An Intention Toward Wellness, Self-care, and Community in the Workplace

“What could be wrong with giving myself my full attention for 15 minutes? Turns out, nothing. The very act of not working has made it possible for the hum to return, as if the hum’s engine could only refuel while I was away. Work doesn’t work without play.” – Shonda Rhimes, TED2016 

There have always been individuals at the Action Alliance who took special care to infuse our halls with magic and play, music and kindness. Some of these people took care to notice when a colleague had a particular obsession – bacon, Nintendo, chocolate crème eggs, or ceramic elephants to name a few – and offered tokens of love and appreciation in these tastes and shapes. There have always been staff who took pride in knowing the names of each other’s children and grandchildren, no matter the number, and asked each other about them with genuine curiosity. The Action Alliance has been a place where relationships are valued and we are encouraged to invest as much in each other as in the practical day to day work of the coalition. These individuals have always floated about spreading good cheer on their own and in 2013, after a particularly challenging year of change, the random encounters of positive influence became an institutionalized practice within the Action Alliance organizational culture and the Wellness Fairies were born.

care cup

credit: positivedoodles.tumblr.com

The first iteration of Wellness Fairies was a trio of staff committed to creatively bringing wellness and self-care to the office environment. Self-care may be on its way to cliché status in the grand scheme of things but it is still a revolutionary act in our work. Carving space to celebrate each other, to play and dance together, to eat good food in the company of friends is not always easy. Encouraging a diverse set of introverts, extroverts, and everything in between to get involved in games and embrace this commitment to staff wellness can be a challenge too. The Action Alliance sees the importance of these strategies nonetheless and commits staff time and financial resources to this greater purpose of supporting self-care and sustaining a culture of wellness. And for the staff who volunteer to become Wellness Fairies the challenge and the creativity becomes part of their self-care too. Designing scavenger hunts, decorating the office, organizing bubble wrap dance parties, bringing in massage therapists, and creating small gifts for every staff person are just a few of the endeavors keeping our Wellness Fairies busy each year.

friends-fingers

credit: Portland State School of Social Work

I joined the second cohort of Wellness Fairies after experiencing a year of being on the receiving end of so many awesome adventures thanks to the first cohort. I joined as a member of the Management Team to exhibit my full commitment to celebrating staff and supporting work-life balance. I joined to have fun and bring good food for my friends. Ahhh, the food. So much good food has been part of the Wellness Fairies events that we even released a staff cookbook highlighting recipes that had been shared at potlucks. We are potluck goddesses at the Action Alliance. Sharing food is a quick way to share a bit of one’s self, one’s history, and one’s desires. Sharing food builds resilience and relationships. Building resilience and relationships ensures that our team has what it needs to show up every day in this space – talking about trauma, working on tight deadlines, answering the Hotline, navigating dicey political environments.

IMG_6297

credit: Quillin Drew

Some suggest that if it is not hurting, if you are not stretched to the point of pain, then you must not be working hard enough. That may be a fine assessment of the gym, but that is not the environment where I want to spend my energy during my career. Non-profits are often limited in the resources available to support staff retention and sometimes do not have access to the most enticing salaries or most robust benefits packages. The Action Alliance has made commitments to pay living wages and to offer other regular benefits. We make staff development opportunities available because whether someone has been here 20 years or 5 minutes, we all have more to learn. And we use out of the box tools like the Wellness Fairies to create a workspace where people feel supported, loved, valued, and able to have fun while digging into the very hard work we do each day. The Wellness Fairies are a strategy for helping some of us get through the day and helping all of us stay in the movement to end violence a bit longer. The Wellness Fairies are a vaccine and an antidote – this organizational practice inoculates us from certain despair and cures us when the pressures of life and work become too great. Now in the third year and with a new set of fairies at the helm, the practice of cultivating wellness continues, the potlucks continue, the celebrations continue, and we are able to continue.

If you would like to learn more about how you can incorporate an organizational wellness practice like this on a shoestring budget, we will be glad to help you think it through. Get in touch with us!

Quillin Drew Musgrave is a Programs and Services Manager at the Action Alliance, a Board member of the Virginia Anti-Violence Project, and operates Harrison Street Café with their partner. Quillin is learning to engage the world from a place of connection and gratitude and gets great joy from seeing their child, StaggerLee, learn to navigate life as a four-year old.

_____________________________________________________________________________

Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call 804.377.0335.

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

In the Beginning: Perspective of Mothers of the Movement

I have been a member of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance (Action Alliance) for approximately 30+ years. Therefore, I have been a member since the late 80s. I became a member as a survivor and then gradually moved into various aspects of the Women’s Movement which has been synonymously linked to Virginians Against Domestic Violence (what the Action Alliance was called in the early years and their acronym was VADV). The sexual assault state coalition at that time was called Virginians Aligned Against Sexual Assault (VAASA). Both of these organizations merged into one organization approximately ten years ago.

