Fall Semester, 2017

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If I could use only one word to describe this semester, it would be “busy”!

Opportunities like this don’t come along every day and I was thrilled to be able to accept the offer to speak. Every person in that room was a “Change-Maker”: Women and men in law enforcement, education, intervention and health care. The level of education, experience and raw knowledge in the room was dizzying. Fantastic experience!

Dr. Dana Radatz’ Victimology class at Niagara University. The most frequent comment on their evals? “Ms. Dynel wasn’t what I expected…” Nice! It’s important to challenge stereotypes, and re-evaluating our perceptions of even the most basic concepts is a good place to start ūüôā

I picked up two new professors at the University of Buffalo this semester – Dr. Chris St. Vil and Dr. Robert Keefe, both with the School of Social Work.

UB North was difficult to navigate when I attended thirty years ago and it’s just as confusing now. Even after an extremely comprehensive tour from Dr. Chris St. Vil, who I assured that, “… OF COURSE I’ll remember how to get to the classroom…” I did, indeed, get lost. :/ Twice.

Dr. St. Vil’s students filling out evals. Their most frequently commented take-away? “Ms. Dynel’s level of honesty; she made me think differently about what it’s like for a victim once they leave their abusers.”

Happy to be asked back once again this year by Dr. Noelle St. Vil (also with UB School of SW)

This group wasn’t shy in the least! We covered everything from the role that religion played in my healing after my divorce to questions about intimacy issues – no stone was left unturned!

My job is sometimes listed as “speaker”. Other times it’s “advocate”. I guess what I actually am is “truth-teller”, which is fine when I’m speaking about my own experience but much more difficult when someone in the group asks me to help clarify their experience. When a student tells me that her long time friend was killed by her boyfriend and that his defense in court was that he was out of his mind with jealousy? I’ll never forget her; she sat there, lower lip quivering, “…but, that doesn’t seem right, ya know… ? I mean… that he just snapped…?” To have to be the one to look that young woman in the eye and tell her that there is no such thing as a “crime of passion”? That it’s simply an excuse? To have to be the one tell her, in front of a group of her peers, that all violence is a choice and that he killed her friend on purpose because he could not bear losing his control over her? There is nothing tougher than that.

Closing remarks for “Surviving … Thriving: A Journey of Healing Through Art” at the Castellani Art Museum, Niagara University .

I was so invested in the conversation with Dr. Angie Moe’s Family Violence class that I forgot to take a picture of the screen while we were chatting. So … here’s my Skype profile pic (Lame, I know :/ ) Working with Dr. Moe is always fun – she moves the computer so that I can see the whole class and is great at helping me to pick out particular students for questions. I always look forward to Skype Tag-Teaming with her!

I picked up two new educational institutions this semester, as well! The First … NCLEA will be using “Leaving Dorian” as a required text for all new recruits, as well as in their Continuing Education block for currently hired, sworn officers.

 

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The Second … I will be working with Professor Eryn O’Neal’s “Gender and Crime” class at Sam Houston University next semester!

One of the best parts of making a book donation is getting to meet and network with awesome ladies like Phuong Brady, Shelter Supervisor and Rebecca Coleman, DV Counselor, both with Haven House. These gifted copies of “Leaving Dorian” will be used in training seminars with staff as well as in counseling programs with clients.

Being invited to tour Passage House, Niagara County’s secure woman’s shelter, topped off this busy semester. I can tell you that there is no more humbling experience than to walk among women who are devoting their lives to *literally* saving others. Give to your local safe house, woman’s shelter, transitional housing and give all year long. Don’t wait for the holidays to remember that there are women (in every community) who are fighting to reclaim their lives. Donate food, gently used and new clothing, bedding and furniture. Donate food and toiletries. Donate your time, if your local shelter allows that option. But most of all, donate FUNDS. Women and children matter, and we ought to be making their safety and well-being a priority at all times, not just during the Season of Giving.

 

Shelter From The Storm

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pettodvshelterThat’s the ratio in America today between animal shelters and battered women’s shelters.

I know…that’s crazy, isn’t it? How can that statistic possibly be correct?

But I’ve done the math and the research. I’ve hunted for weeks for information that would lead me to a different number, yet even if I figure in transitional housing for homeless women (because domestic violence is the number one cause of homelessness in America for women and their children) the number only drops slightly, down to 8:1.

More than twenty years ago,”The Senate Judiciary committee noted in its 1992 report that there are about 1,200 known shelters in the US serving thousands of women and children each year…”* Thinking that there had to be hundreds, even thousands, more shelters in operation since that statistic was published, I looked it up.

These are the facts: The ASPCA reports that, “There are about 13,600 independent community animal shelters nationwide.”¬†Healthy Place: America’s Mental Health Channel states that, “There are 1500 emergency battered women shelters in the US.” I’ve found other networks and agencies that work with battered women to have slightly different totals, but none that I’ve found exceed 1600.

