Checking the Pulse on Youth Advocacy and Prevention Education Work

by Matt Renaud, Youth Advocate & Prevention Educator at AWARE

I’ve been the Youth Advocate & Prevention Educator at AWARE for a little over two years now and I’m finally starting to feel grounded in what this job is all about.  That being said, I also feel that the field of youth advocacy (and advocacy in general) has been shifting during the course of my time at AWARE and that it continues to shift.  Maybe this is the way it has always been – the only thing that stays the same is that everything changes.  After all, in order to best meet the needs of the people we serve, we need to be constantly evolving.  I got curious about how other Youth Advocates and/or Prevention Educators have experienced change, success, and challenge in their role, so I sent out a set of questions to my colleagues across the state.  Responses came from people who have been in this work anywhere from one year to over a decade.  Here is a picture of where youth advocacy in Vermont is headed, straight from the horse’s mouth.

 Where do you see our work as Youth Advocates and/or Prevention Educators headed in the future?

Savannah Williams from Umbrella North in Newport explained, “Schools used to be really hesitant [about working with advocacy programs] before Act One was passed, but now Youth Advocates & Prevention Educators are seen more as allies than as strangers in certain communities.”

Bobbi Gagne from the Sexual Assault Crisis Team (SACT) in Barre describes the future of advocacy as “Learning from youth what they see as issues they face rather than us deciding what issues they see as important.”

What’s your favorite part about being a Youth Advocate and/or Prevention Educator?

Laura Young from Umbrella South in St. Johnsbury says, “My favorite part of being a Youth Advocate and Prevention Educator is all of the relationships that I have been able to build Continue reading

Survivors as Caregivers

By Brittany Lafirira, Youth Advocate, H.O.P.E. Works

Being a survivor of sexual violence is hard. You go through times where your assault or abuse doesn’t cross your mind and then, suddenly something happens and it’s all you think about. Becoming a parent or caregiver is sometimes the thing that triggers past thoughts or feelings. While we often hear that being pregnant and starting a family is the best thing that can happen to someone, there isn’t a lot of talk about how scary and harmful that process can be.

A lot of research has been done on how becoming pregnant can impact survivors. It changes your hormone levels and can be a painful feeling like you have less control over your body. Once the baby is born the risk of post-partum depression increases with being a survivor. If you are a survivor and are thinking about starting a family there are many resources available. Often times Midwives will be more trauma informed and can help make check-ups and the birthing process as comfortable as possible for you. Talking to them about your past trauma will help you get the care you need. For some reading and other resources check out:

For resources on pregnancy and surviving trauma see here and here.

Something that isn’t often talked about is what happens once the baby is born. How trauma can manifest in different ways. Adoptive and Step-Parents are also often left out Continue reading

Brock Turner & Prison Justice: When the Liberation We Seek is Beyond Words

By Lucy Basa, Victim Advocate at HOPE Works

This piece represent the personal opinions, beliefs, and ideas of the author, and not necessarily those of H.O.P.E. Works.

Over the course of the last couple weeks, the public exchange around Brock Turner’s rape of a woman near Stanford’s campus has coalesced into a deep and multifaceted conversation reinvigorating our country’s complex and often discordant opinions around the reality of sexual violence on college campuses and throughout all our communities. Although, as always, there is a strong contingent of people victim-blaming and excusing Turner’s actions (his father among them), there seems to be an even stronger following of people advocating for the experience of the survivor, and the healing, safety, and needs of survivors everywhere. It is between these two largely dichotomous public discussions that I find myself, somewhat mired, to a host of difficult questions.

As I sit at my office desk, my kitchen table, my steering wheel, my front stoop, I have a hard time putting into words the staggering mess of emotions I find myself sitting in around this case and so many others like it. As a white woman, a queer and femme person, a survivor, it is painful, complicated, and difficult work to make sense of events like these and the multiple planes of violence and oppression that come to demand our attention and careful understanding.

What does it mean to learn to hold multiple, coexisting truths? To hold knowledge of the earth-shattering pain of rape compounded by such resounding silence from lawyers, Continue reading

Clarina Happenings!

