Agents of Change: Meta Smith

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There are many people in the communities we serve who are working to create positive change to end sexual violence. We want to feature as many of them as possible. If you would like to submit a recommendation, please email prevention@star.ngo.


I believe that if we can get to the root cause for the things that put folks at risk for contracting HIV, we stand a much better chance at getting the community viral load to zero.

– Meta Smith

1. What work do you do, and what is your connection to STAR?

I am currently the Assistant Director of Prevention at HIV/AIDS Alliance for Region Two (HAART). I am also co-chair for the Louisiana Chapter of Positive Women’s Network (PWN-USA), a national organization started by and for women living with HIV, that has the goal of creating leaders in the community.

My connection to STAR is multi-faceted. My organization works closely with STAR on many of the issues surrounding women and violence and I am also a member of STAR’s Prevention Action Coalition (PAC), which I so love being a part of.

2. What led you to become involved with STAR and the fight against sexual assault? How does the issue of sexual assault connect to other issues you are passionate about?

I became interested in getting involved with STAR sometime last year when Rebecca, STAR’s Vice President, did a presentation for our PWN chapter. I was struck by her commitment, dedication, and passion for ensuring that assault survivors’ voices are heard. It was of great interest to me as I am a survivor of sexual assault and know many folks that have survived as well. Here was a chance for me to be a part of getting out not just information, but honest feelings about an issue that has affected so many others.

It also connects to my professional work and my work with women living with HIV. I believe that HIV is like the flower you see on top of the earth, but all the facets of its growth and changes are underground at the root. I believe that if we can get to the root cause for the things that put folks at risk for contracting HIV, we stand a much better chance at getting the community viral load to zero.

3. What do you find most rewarding about your work and community activism?

The most rewarding thing is just being of service to others, especially women. I believe that only in giving can you receive. At one time, I had no voice and did not think learning how to find it was even an option for me. Boy, was I wrong and it got me to thinking that there must be others who felt the same way–disconnected from society and not quite good enough.

When I contracted HIV, what I thought was a voice quickly went away. Having a super support system help me to stand, and I truly feel that I have an obligation to speak for others until they find their voices. It is my gift back to God who thought enough of me to create opportunities for me to be of service to others.

4. What motivates you to keep going when things get difficult or discouraging? How do you practice self-care? 

More than anything, what motivates me to keep going against all challenges is my real and deep desire to work at making sure no one ever has to feel that they are alone in whatever their challenge is. To see the light come on in the eyes of a woman that finally believes in herself and her dreams, well let me just say there has never been a greater feeling for me.

Self-care for me is my “me-time” days. I take a day or two and watch lots of Chris Rock and Katt Williams and laugh uncontrollably.

5. What are some ways you promote positive change in the community? What change do you think is needed? 

I like to think that I promote positive change in my community by speaking up about the changes that I feel strongly about. I encourage others to know that ALL OUR VOICES matter, that we must be involved in the changes we want to see, and that the only way to get things done is collectively. You see, an open palm is just 5 fingers, but when you make a fist out of the fingers, well now you got yourself some power.

I think and feel the change that is most needed is putting the UNITY back into COMMUNITY. Baton Rouge is our city and it is going to take Baton Rouge to UNITE and be the change we want to see.

 

Get involved and make change with STAR:

Agents of Change: Megan Wilson

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There are many people in the communities we serve who are working to create positive change to end sexual violence. We want to feature as many of them as possible. If you would like to submit a recommendation, please email prevention@star.ngo.


Our efforts have already made important impacts in the lives of individuals and on our culture and they can continue to do so. Even small steps are moving us forward.

– Megan Wilson

1. What is your position at STAR?

I am a Resource Advocate at STAR. I work one-on-one with primary and secondary survivors to provide emotional support, assistance, and advocacy. I work with survivors in a variety of ways, including accompanying them to court proceedings, helping them fill out the application for crime victims’ reparations, connecting them to housing resources in the community, or helping them develop a safety plan. Every survivor needs something different. I also coordinate our volunteer program and help with outreach.