I know that I get the math wrong a lot in my day to day life (and I mean,¬†a lot…seriously….I’m¬†terrible¬†at even the simplest task when it comes to numbers!) but 13600 divided by 1500 is roughly 9:1. It’s math, not magic. That’s the number.¬†¬†

That’s the number that signifies the value we place on women (and their children) in this country. Really? That number says that we value puppies more than families; it says that we value kittens more than the most basic human rights of women to live with dignity and freedom from violence. Do we? Do we really value dogs more than our mothers, sisters and daughters? Is that where we’re at, America?

God Bless the ASPCA for their work, but God help us as a country if we continue to turn a blind eye to the most basic human needs of our marginalized women.

*Self-Defense and Battered women Who Kill, A New Framework, Ogle and Jacobs, 2002, pg.74

Note: If my math is wrong, if you have a different number that you’ve gathered from a legitimate source,¬†please contact me and I’ll update this post. I’m still stunned and saddened by the above and would love to be able to say that I got it wrong and that it’s not as bad as the numbers say that it is.¬†

 

Gerard Place, February 2, 2016

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Presented “Beyond Leaving Dorian: A Discussion on Domestic Violence” to the women of Gerard Place, a transitional housing shelter for battered/recovering women and their children.

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Domestic violence isn’t a feeling, it’s a fact; talking statistics and mortality rates from domesticabuseshelter dot org

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Many women attended, though only a few agreed to be photographed. The stigma and shame attached to being a victim of DV is part of what keeps women from stepping forward and asking for help. I was happy to allow each woman her privacy, depending on her individual comfort level. Each and every woman in that room has my utmost respect and I was grateful to each for choosing to attend.

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Plenty of good questions, some of which I’d never been asked before. These ladies came prepared!

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The woman of Gerard Place are provided day care services so that they can attend presentations like mine as well as educational/employment/vocational training, life skills classes and counseling.

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Kaitlin Price, Case Manager & Life Skills Coordinator, who put our afternoon together. Bright, organized and always ready with a smile, Kaitlin’s positive attitude is infectious.

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Gerard Place first opened its doors in 2000, the culmination of the work of 12 congregations of Women Religious in the Diocese of Buffalo who created and sponsored the agency¬†on the grounds of the former St. Gerard Parish.¬†Located in the heart of one of Buffalo’s poorest communities (the Bailey-Delevan neighborhood, where the unemployment rate is a staggering 55% among those aged 19-39 and¬†40% of children live below the poverty line) Gerard Place has assisted hundreds of families by giving them the tools that they need to help themselves and break the poverty cycle.

In 2009, the Junior League of Buffalo/Buffalo News Education Building was opened, providing GED and computer classes, job readiness training, like skills support and health and nutrition education to both families in residence at Gerard Place as well as the community at large.  In any given year, nearly 40 different collaborative partners utilize the facility and share their expertise with those in need. Four years later, in 2013, agency leadership announced a campaign to renovate the former St. Gerard Parish Hall building and turn it into a multi-purpose community center.  The result of this ambitious project will be a vocational training program (coordinated by partner Allied Health), a gymnasium, an expanded computer lab and day care center, an additional wing of classrooms and an industrial kitchen.

Residents are not given a¬†“hand out,” they are earning¬†a “hand up.”

Please visit   http://www.gerardplace.org   for information on the many fundraising opportunities that you can take part in to support Gerard Place.

**Information on Gerard Place was excerpted from their website.

 

 

 

Family & Children’s Services of Niagara, January 21, 2016

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Presented “Beyond Leaving Dorian: A Discussion on Domestic Violence” to staff and advocates from Family & Children’s Services of Niagara, Legal Aid, Niagara County Sheriff Department, YWCA of Lockport, Dr. Dana Radatz from Niagara University and NU interns.

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Seeing the group from this perspective really doesn’t do them justice. They look incredibly average; they could be your next-door neighbor or your co-worker. And they have vague, vanilla sounding job titles like “Child Advocate” and “Coordinator”.¬†What you¬†can’t see are their capes; the “S” on their chests are invisible. These dedicated women and men are truly some of the super-heroes¬†of our community.

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Larissa, Advocacy Coordinator (in black) kept everything running smoothly.

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Nellie (in teal) with the YWCA of Lockport.

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Talking about how quickly Leaving Dorian had to be taken from ebook to paperback Рtwo months from the initial publication date!

Excerpted from the Family & Children’s Services website:

“2015 marked the 120th anniversary of Family & Children‚Äôs Service of Niagara. Founded in 1895, Family & Children‚Äôs Service of Niagara has met the ever-changing needs of our community for more than a century by providing the residents of the Niagara region with a wide range of community and social work services. Over the years our name has changed and our services have been modified to meet the needs of the community in the 21st century, but our work of helping people help themselves has remained. Thousands of children, adults and families have turned to the agency for compassionate, affordable and professional help to meet their needs. Family & Children‚Äôs Service is truly a family service agency providing a mosaic of inter-related services for the benefit of the entire family from infants to adults.”