My rationale for becoming active within the coalition in the late 80’s derived from their “fundamental principles” pertaining to victim services and how these principles fed my need to fight oppression and the passion to become familiar with every aspect of victimization. I devoured research and I still have an insatiable appetite for any and all research pertaining to victimization and trauma and recovery. I became the chair of the Women of Color Caucus (WOCC) and watched the caucus blossom into a membership of 40 women which thrived for three years. During that time I was facilitating support groups for a non-profit, creating my own non-profit, reading and participating in as much of the field of domestic and sexual violence and stalking as I could. I watched VADV morph into a viable organization of women who saw their dream of shelter structure and service delivery come true.

However, somewhere a transition occurred and the core of our work began to be dictated by what was beneficial to becoming renowned versus what is best for survivors. Upon reflection I cannot really put a finger on the actual time this occurred but it was the wave of the future which tended to narrow the scope of service delivery and impose restrictions and requirements that affected how we viewed provision of services to victims. The feeling of family and comradery was replaced by the mechanics of output and accomplishment. A few of us maintained contact and managed to preserve a sense of purpose, while some of us abandoned the vision of healing many future survivors, for the viability and aggrandizement of an organization. This happens to many organizations as growth becomes the goal opposed to being a viable entity in which output and productivity embraces the needs of the victims; promoting healing on a continuum while constructing and maintaining a place where victims’ voices are heard.

We should remember that we built our foundation on the mantra “Peace on Earth Begins at Home”. If we do not alter our course and remember our historical journey, who was at the table in the beginning, and the longing we had to maintain the belief that we are stronger together, we will lose our vision of our future. We believed strongly in diversity and maintaining ideologies which challenged the “majority culture” as we practiced the essential components of cultural competence and victim driven services. We have gravitated toward embracing the mainstream societal influences while overlooking or not comprehending this is not always beneficial to victims, especially the underserved populations. Is not this what sank the Titanic? The disaster was not caused by the icebergs. Yes, that is what caused the ship to sink but the captain’s belief that his ship was unsinkable caused him to stay the course which took him straight into danger. I urge us all to be aware of the distress warnings being heard from those who were tossed overboard for the good of the coalition. No organization is infallible. If we do not heed the cries of the survivors we will capsize. It is not what is seen that takes us down, it is what remains hidden.

Reverend Patricia Jones Turner, MA is a preacher, pastor, teacher, poet, trainer, counselor, educator, writer, and a motivational speaker who guides those who participate in her workshops into self-enlightenment.  Rev. Jones Turner says, “One cannot transcend the ‘world’s’  perspective without confronting and accepting our own inadequacies. It is in the acceptance of our ineptness that we come to understand we control nothing but should seek to give everything; thus fulfilling our destiny and accomplishing our purpose unto Heaven.” 

Links:

Our guiding principles  As The Alliance conducts its work, it is essential that survivors, the interests of survivors, and those impacted by sexual assault and domestic violence are at the forefront of all decision-making.

Interested in learning more about advocacy and prevention? Our Training Institute delivers forward-thinking and accessible education, training, and resources for professionals working on the front lines to address and prevention sexual and domestic violence. Register here for trainings.

_________________________________________________________________

Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call804.377.0335

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

Restorative Justice: Restorative of Right Relationships, of Community.

On August 15, 1995 my sister was shot several times in the face and chest while she lay sleeping by a male “friend” our family had known since childhood. She was a wife and mother of 2 small children, a daughter, and a sister. Her family was shattered. Our family was shattered. The hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life was to tell my seven-year old niece that her mother was dead.

pic1

picture courtesy of Jennifer Garvin-Sanchez

Because there was a confession and a plea-bargain, we had no day in court. It was all handled by the state prosecutor, and because my sister was not considered my “immediate” family because we both had families of our own, I was not kept in the loop by the police and prosecutor. I was not informed when the murderer was released from jail, finding out only through a picture of him through a friend of a friend on Facebook.
Neither I nor my family have ever received any communication from him, no explanation, no apologies. I am still waiting for an explanation.

Retributive justice is the idea that those who commit crimes should have to pay in some like fashion for the crimes they have committed. An eye for an eye. We have some innate sense that the scales of justice need to be balanced; offenders must pay in some way for the crimes they commit. Through paying for their crimes, they somehow rebalance the scales, and we feel in some way that justice has been served. But I never felt that way. Of course, he did not receive the death penalty, which would have been in-kind, but for me, that would never have balanced the scales, the only way to do that would have been to bring my sister back from the dead.

What I have been seeking is something else—restorative justice. The goal of restorative justice is a restoration of right relationships, sometimes through restitution, sometimes through talking, and a restoration of community. For example, a few years ago a neighborhood teen stole our motor scooter. A goal of restorative justice would be to re-establish right relationships between neighbors, perhaps having the teen work off what he had done through yard work, thus balancing the scales and restoring community. This lets the teenager know just how much hard work it is to work off $1300, and through getting to know us, it would have humanized us to him. So what if we were to redefine our concept of justice, to rethink it? This is not difficult to envision when it comes to teen petty theft, but in violent offenses it is much more difficult.

But I can imagine what might bring me some peace of mind. Crimes are not just a matter between the perpetrator and the state—all family members should be kept abreast of all developments in cases like these, including release of prisoners. Perhaps I do not want a restoration of a relationship with the murderer, but some kind of explanation why and an apology would go a long way in my healing. I long ago, intellectually, forgave him, but emotionally is another thing. Restorative justice sometimes involves a sit-down conversation between parties—I would welcome that. It is also important to realize that not only my family was shattered, but his family as well. Restorative justice involves reintegrating the offender into community, maybe not with my family, but with his. Judging from Facebook photos, his family has welcomed him back, but my family and his family have had no contact and no restoration of community or an attempt at an apology or understanding.

pic2

picture courtesy of Jennifer Garvin-Sanchez

Perhaps an illustration from Africa would help our nation reformulate ideas of justice. After the genocide in Rwanda and Barundi, many perpetrators of the violence were put in prison. A few years ago, when they were about to be released, the community was worried that the survivors would retaliate—an eye for an eye. That is when the program Healing and Rebuilding our Communities was born (the Richmond Peace Education Center has since brought this program from Africa). This program brings together survivors and perpetrators in weekend-long settings to talk about the trauma that resulted from the violence. As survivors talk about their trauma, those involved in violent crime see the effect their actions have had. But they also begin to open up and speak about their own trauma, in a non-judgmental setting. What happens, then, is through the telling of stories, and seeing the others point of view, both sides begin to heal, forgiveness sometimes occurs, and community is restored. Even though it seems like it shouldn’t work–bringing murderers and rapists together with survivors–their experience is that it has rebuilt their community and prevented more violence. This is restorative justice at the most difficult level. But only through a rebuilding of right relationships, a restoration of community, and healing from trauma, will future violence be prevented. This is justice re-imagined.

Jennifer Garvin-Sanchez is affiliate faculty at Virginia Commonwealth University.  She holds a doctorate from Union Presbyterian Seminary, here in Richmond, and has lived in Richmond since 1986.  She is a board member of the Richmond Peace Education Center, and the producer, along with her students, of “A Time for Peace” radio segment on WRIR 97.3 FM.

_________________________________________________________________

Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call 804.377.0335. 

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

 

Perspectives of Mothers of the Movement: Alice Twining

“What will matter is the good we did, not the good we expected others to do.”

-(Elizabeth Lesser)

 

What does “A Mother of the Movement” mean to me? – Nurturing, loving; mentoring, encouraging; positive communicating; excited about others’ energy and drive for social justice.

First I think, “I am not a mother of the movement,” I have just been around a long time! I was a farm girl. I worked my way through school in Boston where I first learned about sexual and domestic violence from Antioch graduate students I taught: a co-founder of Emerge (Batterers’ Intervention) and a domestic violence advocate in Cambridge. What I would learn later in California was the sneaky power of a psychopath.

In 1987 I moved to Virginia, fleeing with my baby from an abusive husband. My sister, Mary, took us in and mothered us. She found a lawyer at HER Shelter with advice on legal steps.  I saw a therapist who helped me manage my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and secondary trauma. New friends at Virginians Against Domestic Violence (VADV) and the YWCA helped me recover. We worked, played, laughed, cried, sang and danced as we evolved with Virginians Aligned Against Sexual Assault (VAASA) into the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance (Action Alliance). Many advocates joined us. I focused my practice on assisting survivors and children who witnessed abuse, and joined the VADV (now Action Alliance) Training Institute to facilitate learning on violence and trauma, prevention and intervention.

I feel like I am always standing on the shoulders of mothers  – from Seneca Falls women in 1848 and Sojourner Truth in 1850 to Patricia Hein and others in 1983 who walked the halls of the General Assembly in flowered dresses and large hats (“To meet the legislators where they are.”). When I was asked to serve on the VADV Board, I did not think I could help since my self-esteem had been crushed in the two years I was married. I wanted to contribute, and was mentored and encouraged to do so. My work as a YWCA crisis counselor and at Samaritan House was invaluable: we listened to women and children. We mothered each other.

