny and insensitive pun … clearly we’ve still got a lot of work to do in changing how our society views intimate partner violence. When we ignore acts and images of violence we’re tacitly condoning them.  Here’s a challenge, this week as you’re watching prime time TV, count how many times intimate partner violence or sexual assault are part of the show. .. you might be surprised. It’s reassuring that so many people find this shirt offensive, but at DVRC we worry that this public hoopla, instead of advancing awareness, might actually distract us from the really important work. Do water cooler discussions about this shirt increase awareness or do they minimize the issue?  Once this story has been covered will it prompt a bigger discussion about how we work collectively to end abuse…or will we shake our heads at the passionate wrangling over a sophomoric tee shirt? If the shirt is pulled off the shelf because of our opposition do we as a society then feel we’ve done our part to end domestic violence?
What do you think? Is taking a stand about this shirt an important step in social advocacy…. or does it trivialize this issue in the public’s mind?

Thursday, February 10, 2011


sur·vi·vor (sər vīvər)
1.    a person or thing that survives; specif., a person who has survived an ordeal or great misfortune
2.    a person regarded as resilient or courageous enough to be able to overcome hardship, misfortune, etc.
Team LUNA Chix

There are many kinds of survivors. At DVRC, everyday we see individuals who once called themselves victims… victims of dating violence, victims of domestic violence, victims of sexual assault… but who now call themselves survivors. There are survivors of war, survivors of serious illness… and yes, even survivors in television ‘reality’ shows (which in no way look like what most of us call reality). On January 29th, Team LUNA Chix, a group of ladies who know quite a bit about survival (and crossing the finish line) held an event to support other women who are survivors of a different kind.

The women of Team LUNA Chix Triathlon and Team LUNA Chix New York Mountain Bike joined forces to help women who are breast cancer survivors and women who are survivors of domestic violence by organizing LunaFest… a unique film festival featuring 10 films by, for and about women.

Almost 300 people attended the film festival and shared laughter, tears, and inspiration as they watched films depicting women’s lives. From stories of love to breakups, to a young women’s feelings of living with AIDS, to an elder woman’s struggles to remain independent despite the challenges of Alzheimer’s, to inspiring stories of women in unconventional jobs, the films showed lives that encompass love, heartbreak, courage, joy…and celebrated women and their roles as survivors.

In addition to inspiring us, Lunafest raised almost $6,000 to support the Breast Cancer Fund and Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Services. Consider this:
§  1 in 4 women is a victim of intimate partner violence in her lifetime, and
§  One in eight women or 12.6% of all women will get breast cancer in her lifetime.

The Breast Cancer Fund is committed to exposing and eliminating environmental causes of cancer… to stopping cancer before it starts. Visit http://www.breastcancerfund.org/reduce-your-risk/tips/ for some of their prevention tips you can implement today to reduce your exposure to potential carcinogens.

Click here http://dvrcsaratoga.org/for more information about DVRC and its services and how you can help.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Bartender’s Ball… Are you attending this year? What do you love about the Ball?

I recall speaking with a couple last year who attend the Bartender’s Ball every year. Why? Because on their first date they went to the Ball together and years later they’re still together and in love… and enjoying the Ball as much as the first time they went. I love that story. Whenever I talk about the Ball I hear from people who love to go each year and every one has a different reason why they attend. I think it’s great that for fourteen years the efforts of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce and the Saratoga Hospitality Industry have raised over $350,000 for local charities AND have given us all such a wonderful night on the town!
So… do you plan on attending Bartender’s Ball this year? Have you got a great story to share? What’s your favorite thing about the Ball?
And if you’re new to the Ball or just want more information on this year’s Ball read Maggie’s 2/2/2011 blog “Have You Made Your Plans for Valentine’s Weekend?at http://maggiefronk.blogspot.com/2011/02/have-you-made-your-plans-for-valentines.html

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Have You Made Your Plans for Valentine’s Weekend?

Well I’d considered a clichéd title for a pre-Valentines blog, perhaps Love is in the Air, but looking out the window today all I could come up with was Snow is in the Air. Those chilly, white, slippery, slushy sometimes icy wintry conditions that I’ve seen here since my childhood (or, depending on my mood, breathtakingly beautiful, glimmering, peacefully silent, or excitingly invigorating); that familiar winter weather seems to have taken on media superstar status. I hear there are contests to name this storm… Greatest Storm in History? Stormageddon? Winterpalooza?  Based on past experience, by tomorrow we’ll be shoveled out and Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction of an early spring will have us daydreaming of daffodils, sunshine, and green grass while the familiar Musak-like refrain from Love is in the Air plays in our memories.
So now that I’ve embraced every cliché possible, let’s get to the real issue. Valentine’s Day is in 12 days… and this year it’s on a Monday (not exactly the optimal day of the week for romancing one’s beloved). But there’s a whole weekend right before the holiday to woo your sweetie so allow me to offer a suggestion. Does your honey like getting dressed up, enjoying elegant dinners & dancing all night? How does this sound for a romantic evening? You enter a lavishly decorated ballroom and stop briefly to sample from trays of colossal shrimp and platters of hors d’oeuvres, then after a quick detour to the martini bar or craft beer bar, you find your table and sit for a moment to relax and find your toes tapping as the Audiostars lure you out of the chairs and onto the dance floor with all those classic songs you’ve loved for years. After your dancing shoes are ready for a rest, enjoy a bountiful buffet that includes: Tenderloin of Beef carved to order, Blackened Pork Loin, Shrimp Scampi, Pasta Florentine and an array of side dishes. Then it‘s your choice, another libation, back to the dance floor, or get a special Valentine’s picture taken together? Round out the night at the dessert buffet, at the chocolate fountain or dancing until midnight.
If this sounds more special than hurriedly celebrating after work on Monday come to the Bartender’s Ball on Saturday, February 12 at the Saratoga Springs City Center. This exciting evening of romance is a bargain at only $50/person, but it’s a reservation only event. There are no ticket sales at the door, so call 583-0280 today to make your reservations.
This is a charity fundraiser sponsored by the Saratoga Chamber of Commerce and the Saratoga Hospitality Industry. One hundred percent of the proceeds benefit Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Services of Saratoga County. So while you’re enjoying an enchanted evening, you’re also helping families in need.  

