Monday, April 27, 2009

Hartford MDT Coordinator, Ann Glaser, with Hartford Courant columnist, Susan Campbell. Susan received one of the afternoon's two "Child First" Awards for her work reporting on abuse.

Stacy and "Child First" Award winner, Jake Lewtan, 13, who organized "Jake's FREEZE" to raise money for the Aetna Foundation Children's Center child abuse prevention programs.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Pinwheels explained...

Reading at the child abuse prevention event on 4/15.

Regina Dyton, me and Stacy Karpowitz at the 4/15 prevention event in the St. Francis rotunda.

Rotunda event poster surrounded by over 400 pinwheels (painstakingly tied by Ms. Karpowitz).

Rabbi Diana Manber, Angela Shelton and me at the Voices of Valor Celebration in NYC 4/1/09.

April is Child Abuse Prevention month. While those who work tirelessly on prevention and resolution know that every month, every day, is abuse prevention time, dedicating a calendar month toward abuse, I believe, is an effective way of directing public attention to a topic many folks prefer to sweep under the rug. No more. Not possible.

April began for me in NYC, attending the Voices of Valor Celebration sponsored by Dayenu! Enough Silence. Dayenu is the family violence initiative of the NY Board of Rabbis, headed up by Rabbi Diana Manber. The event, meaningful and moving, honored several NY area professionals for their work in prevention, resolution and healing: Dr. Mel Schneiderman, Iona Siegel, Shoshannah Frydman and posthumously, Rabbi Julie Spitzer. Also honored was keynote speaker, Angela Shelton. Angela, who due to a back injury was forced to spend most of the event in pain and in a wheelchair, has been a dynamic, outspoken advocate for victims and prevention. A model, actress, writer, Darkness To Light facilitator, and filmmaker, Angela won acclaim for her film “Searching For Angela Shelton.” It was an honor and inspiration to meet her and hear her speak.

April 15 took me to Hartford, CT, back to my friends at the Aetna Foundation Children’s Center at St. Francis Hospital. Stacy Karpowitz, Coordinator of Outreach and Education for the Center, planned a wonderful abuse prevention event in the Patient Care Tower Rotunda at St. Francis. Students from the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts sang (I was floored to realize I knew the composer, Jim Papoulis; haven't seen him since freshman year at UPenn), Sister Judy Cary, VP of Mission Integration at St. Francis delivered a beautiful blessing, Stacy "emceed" and I was the speaker. I read "Kisses From Dolce" to the 80-plus attendees and then spoke, briefly, about my own experience with abuse, hope and healing. Afterwards, I had the pleasure of meeting several attendees, like-minded folks, for whom abuse prevention/resolution is paramount. Displayed in the rotunda were over 400 pinwheels, each one symbolizing an abused child who had been treated during the year at the CAC.

Minutes before I spoke, the CAC manager, Regina Dyton, shared with me about meeting, in the hospital corridor, a young woman she had helped 14 years ago. The woman rushed up to Regina, gave her a huge, firm hug and asked if she remembered who she was. Regina had successfully worked to save the then-teen from an abusive living environment. Here she was, so many years later, living a fulfilling and productive life, the goal of any professional working to help a young abuse victim. Ironically, the night before the event, Regina and Stacy had spent hours at the CAC working on a crisis case, a family just at the beginning of their road. It had been a long, draining evening for all involved and yet, here, the very next day, in all her weariness, Regina came face to face with someone on the other end, someone she herself had helped. The reminder of why they do what they do. Less than 24 hours, full circle. I know it resonated deeply with Regina, and, after I received her permission to share the story with the rotunda crowd, with everyone else there.
It was a beautiful story, beautiful event, beautiful day.

Friday morning I headed back to Hartford, first to one of the Community Renewal Team's Head Start centers for its Family Fun Day. The center, on Locust Street, is bright and vibrant and there was so much going on that morning. Bethanne Vergean, the Disability, Mental Health and Transition Manager for CRT, had invited me to read "KFD" to 13 classrooms. What a wonderful experience that was! This is what the book is all about and sitting, reading, and interacting with these smart, beautiful children was fantastic. They "got" the book; we talked about trusting, touching and telling. We talked about not keeping secrets and who they would tell if they ever had a problem. All of these children have taken Stacy's "My Body Is Special" workshop, so this reinforced what they've already talked about before.

Each class had prepared a special question for me...these were the best! Among the topics: the color of my house, how long it took me to write the book, what color Dolce really is. One child told me about her pet goldfish, another about his pet tiger!! The children often gathered close around me, playing with my jewelry. Some asked for a hug.

After reading it was off to the Lyceum for the very first “Child First” luncheon saluting the Hartford Multidisciplinary Team (MDT). Stacy and MDT Coordinator, Ann Glaser, were the masterminds behind this event and they did a wonderful job. Two awards were presented: to Susan Campbell, the award-winning Hartford Courant columnist who writes often about child abuse, and to Jake Lewtan, 13 years old, who created a “Freeze” event to raise money for abuse prevention. Several folks spoke, including the Hartford Chief of Police, Daryl K. Roberts, who so beautifully reminded everyone of our daily duty in protecting children through not only our actions but also our words. For those of you unfamiliar with the Multidisciplinary model, the team includes law enforcement, medical personnel, mental health professionals, educators, legal representatives and victim advocates. The goal of the MDT, and I am greatly simplifying here, is to provide a coordinated effort, maximizing successful prosecution of perpetrators and minimizing further trauma to the child.

This team does incredible, amazing work. It was an honor to spend an afternoon in their presence; every community needs a team like this.