Our movement expanded with trainings by national experts such as Carole Warshaw. More of us learned how to lobby and build bridges with other advocates to get protective orders and other laws passed. I will never forget the day when hundreds of us attended the Senate committee hearing to add marital rape to sexual assault laws. The room filled with VADV and VAASA supporters wearing ultra-green-stickers: “Married Women Can Be Raped, too.” We brought the media with us. None of the committee members attacked the bill, and it became law. I know we made a powerful difference, and we continue to make a difference.

The social change I have observed in 68 years is remarkable: freedom to evolve past stereotyped gender roles, freedom to marry persons we love, and to establish norms based on equality for all. More profound is knowing the loving children and grandchildren we raised with values and prevention tools from our work. Looking back, it is a joy to be a role model and mentor.

(Dedicated to my late mother and my loving son, 30.)

Alice Twining is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, trainer and expert witness in the psychology of women and children, and trauma and its impact on survivors. She was a psychotherapist for 30 years, specializing in domestic violence, sexual assault and battered women who are criminally charged. She has been on the faculty of the Action Alliance Training Institute since 1997, and is also a Lifetime Member of the Action Alliance. She was Program Director of the YWCA Domestic Violence Program of South Hampton Roads and Program Director at Samaritan House in Virginia Beach. Previously, she served for fourteen years on the VADV Board of Directors, and was President of the Board for four years. She is a painter, gardener and a jazz singer.

_________________________________________________________________

Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call804.377.0335

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

Two young women lost their lives to domestic violence in Prince William County last weekend.

Crystal Hamilton was doing what many of us do on Saturdays—she was at home with her family and making plans for her evening. She will never see her son become a teenager, graduate from high school, find the love of his life or perhaps even start a family. Her 11 year-old son has lost his mother and has endured a trauma that will forever change his relationship to his father, will forever leave him feeling unsure and unsafe. Ronald Hamilton is charged with killing Crystal, his wife.

Officer Ashley Guindon was doing what law enforcement officers do on Saturdays and every day of the week—responding to a 911 call indicating possible domestic violence. Having just started on the force, she will never know the feeling that comes with making a positive contribution to public safety. Whatever dreams she may have had for her future will never become a reality. Ronald Hamilton is charged with killing Officer Guindon as she approached his home and with shooting two other law enforcement officers who responded with her.

Crystal Hamilton is one of an estimated 50 people who will die in Virginia at the hands of their intimate partner this year. Like Crystal, most of those victims will be women killed by a current or former partner who uses a firearm.

Ashley Guindon is one of an estimated 50 law enforcement officers who will die responding to domestic violence in the United States this year. The majority of those deaths will occur as officers approach the scene…before they even have the opportunity to apply the skills they have learned for responding to domestic violence.

The media coverage and the response to these two deaths has caused me to pause and reflect in my work. Initial reports focused almost exclusively on the shootings of 3 police officers. There was immediate and heartbreaking coverage about the death of Officer Ashley Guindon and the fact that it was her first day on the job. Crystal Hamilton then became visible as coverage continued; she was often referred to as “his wife” or as “the victim” of domestic violence.

download

picture credit: Fox5DC

The law enforcement community across the Commonwealth responded swiftly and viscerally to the killing of a fellow officer. Rituals reserved for this specific tragedy were there as a support and as a public statement in the wake of this trauma. These rituals gave language to the grief felt by colleagues. And as the posts from law enforcement officers past and present appeared on my Facebook page, as the articles appeared in the news, as policy leaders spoke in the media about Officer Guindon’s tragic death, I was keenly aware that those of us in the domestic violence victim advocacy community are nearly as invisible in the public conversations that follow domestic violence homicides as Crystal Hamilton was in the coverage of this event. Perhaps because we sadly witness these horrible deaths nearly once a week across the state. Maybe we are immobilized by the weight of all of the violence and trauma and death.

I can not help but wonder what might happen if we were no longer quiet in the wake of each domestic violence homicide. What might happen if we created public and powerful rituals around each death—to bring strength to the survivors, to help us through our fear and grief, to offer hope to our communities?

Two 29-year old women lost their lives on Saturday. They lost their lives to domestic violence–to a public safety and public health scourge that is preventable. Let us all remember both of these women as we continue to work together for safe and respectful relationships for all. ALL.

Links:

“Why Crystal Hamilton’s Life Matters Too”

#CrystalHamilton

Kristi VanAudenhove is the Executive Director of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. She has been a leader in coalition work, advocacy and policy for nearly 40 years. 

_____________________________________________________________________________

Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call 804.377.0335.

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org