Teens and Dating... A Mom's View in Fluorescent Lighting

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month

As a mom of two teenagers (actually a teenager and a 21 year-old… hmm when did this happen?) I, like many parents, would like to think that teen dating is carefree and fun (occasionally momentarily heartbreaking), but that issues like dating violence and date rape don’t happen in my hometown. I’m not alone. In a national study, 81% of parents state they do not believe teen dating violence is an issue or don’t know of it being an issue.  Unfortunately for me, my rose colored glasses aren’t much use in the fluorescent glare of a workplace that helps victims of intimate partner violence. Through the work I do I’m well aware that:
§  1 in 3 teens in a serious relationship report that they’ve been concerned about being hurt physically by a boyfriend or girlfriend… and 20% of these teens have already been hit, pushed or slapped by their boyfriend or girlfriend.
§  29% of girls have been pressured to engage in sexual acts when they didn’t want to do so and 23% said d they’ve gone further sexually than they wanted as a result of this pressure.
§  The average age for sexual assault is 18 ½ years old.
What’s worse is that victims of dating violence tend to minimize or normalize their experience. Dating violence is a pattern of controlling behavior that may include physical, sexual, emotional, and verbal abuse, isolation, threats and intimidation, and harassment through technology. While these behaviors persist and can escalate over time, victims may not realize the behavior is abusive. In fact some of the early warning signs of abuse can be mistaken those first stages of love: wanting to spend all your time with the other person, calling or texting continually just to check in, expressing jealously when guys or girls take an interest in ‘your’ loved one.

The question I’m most often asked is, “Why do people stay in abusive relationships?” While there are many answers to that question, a very basic one is “they didn’t see this coming.” I often say, “If I went out on a date and came home with a black eye, I wouldn’t date that person again.” That’s not how it happens. The process is far more insidious; the abuser is often kind, helpful and flattering in the beginning and only in time, bit by bit, does the criticism, intimidation, isolation, pathological jealously become apparent.  

So what are some of the early red flags that may indicate a teen is in an abusive relationship?

  • Changes in appearance or behaviors. Have they started dressing just to please the boyfriend or girlfriend? Have they given up hobbies or activities they enjoyed before the relationship?
  • Spending ALL their time with the boyfriend or girlfriend. Has the teen stopped spending time with friends? Does the new boyfriend or girlfriend criticize the teens past friendships or cause problems when the teen is with others? Social isolation is a common technique to make a partner dependent.
  • Having to be accountable to the new boyfriend or girlfriend. Does the new friend constantly call or text to check up on where the teen is or whom he/she is with?
  • Physical injuries. Are there unexplained bruises, injuries or is the teen physically hurting him/herself?
  • Emotional Abuse. Does the new partner embarrass, humiliate, belittle or otherwise demean the teen in front of others?
What’s a parent to do? 
Here are a few helpful ways to talk to your teen courtesy of the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence:
·         Talk to teens about dating.  Let them know what characteristics are parts of healthy and unhealthy relationships.  Let them know you are willing to have an open conversation with them about their concerns so they will be more likely to come to you in the future if they have problems.
·         Try not to be judgmental. Limit expressing your opinions or passing judgment on your teen’s decisions or they may be less likely to come to you if something goes wrong.  Try not to provide an immediate solution or explanations for what has happened because that can also seem judgmental to your teen.
·         Listen and then respond when talking to your teen about their relationships.  This helps them feel like they are being heard and also gives you the opportunity to give them the best information possible for their situation
·         Validate your teen.  Let them know that you believe they have been abused by their partner and that is not their fault for what has happened.
·         Let your teen know there is support.  Let your teen know you are there for them to turn to but there are also outside resources they can reach out to such as school social workers or guidance counselors.
Talking to your teen about dating violence can be a challenging subject, especially if you have concerns they are in an unhealthy relationship.  If you have questions on how to approach the subject with your teen or would like to find out more about our services, please feel free to contact Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis services at (518) 583-0280 or our 24-hour hotline at (518) 584-8188.