2. What led you to your work in sexual assault prevention and/or response?

In college at Northwestern State University, I became involved with the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, a feminist group on campus and my first real introduction to social justice. Through this group, I met all types of people in the community fighting to end sexual violence. They helped me educate myself and become more involved in the movement. We eventually formed another social justice group called Demons Support Demons, a student-run organization whose only goals are to end sexual violence and support survivors of sexual trauma. (The campus mascot is Vic the Demon.) Seeing the way our efforts changed the climate on our campus inspired me to pursue a career that would help me combat these and other social injustices.

STAR came to my attention a few years back while attending a conference with the Feminist Majority in Baton Rouge and again at a conference in New Orleans with Demons Support Demons. When I heard STAR was opening a branch in Central Louisiana, I knew I had to be involved. Fortunately, STAR has created many opportunities for community members to be involved in their mission, including by volunteering, interning, and working there. I’m grateful to be working at STAR and encourage everyone to get involved in any way they can.

3. What do you find most rewarding about your involvement in this work?

Seeing the way our everyday actions in Central Louisiana have impacted both the individuals we work with and the community has been the most rewarding aspect so far. I get to be involved with such an important organization and get to help further their mission knowing that we’re succeeding in making a difference.

4. What motivates you to keep going when things get difficult or discouraging?

Even if things are hard or seem hopeless, I still have the power to affect people. I can see the differences we’ve made in the individuals I help, our culture, and conversations with loved ones. Our efforts have already made important impacts in the lives of individuals and on our culture and they can continue to do so. Even small steps are moving us forward.

5. What are some ways you promote positive change in your community, outside of work?

I try to not let the work stop completely when I’ve clocked out. In my free time, I continue to educate myself and involve myself and others in the movement. Having discussions with family and friends helps me educate others and learn things myself, so I’m always ready to talk to people. Participating in other community events gives me a chance to meet others and find allies.

6. What advice would you give to someone who is hesitant about becoming an active member of this movement? 

Do what you can! Every little bit is helpful. If volunteering is not something you can handle, you can help organize events or donation drives, you can donate money or items, or you can just start having conversations with people you trust until you’re more comfortable branching out. Educating people and helping survivors is rewarding, so if you want to start now, take a small step!

To learn more about STAR’s services in Central Louisiana, call (855) 435-STAR (7827).

Get involved and make change with STAR:

Trauma is not a small price to pay

On April 12, 2017, Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro publicly responded to requests from Court Watch NOLA Advocates who demanded that Cannizzaro “stop arresting accusers in rape cases as material witnesses.”

According to District Attorney Cannizzaro, arresting material witnesses in violent crime cases is a “small price to pay” to ensure the safety and protection of the community.

While we agree that the rate of violent crime—especially rape and sexual assault—in New Orleans warrants aggressive intervention from law enforcement and the criminal justice system, arresting victims may just further their victimization.

The trauma of rape and sexual assault profoundly affects victims. Victims report physical, emotional, social and mental health consequences as a result of rape. Research shows that the investigative and criminal justice processes can be overwhelming for victims, causing them to experience increased levels of anxiety and stress. Many victims choose to forego criminal justice intervention in their assault because they are unsure if they could endure the pain of reliving the trauma of their assault and facing their offender in court. In fact, according to the crime reports from the U.S. Department of Justice, only 33.6% of rapes were reported to law enforcement in 2014.

There are an overwhelming number of reasons a victim of rape would choose to remain silent and not report their assault to the police; a few of these include:

  • Blaming themselves for the assault
  • Receiving threats of retaliation from the offender or the offender’s family and friends
  • Having endured prior trauma in interactions within the criminal justice system
  • Desiring accountability measures other than jail for their perpetrator
  • Not wanting family, friends and co-workers to find out about the rape

A rape survivor’s perpetrator has already silenced their voice and used force to accomplish goals against their will. There are opportunities for us to simultaneously value the safety of survivors and hold offenders accountable. As a community, we must work together to ensure that survivors are protected and empowered to seek help in whatever way brings them a sense of justice.

 

Agents of Change: Micah Fincher

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There are many people working to create positive change to end sexual violence in the communities we serve. We want to feature as many of them as possible. To submit a recommendation, email prevention@star.ngo.