And, finally, speaking of honored…Thursday, April 23rd, was, for me, an extraordinary day. 71 Head Start classrooms, almost 1300 children, read “Kisses From Dolce” simultaneously.
CRT’s Bethanne put this event together, inviting, aside from me, guest readers to read and discuss the book with the children. Among the readers were some of CT’s top child advocates: DCF Commissioner Susan Hamilton, Jeanne Milstein, Karen Foley Schain of the Children’s Trust Fund, Elaine Zimmerman of the Commission on Children. Seven of Hartford’s police detectives, who work closely with Stacy on the MDT, read, as well.

Combined with the Locust Street event the previous week, almost 1500 Hartford children have had the experience of hearing and discussing the book. Child abuse prevention is a self-described passion for Bethanne and it shows. She worked long and hard to coordinate this event and, in the end, many children walked away with knowledge and tools to help themselves a bit better.

The photos from the CRT event have not yet arrived in my mailbox, but I do have one to share with you. Classroom # 8 wrote a song to sing for me about the book and what they learned. They wrote the lyrics on a very large paper bone:

“Touch me high, touch me low, but PLEASE respect me when I say NO! With a Knick Knack Paddy Whack Give a dog a bone. This is Dolce’s favorite song!”

After they sang, they presented me with my bone and I went on my merry way! I adore it!

In closing, I would be remiss if I did not stop and say thank you to the cadre of wonderful people I have met in Hartford. Who could have known when I met Stacy at our ATC Darkness To Light facilitator workshop one year ago, that not only would we become fast friends, but that so many wonderful opportunities and other friendships would come my way? It’s been a pleasure and an honor. I hope we have many more opportunities together in the future.
(Bear with me...I have several event photos to share but am having a problem uploading...they are on their way...)

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Two weeks ago the Connecticut Post published this piece on me and "Kisses From Dolce." Though no illustrations appear in the online version, they did in the hard copy and it was clear to me from the Post's choice of the page 16 artwork, that they really "got" what this book is all about. Thanks to Eileen Fischer for doing a wonderful job.
The article is now online and, so, I share it with you.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Tonight begins the holiday of Passover, a time for looking back and telling our collective story, again, so that we may inform the next generation of its history and, also, so that we will never forget our struggles. I have had mixed emotions about organized religion for a very long time, though I am spiritual, and each holiday brings with it a bundle of thoughts and feelings with which I must cope. I do have to say, though, that as a CSA survivor I know how important the "telling" of any story is and Passover is no exception. My good friend, Carrie, a therapist and the model for "Kisses From Dolce's" Miss Carrie, has said to me all along that "the healing is in the telling" and how right (and write) she has been.
Toward that end, I am including here an essay I wrote several years ago. It was the first time I had written for a larger audience about my abuse and it was published in a Jewish newspaper. Unfortunately, the publisher, acting as editor and without informing me, removed the very lines that had been hardest to say and write. When the essay appeared, I was inconsolable for 15 minutes. Then, I picked myself up and sought answers from him. He never responded to any of my inquiries. He did, however, inform my husband that he removed the lines because of "Loshon Hora," the Jewish concept of negative talk, gossip. He went on to say that he felt the piece was still powerful, even without the lines. As you will see, nowhere in my piece are names named, just me baring my soul. I felt disregarded and disrespected.
And so, I offer this to you, whether you observe Passover or Easter or nothing at all, the unedited version (lines he removed in bold), my feelings about religion, goodness and decency in humanity.

"O Lord,
Guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking guile,
And to those who slander me, let me give no heed.
May my soul be humble and forgiving unto all."

So begins the conclusion of the Amidah and some of my favorite words in the siddur.

Of late, they have been especially meaningful.

Almost forty years after the fact I have recovered memories, hideous and evil.
A beloved neighbor and dear friend to our family raped me, among other things, and finding my way out of a lifelong struggle with my own worthiness has meant needing to face the truth, head on, and surmount it.

Thankfully, I am doing that. Each day is a struggle, some better than others. And not just for me, but for my husband and child. I’ve found tremendous support, both professional and personal, in the form of my wonderful family and true, compassionate friends.

But mostly, I have found myself, always a deep believer in God, deeply grateful to Him for granting me strength and for guiding me from one source of illumination to the next. I am very aware that it is His gifts that have enabled me to see those things in front of me, the tools in my healing, as steps along the way, on a path I am carving with the stones He has provided. I believe that my ability to be open to seeing and hearing truths which for so many years I could not is one of His great gifts to me. And I am so grateful.

I am married to a rabbi, but I have never been a regular shul-goer. I always went when I felt the need or inspired, and indeed that hasn’t changed. What has changed, however, is my ability to embrace the Jew that I am, as good enough, for only me to judge. I’ve known traditional Jews who have maligned the reform traditions, and even-more traditional Jews who malign those not-enough-traditional for their tastes. Arrogance takes hold of those who would deem they are “better Jews” than others.

I have never subscribed to those ways of thinking and indeed I have resented them, especially when judgment came my way (never from my husband). For many years, though, I couldn’t embrace my own faith, the way God meant it for me, and look the other way when righteous indignation from others began.

Now, however, I take a deep breath, a sigh really, and understand that my truth belongs to me and others need not understand or approve for me to revel in my love and abiding faith in my God, my way.

And, ironically, having been able to let go of worry about what others think, has freed me to reread the liturgy and rethink text and halacha and see what has meaning for me, knowing all the time, that God will love me and share a personal relationship with me, no matter how that fits into Judaism. I have always believed that character, ethics, morality and the ability to respect others and treat them with kindness has been what the God of us all wants for us and from us all. That hasn’t changed for me one iota.

"May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable unto you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer."