Spring Semester 2018

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It was a looooooong semester!!

Staff Development program at Mt. St. Mary’s Hospital in Lewiston, NY. ### Mt. St. Mary’s is part of the Western New York Catholic Health System, so there were Sisters in attendance. ### I’m well aware that Religious work at the hospital doing a variety of jobs. I *should have known* that there would be Religious in attendance … and yet … I didn’t even consider it. ***Sigh*** At various times during my presentation, I repeat off color words that were spoken to me :/ Awkward :/ But the Sisters took it all in stride, as did the entirety of the staff 🙂 I was happy to have everyone from administrators to nurses (still in their surgical scrubs!) in attendance, as well as reps from Neighborhood Legal Services in Buffalo and UB School of Social Work.

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Working with the Niagara County Sheriff’s Victims Assistance Unit inside the Niagara County jail, women’s facility. Half peer mentoring, half book club, the program involves an advocate and I going in and chatting with the women about tackling life after surviving domestic violence.

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I had a podium for this one 🙂 Woohoo!! I love it when I’m not just thrown into a room with a bunch of people, kinda just hangin’ out up there … notes in hand :/ Seriously, though, it was a small but important event and I was honored to be asked to speak.

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Making the paper (or two) is always interesting, because you can never be sure how the photos will turn out. I’ve been doing this long enough now that I feel comfortable speaking up if I’m unsure or uncomfortable with how a shot is being composed. When I asked veteran photographer Jim Neiss if he *really* thought that someone who wrote a book about being a victim should be standing in what looks like a power position while everyone else is sitting (including the Sheriff… which made me even MORE uncomfortable), he looked at me with a totally straight face and said, “I get the feeling you’re no shrinking flower… ” and continued to compose the shot. Well! *blush* Of course he was spot on, and the picture looked great 🙂 Thanks, Jim!

 

On Saturday, April 7, I spoke at the “Dress for What’s Next” event at the University at Buffalo School of Law. This free, all day event for survivors of domestic violence was put on by an all-volunteer team of UB Law School students. Daycare and lunch were provided for women and their children and there was even a therapy dog on site 🖤 Meditation and self-defense classes were offered, support and referral information was provided and there was even an opportunity for the ladies to do a little “gently used” clothes shopping👗👠👜 Impressive from beginning to end and I was absolutely honored to be asked to be a part of it!

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“Purple is our color”

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Clothes Closet. Women could “shop” for business ans casual clothes. This is an incredibly important opportunity, as there are times that women lee an unsafe home with only the clothes on their backs. It’s also a fantastic way for them to access nearly new business attire. They will look great and feel confident when they venture out into the job market!

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Beautifully decorated for the ladies luncheon!

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Explaining the years of nonsense and difficulties I went through AFTER my divorce.

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Talking about the GIANT microwave I was gifted from a dear friend when I rented my first apartment after my divorce.

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“Leaving Dorian” is used as required text by the Niagara County Law Enforcement Academy at Niagara University. Just like with any college level course, once the students read the book, I go in and spend a couple of hours answering their questions and fielding comments.

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I was happy to be invited to stay and watch the recruits of the 68th Police Academy run through some DV role play.

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Yes, it was “pretend”, but it was still unnerving to watch.

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The ladies of the Niagara County Sheriff’s Victim’s Assistance Unit were fantastic in acting out real life scenarios that the recruits will definitely be facing once they’re sworn and out in the field.

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There were points that I could feel myself wanting to cry. Silly, right? Nope, not when you’re sitting there and you realize what these recruits are actually signing up for.

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After watching those two hours of role play, I have an entirely different perspective on the unique position that officers are in every day. I will never forget this group. 

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I submitted it as an op-ed but ended up with a feature spot. Nice!

Spent a lengthy lunch hour talking DV and related topics with attorneys and advocates. These ladies (and one gentleman) had great questions and were a lot of fun to work with.

April is my anniversary month; eighteen years ago in April, I escaped my abusive husband. Spending the day in Hamburg (the town that I ran away to) delivering Dating Abuse Awareness classes to 9/10 grade and college credit Health classes at Hamburg High School was amazing. A full circle moment for me, to be sure!

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 🙂

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.

 

Fall Semester, 2016

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20161211_121241Five schools, hundreds of students. I remember their faces and many of their names. More than once this semester I looked out at them looking back at me and thought, “This is crazy; how in the world did I get here?”

Well, I’m here primarily because while I thought that typing “The End” was the end, there’s a growing body of professors and helping professionals who have decided that Leaving Dorian is only a beginning.

When asked the first time if I would speak to a group of college students – as a sort of companion piece to the book – I was extremely hesitant. I didn’t think I had anything left to offer. I remember asking my husband, “I’ve already exposed my soul on paper; what else is there?” Turns out there are volumes that remain unwritten and there are students who are eager to read each and every page.

Because each class is learning about intimate partner violence from a different perspective, what I’ve set out to do is to become a living research project, of sorts. I encourage the students to poke around – to take a good look around my mind and heart and see for themselves what abuse looks like from the inside out. The goal is to see if they can connect the dots from my experience to what they’ve learned about in class.

The opportunity that I offer them isn’t an easy one; it takes real courage to look someone in the eye as you’re cutting them open, even when they’re the one who handed you the scalpel. But these young adults rise to the challenge; they take that scalpel and they cut and try and peel back the layers. They poke around and try and find the answers that they’ve read about but have not seen with their own eyes. Sometimes they find what they’re looking for easily and we build on their enthusiasm by cutting a little more, digging a little deeper. Other times I don’t have the answer; I don’t know exactly what they’re looking for (sometimes they don’t really know, either) and I ask them to try again. Cut again, I encourage them. Keep digging. Here, I’ll help you. They cut here and see what’s under there; they dig and I encourage them and their professors guide them and we, as a collective, try to extract the answers.

I’ve received stacks of glowing student evaluations this semester, most of which describe me as “brave”, “courageous” and “inspirational”. It’s heartening to know that the students view me in this way, but I have to admit that I would describe them in exactly those same terms; studying to be a helping professional isn’t for the faint of heart.

Fall semester 2016 was fantastic and I’m looking forward to revisiting new students in these courses again during the Fall of 2017!

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The Niagara University campus was WINDY that evening, though my frazzled appearance might also have something to do with the fact that I spent three hours hashing it out with these students from Dr. Dana Radatz CRJ 585 Domestic Violence class. I have real affection for this group, as I still see many of them when I visit the NU campus for other DV related events.

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You just never know what you’re walking into when you visit a campus for the first time. Nazareth’s Health Center brought me in for an evening presentation in support of DV Awareness Month. The podium was unlike any I’d used before (short!) and I couldn’t see my notes, even with my readers on. I tried to remedy the situation by kicking off my heels about ten minutes in but as it turned out, shorter wasn’t better. So… I ended up delivering the entire presentation sans shoes, notes and readers 🙂

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Because it was a campus-wide event, there were faculty and students from many different disciplines in attendance. Such great questions for me and interesting discussion afterward! I also loved that I was able to spend extra time with students who wanted to speak with me one-on-one long after the scheduled presentation time had come and gone.

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Presented to me by the Health Center interns: “Thank you so much for sharing your story with Nazareth College students and staff. We appreciate you taking the time to be with us.”

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Two day event in the Finger Lakes region for Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

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The room filled up with students and professors pretty quickly (past and present – some even brought their parents!) but there were folks from the community in attendance, as well.

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Talking about Emily Carson, a young mother of three who was murdered in downtown Geneva in February of 2016. She was shot twice by her boyfriend before he turned the gun on himself. It all happened one quiet Sunday morning while dozens of innocent bystanders became unintentional witnesses. His family was quoted afterward as saying that he “…wasn’t a violent guy.” I talk about how quickly an emotionally abusive relationship can turn violent, especially once a victim leaves or tries to leave.

 

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And this is how we do it – taking questions from Dr. Jim Sutton’s undergraduate Social Deviance class, Hobart & William Smith Colleges.

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Book signing 🙂 By the end of the class, many of the students are comfortable enough to share their own stories with me. Honestly, this is my favorite part of any presentation – meeting the students one-on-one!

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I wish my own children were as enthusiastic about having their picture taken with me as my students are! About half of the class is pictured here.

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I always take a very relaxed approach to presentations because the material can get extremely graphic and emotional. Reactions run the gamut; there are students who spend the entire class period furiously scribbling notes while others will cringe, get visibly agitated or need to leave the room to compose themselves. There are always survivors of violence in the room – always – and Dr. Noelle St. Vil’s Social Work class at the University at Buffalo was no different.

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It was very early on in this “public speaking” thing that I realized that I was going to need to sprinkle in a little levity here and there. When I smile, the students smile. When I poke fun, they laugh. It’s an essential element to making sure that the students can “hear” me. Yes, I tell them, what I lived through is terrible and no, it wasn’t fair and yes, I bear the scars of it – but – my life continues to move on and here are some of the dozens of silly, crazy, ridiculous stopping blocks I’ve had to overcome in the years since I left.

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Many graduate students are already working in the field; staffing shelters, working at local help centers or with law enforcement. Their timely, real-world anecdotes are helpful in generating discussion that goes beyond my experience and what they’ve learned about in class.