Part II

Engaging Kids by Getting Outside

By Allyson Scanlon, Family & Youth Advocacy Specialist, Clarina Howard Nichols Center

It is that time again… school is coming to an end for the year and the weather in VT is actually pretty GREAT! It also means that it is a wonderful opportunity to get the time and attention of kids who may be significantly struggling with any number of things. For lots of kids, school may actually be preferable than spending every day at home this summer.

That’s why I feel one of the most important programs we offer through Clarina is our Summer Youth Program. Writing this blog, I’m realizing I should probably try to come up with a more exciting name for it, but the good news is that I have been coordinating and facilitating the program for the past four years and kids keep coming so we must be doing something right!

As an individual who is passionate about the outdoors and physical activity, I just see so many links to positivity, friendship strengthening and growth, self-esteem, team-building and confidence-boosting that can be formed simply by engaging in outdoor activity. Not to mention, here we are blessed to be nestled in the beauty of the Green Mountains. That beauty, especially in summer, is something impossible to ignore. I have witnessed kids bonding simply due to the need to walk single file on a narrow mountain trail. Kids who normally tend to follow begin taking the lead because they may be older and feel they finally have a reason to take on a leadership role. Simply meeting a group of new friends, and the feeling of a clean slate that comes along with that – combined with going places they have never been before and/or doing things they simply haven’t done, such as swimming in a pool at the bottom of a natural mountain waterfall – can coax out pieces of a child’s personality that are typically guarded; and not lightly.

Last year we were extremely fortunate to connect with a local horse farm, Hope Grows. Their mission is to encourage personal growth in children and families. They also strive to Continue reading

Clarina Happenings!

 

Part I  

WINGS – We Inspire Girls to Succeed!!

By Ana Cimino, Albert Schweitzer Follow, Clarina Howard Nichols Center

Through the sponsorship of the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship and Clarina Howard Nichols Center, Ana Cimino has spent the year hosting a youth empowerment group that focused on breaking the cycle of gender-based violence. The kids who participate in the group entitled it WINGS – We Inspire Girls to Succeed.

Working with the Clarina Howard Nichols Center, a Vermont agency that serves survivors of domestic violence and their children, Cimino has implemented a program that fosters an empowering and safe environment for kids to heal and grow. The program delivers its curriculum through various modalities, including art, dance, and writing. This program is not a support group, but rather an advocacy program empowering local youth to find their own space to heal, and to open the dialogue on healthy relationships and body image.

Cimino divided the year into two focus areas: defining and developing healthy Continue reading

Empathy Books: Big Emotions in Little Bodies

By Savannah Williams, Youth Advocate, The Advocacy Program of Umbrella

I have been an advocate for a little over 11 years, but I’m not only an advocate I’m a mommy too, as I may have mentioned in past blog posts. Since I became a mommy I feel like I have one foot in each world. Sometimes the two worlds will mesh together, but there a times when I want to keep them apart. There are things that I’m not ready to teach my son about yet. People told me that parenting was going to be hard, but I guess I never really believed them until now.

I feel like with the experience and tools that I have learned throughout the years to share with other parents have helped me be the mom that I am today. By no means am I perfect. Nope, not at all. There are days when I think, “Is this going to bite me in the butt when my son is a teenager?” I guess we will see.

I’ve learned the importance of teaching children the right names for their private parts to enhance sexual violence prevention. Ever since my son was born I made sure to teach him the correct terminology. When he was three he decided to tell the cashier that he had a penis and asked her if she had a vagina. The cashier looked at me in horror, and I was having this internal debate on whether I should tell him to hush or use this as a teaching moment. So, I looked at her and asked her, “Well, do you?” Hoping she would be kind enough to share the moment with me, and she did. She was pretty great about actually after she too got over the initial embarrassment.

Which brings me to another tool that I found very useful, making empathy books.

We know that children learn about their emotions, behavior, relationships and how to develop empathy from the adults in their lives. As adults in children’s lives we need to Continue reading

Chicken Soup for the Anti-Cisheteropatriarchal Soul

by Rachel Rudi, Youth & Family Services Coordinator, Circle

For the past few weeks, I’ve trudged home from meetings around eight in the evening, eaten something from a box and fallen asleep by 8:35. Sunlight is scarce. Work has not been easy. My body is achey and aggravated and I am impatient, but a large part of me loves those stretches of time that push your limits and force you to be your own friend. Knowing this is not a permanent schedule, where do our minds go when personal growth and community are put on the back burner? Are we comfortable with that inwardness? 

