Spring Semester 2020

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Though Spring semester ended well before it was supposed to thanks to COVID19, I was busier than ever! I was so fortunate to be invited to work more than a dozen dates with The Erie County DV High Risk Team at Spectrum Mental Health Services, Best Self Behavioral, as well as for Assigned Counsel with the Erie County Court System. I also started working with The University at Buffalo Law School, and of course made my way out *very* early one morning to speak with Health classes at Hamburg High School 🙂 The most disappointing part of the semester was not being able to complete all of the dates scheduled. Hilbert College was cancelled completely, as was my trip out to Western Michigan University :/ Even my Skype session with students at Loyola University at New Orleans ended up needing to be cancelled. On the upside, we all figured out how to conduct really productive Zoom meetings and I even got to meet Sunny the Therapy Dog!

One perk to COVID19? I suddenly have plenty of time to work on my new book, the sequel to Leaving Dorian. I’ve also decided to do an audio book, of sorts. It will be *free* and will be made available within the next couple of weeks. The formal announcement for that will be posted on all of my social media Monday, March 30.

There’s always a silver lining, ladies and gentlemen; you just need to be willing to look for it. Or as Dolly is fond of saying, “You don’t get the rainbow without a little rain.”

 

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!

Spring 2017

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20170610_090715January to May of 2017 was fun; a “mixed bag” of new experiences, new students and lots of travel! I added workshops to my list of “Things That I Do”, working with everyone from Human Resource professionals to High School students. And I read; oh, boy, did I read! Stacks of books on domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking and gender equality. I read scholarly articles online and went over the NYS OPDV website with a fine-tooth comb. I also watched endless videos and TED talks.  It was near the end of last semester that I realized that if I didn’t educate myself beyond my own narrow experience, my usefulness to students and the general public alike would be extremely limited. There’s always more to learn!

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March 21 – “Because You’re a Girl: A Discussion on Gender Equality” workshop delivered to “The Big Eagle-Little Eagle Mentoring Program” at Niagara University. Niagara Falls High School students are paired with grad and undergrad students for academic support and general guidance.

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They took the “Building a Budget” Activity (meant to show cost of living and pay disparity) VERY seriously. At one point the group that was trying to work out the woman’s budget complained, “But this doesn’t work, no matter how we do it; we always come up short at the end of the month…!” Ah, yes… we’re learning! 🙂

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Discussing “Because You’re a Girl”, a blog post I wrote on sexual assault and how the sexual assault of women effects men. One student wrote on the eval: “The story at the end helped me to realize that things like this are real and can happen to anyone. It helped me to understand that sexual assault is never a joke.”

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Mr. Eric Rigg, Grad Student Extraordinaire and founder of “The Big Eagle-Little Eagle Mentoring Program” and HIS mentor, Ms. Averl Harbin

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When your mom is a DV advocate, your lessons about gender equality are more than just situational – Every fourteen year old boy could benefit from an hour or so with Jackson Katz. Watching Tough Guise, after which he looked at his dad and I and proclaimed, “I think some guys take this hyper-masculinity thing just a little too far!” Out of the mouths of babes :0

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Gratuitous shot of my “Office Assistant” watching a Michael Kimmel TED talk with me 🙂

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Had to stop by the African-American Student Union table at Niagara University’s “Take Back the Night” on March 30 – two of these lovely ladies attended my gender equality workshop and it was great to see them working so hard and standing up for women of color!

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Mentors aren’t just for kids – “Biz Women Mentoring Mondays”  sponsored by Buffalo Business First at RiverWorks. It turned out to be a study in how uncomfortable the average person is when confronted in even the smallest way with the topic of domestic violence.

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And another new workshop! “Beyond Leaving Dorian, A Culture of Caring: Addressing Domestic Violence in the Workplace”.

 

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Twitter is a fantastic exercise in “keeping it succinct”. LOVE it!

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I was so inspired after the mountains of reading I did in order to prepare for the gender equality workshop, my husband and I decided that a day trip to the very SEAT of the movement would be in order!

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He is one of my personal heroes – ugly cried the entire time I stood there.

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None of what I do is easy. Much of the time it feels like I’m shouting into a black hole. Every single day, women are still dying at the hands of men who claim to love them. “Tell me, Susan, how did you do it? You spent your life fighting and didn’t even live to see the goal met.” And the wind carried what sounded like an answer – “Persist.”

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May 30 – DV Awareness presentation at Fredonia BOCES

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Cosmetology and Health Careers Students. Don’t ever assume that you don’t need to talk to your kids about healthy relationships or boundaries. One student remarked on her eval: “The most important thing that I learned was that it’s not o.k. to be grabbed or hit.” Another remarked, “The presentation gave me hope that some day I will get out of the relationship I’m in.” Education is the key.

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Law Enforcement students. These kids arrived dressed in full uniform, filed-in in what was akin to military formation and took the entire presentation very seriously. And yet their reflection letters to me said things like, “I was touched by your presentation. You opened my eyes. We are grateful for your strength.” Again…ugly cry.

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Jennie Alessi – NYS Certified Police Officer, Professor of Criminal Justice at Hilbert College and Criminal Justice Instructor at Fredonia BOCES. She is tiny but she is badass. Extremely honored that she extended me the invitation to come and speak.

