Friday, October 30, 2009

Domestic Violence Month Ends...But the Work Continues!

October, Domestic Violence Awareness month, has come to a close. This last week has been full of activity. From an interview with the Boston Herald on the new Christian domestic violence talkline in Dorchester, to the last session of our volunteer training, to an event with the Northbridge Association of Churches, awareness is increasing and we don’t want that to end.

In light of this momentum, we will continue writing this blog two to three times per week in the coming months. We will use the blog as a means of updating you on the work of Renewal House, as well as expanding awareness about domestic violence issues and encouraging conversation. Thank you for your interest in our work and the support you offer to our program and the people we serve.

On Wednesday night I travelled with Juliana (our Harvard Divinity School intern) and Cinthia (a former Renewal House resident) to Northbridge, Mass., for an event organized by Susan Brostrup Jensen, a Simmons College PhD student. The event was the culmination of her efforts throughout her coursework to bring the work of ending domestic violence into churches and faith communities. The event was well attended, and there was a wonderful conversation following the presentations about how these individuals and congregations could actively address the needs of survivors in their communities.

Both Cinthia and Susan Shumaker (a UU and longtime supporter of Renewal House) shared their stories during the evening. I have heard Susan’s story several times and each time I hear it there is something new that she adds or some new way that I hear the tragedy of a child witnessing domestic violence. Because this event was for people of faith, Susan included her experience within faith communities while she was growing up. We all had a good chuckle when she explained that she attended the United Methodist Church on Sundays, the Catholic Church on Fridays (waiting for her friends as they did confession), and synagogue with her Jewish friends on Saturday night to mark the end of Shabbat. Each served as a place of refuge for Susan as she struggled to create a “normal” life away from the abuse she witnessed between her parents. Susan found community wherever she could. And she found strength in all of the friends she had and their faith traditions that informed their lives.

Cinthia has also shared her story several times at Renewal House events. She was a resident almost a year ago, and is currently living in her own apartment in Boston and working at an area hospital. Cinthia is more than surviving, she is thriving! On Wednesday night, Cinthia spoke about the isolation she felt in her marriage, as her abuser cut off all of her connections to the outside world. Cinthia was not allowed to leave her home, speak on the phone or have contact with anyone. She did, however, have minimal contact with a woman who worked in the building where she and her husband lived. Occasionally, this person would have to come into their apartment to repair something or make routine checks. Cinthia didn’t speak much with this woman – but she didn’t have to, because the woman knew what was happening. One day, she knocked on Cinthia’s door and handed her $25 and said, “why don’t you use this to get out of here.” And that is exactly what Cinthia did.

What I found so moving about Cinthia’s story was that she then looked out at all the people gathered in the Northbridge Church and said – almost as an invitation – “You could have been that person giving me that $25. You can be the person to help someone leave an abusive relationship.” The tears in the room flowed very easily at that point, for it spoke to the very core of what many folks believe: when you serve the least of these, you are serving me…and you do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It was a powerful statement, and a wonderful and simple invitation to us all.

Last night, as we wrapped up our final volunteer training for Renewal House, we closed with attendees sharing what they found to be the highlight of our time together. The overall consensus was that having the opportunity to be in community with this group, week after week, was itself a highlight. Some mentioned that the diversity in people’s ages was a highlight. To see younger people so interested and involved provided the “older” adults with hope for the future. For younger folks, hearing the perspective and history from their older peers was meaningful. It struck me that, just as survivors of domestic violence find themselves isolated through the abuse they suffer, we also find ourselves isolated from one another. We are always looking for community – a place where we belong and where our thoughts and opinions matter. Going through a 25-hour training is a huge commitment, and yet finding others who are committed to learning about, and contributing to, the work of supporting survivors of domestic violence can create a lovely opportunity for community. For Renewal House staff, it is thrilling to have others with new energy join us in our efforts to offer safety and hope for all survivors of domestic violence.

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