In order to invigorate and sooth myself, I’ve been turning to the videos of StyleLikeU, a mother-and-daughter team who seek out the stories which inform individuals’ style and fashion choices. Dozens of people, largely women and queer folks, spend ten minutes connecting their body to their pain, resistance, and self-possession, slowly removing articles of clothing and getting deeper into why we present to the world as we do. Not only are these testimonies phenomenal educational tools for young people, and not only are they an interesting presence in the fashion world, but they give me enormous hope. Something about the process is so beautifully transcendent and connecting. I am reminded to spend time learning my story, reminded of the ways our lives weave in and out of cultural and historical narratives, reminded that we are encouraged to classify violences and thus isolate ourselves, and our anti-violence work, from the liberation. That is the inwardness I love about this season: the meditations. 

 

 

I first learned of StyleLikeU from following DarkMatter, a duo of south asian trans poets
Alok Vaid-Menon and Janani Balasubramanian. The two have brilliant politics that cut into the truth of identities, languages, and colonialist cisheteropatriarchy. Do yourself a Continue reading

On Naming Patriarchy, and an Advocacy of Trusting Children’s Leadership

by Rachel Rudi, Youth and Family Coordinator, Circle, Washington County

“Within white supremacist capitalist patriarchy children do not have rights. Feminist movement was the first movement for social justice in this society to call attention to the fact that ours is a culture that does not love children, that continues to see children as the property of parents to do as they will. […] Simply calling attention to male sexual abuse of children has not created the climate where masses of people understand that this abuse is linked to male domination, that it will end only when patriarchy is eliminated.”

                                                                        – bell hooks, Feminism is for Everybody

Six weeks ago, as I stepped into Circle’s Youth Advocate position, a longtime anti-domestic violence worker said to me, “Just to be clear, we don’t think of ourselves as a social service. We think of ourselves as a social justice movement.”

I’ve been chewing on this clarification, this seemingly clear delineation, as I try to see how I’ll wear the role. I have no social work degree, little formal schooling in education or psychology, no firsthand experience with intimate partner violence. I’ve been both panicked and calm about the learning curve: lessons in childhood development, statistics on violence, Vermont law and its shortcomings, endless acronyms, fear of saying the wrong thing to a person in pain. As I meet with survivors, children, medical professionals, family members, social workers, local politicians, law enforcement, advocates and counselors, I scrutinize my own credibility and question my ability to advocate for youth.

But in even the most clinical of these meetings something is invariably said that knocks the wind out of everyone and we sit in an unscripted moment of grief. There’s that communal sigh, a bewilderment at such a normalized culture of terror, a grasping for a Continue reading

Wait? My Child Starts Kindergarten?!

by Savannah Williams, Youth Advocate, Umbrella – Newport Office

 “Whether we’re a preschooler or a young teen, a graduating college senior or a retired person, we human beings all want to know that we’re acceptable, that our being alive somehow makes a difference in the lives of others.” Fred Rogers

Before I found out I was pregnant, I always pictured how I wanted to raise my child. I had the goal that I was going to raise my child differently than how I was raised by my parents. Then one day my dream came true, I found out that I was going to be a mom to a baby boy. I knew that I didn’t want my child to grow up walking on eggshells and being afraid of living in his own home. I wanted him to know that he could ask questions and test boundaries to learn, dream and grow. I wanted him to experience the world, while I held my breath and stood closely by to watch…even though I thought of stocking up on bubble wrap. I wanted to teach him how to use his voice to express his feelings and thoughts. I wanted him to be able to identify people that he could trust. But, most of all I wanted him to feel loved and safe.

I worried about all the influences that would affect his development and growth. I worried about my relationship with my husband. We were raised very differently and I was worried Continue reading

My Beauty

 By Lucinda Brewer, Youth & Family Services Coordinator at Circle, Barre, Vermont

My Beauty- A short film about beauty and individuality made by a group of young parenting and expectant women 2 from Central Vermont Television on Vimeo.

My Beauty, the video posted above was created by the “Finding Our Voices” group facilitated by Circle, the domestic violence program for Washington County, Vermont. The group consists of Continue reading