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Now, let’s take a moment, shall we, to note this extremely bad picture of me… What the… ? I often post the less than flattering shots because, well… sometimes that’s all I get and I have to have a picture to post. But this one … wow … I look chunky AND grumpy … and I’m neither! Well, ok, to be fair … I’m probably grumpy … a lot … but geez! There’s still plenty of time left, but I’m hoping that this goes down as my “Least Flattering Pic of 2017” 😉

 

 

Require Baseline Concussion Testing For Youth Sports

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Football-big-thumb~2A modified version of this was originally published in the “Viewpoints” section of The Buffalo News on Sunday, June 24, 2012 under the title “Require baseline concussion testing for youth sports”

 
“To be fair, I should state right off the bat that I’m a football mom and a coach’s wife. Three of my children are boys and all of them played for youth sports associations. All three of them also suffered injuries during their time playing sports. Luckily, none of those injuries was severe enough to warrant a trip directly from the field to the emergency room for further treatment, although over the years I have witnessed more than my fair share of ambulances rushing an injured athlete from the field to the hospital. I’m positive that I’m not the only mom who has ever said a silent prayer for the child being whisked away while at the same time breathing a sigh of relief that it wasn’t mine.

However, our oldest son did end up in the ER a couple of days after a game for a CT scan. When the doctor asked if he’d ever sustained a serious head injury, we could only shrug and say that to the best of our recollection he hadn’t. Sure he’d been knocked around quite a bit over the years; he’d played football since he was in elementary school. But a serious head injury? We’d never considered any of the hits he’d taken to be serious, even when he’d been removed from play for fear that he might have sustained a concussion. When the results of the CT scan came back that he had a possible brain bleed and we took him for further testing, we were asked over and over again how many serious hits to the head he’d taken over the years. Because there was no baseline testing for youth sports done at the time, we had no records to fall back on and had to rely solely on our memories in order to try and assist medical staff.

There is an interesting debate going on right now about the safety of the athletes in all facets of youth sports. We see stories on the evening news about children who have suffered concussions so severe playing youth soccer that they suffer constant, debilitating headaches. Concussions have also long been an issue in youth football and hockey. And although every team strives to make sure that its athletes are being supplied all of the necessary safety equipment so that they might avoid injury, the rate of children being seen in emergency rooms for concussion-related symptoms has doubled in the last decade.

This dramatic increase in numbers begs the question: Are there actually more concussions being suffered or are coaches, sideline trainers and parents better able to identify the symptoms of concussion and therefore availing themselves more frequently to the medical community in order to treat that which is now being recognized as a very real and serious health risk to young athletes?

The question that continues to go unanswered, though, is when is enough, enough? What standards are youth sports associations guided by in order to determine if symptoms that could signify concussion are serious enough to sideline a player for the remainder of a game, the remainder of a season or worst-case scenario, indefinitely? Who is making the rules and what criteria are the policy makers using in order to keep our children safe?

The lack of a comprehensive national standard for very young children (under ten years of age) involved in youth sports only serves to muddy the waters when it comes to local associations trying to put together any sort of remedial, cost-effective baseline testing program for their own athletes. Without a baseline test it’s difficult to gauge the severity of a very young athlete’s concussion, which may lead to a child being sent back out to play before he/she is actually medically ready. There’s also the question of cost. It seems a logical conclusion that the suburban associations would have an easier time absorbing the cost of hiring a qualified physician to administer baseline testing to each of their athletes than their urban counterparts, although any association that is struggling financially, no matter where it’s located, could end up under water on the issue. The unfortunate reality is that until a mandatory national standard for children ages five and up is put in place and used by all youth sports associations, only some kids will receive the necessary testing.

So what’s the solution? We as parents are our child’s first line of defense. We need to approach our associations and ask whether they are working toward instituting a comprehensive baseline concussion testing program and if they are, what sort of testing is being done for children under the age of ten. We need to ask what the costs associated with it will be and how we as parents can help to make it work. Will our role be to do extra fundraising or will we simply have to accept the fact that our children’s teams may not get all of the cosmetic improvements that we might like? Perhaps we need to let our associations know that we are in favor of substance over style and that we are willing to forgo non-essentials like new uniforms or our children’s names on their jerseys in order to put those same funds to better use.

I wonder what the loved ones of NFL players Dave Duerson, Andre Waters, Terry Long and our own Justin Strzelczyk would say if we asked them? Or family members of NHL “enforcers” Wade Belak, Derek Boogaard and Rick Rypien? Would they say that we should sit idly by and let our youth sports associations make a decision about our children’s safety based on what they believe is most cost-effective? Would they agree that until handling a safety concern is legislated and made mandatory, ignoring it is acceptable because it might be “difficult” or “too time consuming” to administer? Would those deceased players’ moms say that we should let an association brush off our concerns by labeling us as stereotypically overprotective? Would their dads agree that it’s O.K. to be intimidated into not asking questions because we might not know as much about the rules and fundamentals of the game as the coaches do? Or would the family members who have lost loved ones due to complications associated with traumatic brain injury after playing in the NFL and NHL say that parents of youth athletes should stand up for their children’s best interests; that we should approach our sports associations and ask to open a dialogue about the real cost of comprehensive baseline concussion testing in youth sports?

Tiaina Baul Seau Jr. used to say, “Work for today, plan for tomorrow and pray for the rest.” I think we need to work diligently to keep our children safe today, help to put systems in place in order to ensure that they are given every opportunity for bright tomorrows and to say a prayer for the people who administer youth sports associations and make the rules that our athletes will have to play by. We owe our children no less.”

**For more information on baseline concussion testing, please visit http://www.impacttest.com