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I’d never Skyped a class before, so I was more that a little concerned that I wouldn’t be able to gain the emotional momentum needed to connect with the students. Happily, within minutes I realized that it wasn’t going to be an impediment; the students in Dr. Angie Moe’s SOC 4950 Family Violence Class at Western Michigan University made the best of the unusual set-up and filled the hour with really thoughtful, specific questions.

2016 Woman of Distinction Award

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Program Chair Bonnie Crogan-Mazur read from the award: “The Zonta Club of Niagara Falls, NY, member of Zonta International, Empowering Women Through Advocacy, Woman of Distinction Award in recognition of the 105th International Women’s Day is presented to Linda Dynel on March 9, 2016.”

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Niagara Falls Administrator Donna Owens after presenting me with the Proclamation from Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster. After chatting over dinner and listening to her presentation, I can tell you that the people of the City of Niagara Falls are blessed to have her working on their behalf.

 

 

 

2016 Woman of Distinction Acceptance Speech

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award“In January I did a presentation for DV service providers in Niagara Falls. Family & Children’s Services of Niagara sponsored the event and several other agencies were invited to attend. We ended up having a pretty good sized group; maybe thirty in all, and agencies like Legal Aide, advocates from the Niagara County Sheriff’s office, a professor from Niagara University and interns from NU attended, as well.

It was the first time I’d ever spoken without a podium and the group was very close to where I was standing, so even with my contacts out I could see the front few rows very clearly. (My little cheat to calm my nerves; I can’t read facial expressions without my contacts/glasses. I don’t get distracted or emotional if I can’t read the emotion on my attendees faces!)

The hour long presentation went well; lots of good questions and comments and even some laughter and tears. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and get a lot out of the presentation except for one woman. She was sitting in the front row, directly to my right. I don’t want to say that she had no expression on her face; the best way to describe it was stone. She sat there the entire time looking like stone. There was clearly something wrong, but of course I didn’t have any idea what was going on. I thought that maybe she didn’t like the presentation; maybe she didn’t want to be there? I had no idea. But once I was through speaking and went to a side table to sign books, she was up and out of her seat and heading for the door.

When I got home later that night my husband asked how it went and I said great, except for that one woman. I just couldn’t figure it out; it bothered me that she looked so bothered. My husband assured me that it probably wasn’t the presentation; maybe she didn’t feel well or maybe something was going on at home or work. I agreed that he was probably right, but still… if you could have seen her face, I lamented.

“Well, maybe she didn’t like the presentation,” he reluctantly suggested. “You’re never gonna reach everyone.”

I agreed to focus on the positive and went to bed feeling satisfied that I’d given it my best effort. When I got up the next morning just before six, I noticed the Messenger light was already blinking on my phone. Assuming that it was one of my grown children that live out of town, I braced myself, prepared to handle whatever news was so urgent that it couldn’t wait until I’d had my coffee. But it wasn’t one of my kids; it was the woman from the night before.

She wondered if I remembered her (of course I did, I wanted to say; you made me nervous the entire time I was speaking, trying to figure out what was wrong!) and apologized for not coming over and saying hello after the presentation. She said that she was afraid that if she said anything, she would break down in tears in front of her co-workers. She went on to explain that her mother had been brutally murdered four years earlier by a long-time boyfriend.

We spoke at length; she said that she’d read Leaving Dorian and had recommended it to friends and family members alike, even posting about it on her Facebook page. She also had nothing but kind words about the presentation. Before we said goodbye she told me, “Don’t stop doing what you’re doing; WE need you.”

You know, even after all of the really wonderful things that she’d said about me and the book and the presentation, all I could think was – she wouldn’t have had any of that without you. She read one of the copies of the book that your Club donated to Family & Children’s Services! And there wouldn’t have been a presentation if I hadn’t met Karrie (Gebhardt, Director of Passage House) right here at the Hat Luncheon (fundraiser in October, 2015). This woman felt supported and understood and was able to take all of that positivity back to her friends and family members who also suffered after her mother’s death, because of your efforts.

I’m sure there are times that you wonder if what your Club is doing is actually making a difference. The world is a vast and complicated place, and the problems and heartaches of women all over the world can seem far too complex to ever make a dent in. Your efforts may seem small, but they’re like a tiny pebble dropped into a pond. The ripples that come off of that one tiny pebble reach every corner of that pond, no matter how large the pond is. Your fight for social justice, gender equality and the safety and education of women all over the world is unique. It’s a battle too few choose to fight. The world is a better place because of The Zonta Club of Niagara Falls, New York.

It is with the utmost gratitude that I humbly accept this award. Thank you.”