These services include, but are not limited to:

  • Domestic Violence Services, including Passage House Emergency Shelter
  • Parent Empowerment Program
  • Healthy Families Program
  • Youth Services, including Casey House (runaway & homeless youth shelter) and The CRIB Maternity Group Home (for pregnant and parenting teens)
  • Mental Health Counseling for adults and children

24/7 DV Hotline: 716-299-0909      *****      24/7 Runaway Youth Hotline: 716-285-7125

 

Project Runway December, 2015

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Staff of Project Runway (‚Ķa drug and alcohol-free pathway for young women) and related departments at Niagara Falls Memorial Hospital gathered to be a part of the seminar, ‚ÄúBeyond¬†Leaving Dorian: A Discussion on Domestic Violence‚ÄĚ. A big thank you to Sarah Obot, Community Outreach Coordinator with Project Runway for inviting me and for organizing this gathering of such intelligent, kind, highly motivated women!

 

“16 Days of Activism”

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Zontians from the Niagara Falls, NY club gifted copies of Leaving Dorian to select help centers, schools and libraries in Niagara County as a part of Zonta’s 2015 Domestic Violence Initiative “Zonta Says NO! to Violence Against Women¬†– 16 Days of Activism”.

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Zontian Angie Henderson delivers a copy of Leaving Dorian 

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Chapter President Gretchen Leffler and member Dr. Lindsay Edwards presented multiple copies to member Karrie Gebhardt, Director of Passage House, an emergency shelter for battered women and their children sponsored by Child & Family Services of Niagara. The books will be used for staff development as well as for residents of the shelter to read.

 

 

 

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Cathy is a volunteer with The Magdalene Project, an outreach to women mired in sex trafficking in the City of Niagara Falls. Volunteers from The Project go out at a night a couple of times a month and give these women Ziploc bags full of personal care items like shampoo, toothpaste, etc. as well as information on how to escape the grip of prostitution. The Magdalene Project is located on Falls Street in Niagara Falls.

 

 

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Zontian Daisy Waters¬†with Jennifer Potter, Acting Director of the Niagara Falls Public Library. Ms. Potter explained that the library has become a “safe space” of sorts; there have been times that women have stayed inside the building until the person they were afraid of had left the premises, and library staff has been asked on more than one occasion to call the police on behalf of a woman who felt threatened.

 

 

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J. Susan Ben, Director of Carolyn’s House (transitional housing for homeless women and their children) receives books from Zontian Maggie Pollock.

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Andrea Fortin-Nossavage, Niagara Falls High School history teacher and Ebone Rose Bradberry, Coordinator of the Niagara Falls Community Schools Initiative Program, receive books for their staff and students.

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Dr. Kyle Patterson, Zonta Club of Niagara Falls VP; Lisa Lidamer, Niagara Wheatfield High School Guidance Counselor; Paul Gaigavich, NWHS Assistant Principal; Timothy Carter, NWHS Principal and Zonta Club President Gretchen Leffler.

 

 

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Donation to Lew-Port High School! This wonderful, caring staff was full of great ideas on addressing DV and Teen Dating Violence with students and staff for the upcoming 2016-2017 school year! From left to right: Trina DiVincenzo, Guidance Counselor; Gretchen Leffler, President Zonta Club of Niagara Falls; Terri Faut, Librarian; Kelly Ulrich, Health Teacher; Andrew Auer, Principal.

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Signing a copy of¬†Leaving Dorian¬†for Zonta’s District 4 Governor Joanne Raymond. Joanne will be traveling to Nice, France, in July for Zonta International’s 63rd Convention and will be taking a copy of the Niagara Falls, NY 2015-16 Service and Advocacy Report with her. She told members at the May meeting that, “…no other club has done what you’re doing..”. I’m over the moon that¬†Leaving Dorian was able to play such a large part in that advocacy effort.I’m tremendously excited that Joanne will be sharing her thoughts on¬†Leaving Dorian¬†with other Zonta members, Presidents and Governors from all over the world. I’m truly blessed to have so many amazing women supporting my work and advocacy efforts. God Bless the women of Zonta, here in the US and all over the world.

 

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I’m not sure how I thought I was going to feel when I finally saw this in writing, but what I do feel is humbled, honored, and a little bit relieved.¬†I wrote Leaving Dorian because I wanted to make sure that my own awful experience wasn’t all for nothing. My hope was that someone, somewhere, might read it and think, “Oh, I’m not all alone? I’m not to blame for this awful thing that’s happening to me? Maybe I can get help, leave and start my life over again. Maybe there is hope, after all.”

My goal was one woman. Just one. I thought that if just one woman was to¬†be able to see beyond the hell that she was living in – believe that she could save herself – well, then,¬†I’d have achieved my goal.

 

Zonta Club of Niagara Falls, New York, October 14, 2015

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October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and I was honored that the ladies of Zonta asked me to come and speak about writing Leaving Dorian as well as my own experience with domestic violence.