After hearing that Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies was celebrating Sexual Assault Awareness Month with a series of programs in April, one including an art exhibit for First Friday gallery walk, I jumped at the chance to powwow with a few of their administrators.
AWARE Executive Director Saralyn Tabachnick, Program Manager Ellen Andrews and Volunteer Coordinator Swarupa Toth made me feel right at home Wednesday, bringing me coffee and humoring my simple questions. After just a few minutes, I easily ascertained their ultimate goal in the month's activities - awareness.
"To provide activities that promote awareness during this month, it can be a really healing opportunity for anyone who has been victimized or who knows someone who has been victimized," Andrews said. "It can just provide a forum for individuals to seek out more education, connect with other survivors, explore resources that are available for victims and survivors."
According to the agency's Web site, Sexual Assault Awareness Month recognizes issues surrounding sexual assault and rape and seeks to educate individuals and communities on how to prevent sexual violence.
"It provides a meaningful opportunity for victims and survivors to share experiences," Andrews added.
In reflecting on the "Healing Art: Surviving Violence" opening reception on April 3 at the Silverbow Back Room, Tabachnick described a conversation she had with two women before the program began.
"One of them said that she creates art but she's never put anything out in public, and maybe next year she would give something for this show," Tabachnick said. "So again, (that's) breaking the isolation. I thought, how beautiful."
Toth also remembered a comment by one woman who had contributed to the show.
"When she was giving (the artwork) to me, she brought it by AWARE, she said 'You know, I don't know where this came from. I don't know what it means, but if it touches one person and helps them to come get services from you, it's worth it to me,'" Toth said. "That's it! That's what it's all about. Not just us doing it, but community members reaching one another to inspire one another."
The exhibit will show through April at 120 Second St., and an online slideshow will be on AWARE's Web site soon, according to Toth.
"For people who are maybe feeling a little delicate about a topic, they can always contact us through our Web site too, which is kind of a new vehicle for us," she said.
Also featured this month are a presentation by epidemiologist Linda Chamberlain on childhood exposure to violence and brain development as well as a new women's education series, "Financial Independence for Women," held from 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays in April.
"We're pretty excited about the way the programs are going," Toth said. "Our new plan for programs to bring people in for financial indepence for women has been such a success for us that a lot of women from the community have been thinking about taking it. ... It brings women in here and makes them realize this place is comfortable and 'I can maybe get some legal help here' or 'Maybe this is a place I might need to stay one weekend.' It sort of removes the stigma from being here."
In closing, Tabachnick added that any victim of sexual assault or domestic violence can contact AWARE's 24-7 crisis line at 586-1090, and anyone wanting more information about AWARE's programs, training or Sexual Assault Awareness Month activities can call 586-6623 or visit www.awareak.org.
Contact Kim Andree at 523-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org.