I would advise young men that we need more role models demonstrating healthy masculinity. Too much of our collective time and energy goes into teaching young women about self-defense and safety tips, and not enough goes to teaching young men about healthy relationships and consent.

– Micah Fincher    

1. What is your connection to STAR?

I have been a donor and supporter of STAR for many years. I currently serve on STAR’s board of directors and as President of STAR’s New Orleans Regional Council.

2. What led you to become involved with STAR and the fight against sexual assault?

STAR’s experience and effectiveness led me to support its work. STAR does incredibly important advocacy and outreach that is desperately needed in our community. It takes a highly professional approach to addressing these issues and supporting survivors, as well as taking a long view toward preventing them in the future through its community change programming.

3. What do you find most rewarding about your involvement in this work, and what motivates you when things get tough?

Working with STAR’s talented management and staff is very rewarding and several have become close friends. A generally positive and optimistic attitude prevents me from getting discouraged.

4. What are some ways you promote positive change in your community?

I promote positive change in my community primarily by supporting STAR and other non-profit organizations. I also strive to practice mutual respect in my own relationships with friends and family, and I try to use my privilege to interrupt unconscious bias within myself and others.

5. What advice would you give to men who are hesitant to get involved in the movement to end sexual violence? 

First, I would advise men to read Asking For It by Kate Harding. In the United States generally, and the South in particular, we live in a rape culture. Harding’s book sets forth the undisputable facts that show how survivors of sexual assault are often marginalized and victimized twice: first by their perpetrator and then again by our criminal justice systems and communities that are prone to victim-blaming.

Second, I would advise young men that we need more role models demonstrating healthy masculinity. Too much of our collective time and energy goes into teaching young women about self-defense and safety tips, and not enough goes to teaching young men about healthy relationships and consent. In my opinion, this is the single greatest barrier to reforming those social norms that sustain and reinforce our rape culture, the destruction of which would dramatically reduce sexual assaults in our community.

 

Get involved and make change with STAR!

Agents of Change: Kirsten Raby

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There are many people in our community working to create positive change to end sexual violence. We want to feature as many of them as possible. If you would like to submit a recommendation, please email prevention@star.ngo.


When a person is victimized by sexual trauma, they are stripped of their right to use the word no. In that moment, they are told their words, feelings and needs don’t matter. Be a person that fights for those who are struggling to get that power back.

– Kirsten Raby    

1. What is your position at STAR?

I am the Capital Area Regional Director at STAR’s Baton Rouge branch. I manage staff and daily operations of the branch, support improvements to our services, and work to build community partnerships and increase access to STAR’s services in the Capital Region.

2. What led you to your work in sexual assault prevention and/or response?

I’ve had a close connection with STAR since 2009, when it was still the Rape Crisis Center. I started working at the EBR District Attorney’s Office as a Victim Assistance Coordinator (VAC), which at that time was under the same umbrella as the Rape Crisis Center. I’ve worked with victims of sexual trauma and assault my entire career, although during my time as a VAC, I also worked with victims of other types of crime. My experience as a VAC allowed me many opportunities to see firsthand how sexual violence and rape culture can tear people’s lives apart. I have always had a passion for assisting those that have been traumatized by sexual violence and assault.

3. What do you find most rewarding about your involvement in this work?

Although I do miss direct service and contact with survivors, I really enjoy being the behind-the-scenes person. I love that I am a part of the procedures and processes that help this organization give survivors the very best. I enjoy being a part of a movement that is bringing about change in the way people think about sexual violence and its prevalence in our community. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to play such a vital role with STAR.

4. What motivates you to keep going when things get difficult or discouraging?

When I hear a survivor talk about how much our work has empowered them to keep going; when I come home and talk to my oldest son about consent and he actually understands that message and talks openly to me about his relationships with people; when I get an email from a stranger saying they saw us on TV or read about us in the news and they are supportive of what we do and the lives we are impacting…these things keep me going.

5. What are some simple, day-to-day ways you promote positive change in your community?

I’m a mother of two boys and I talk very openly with them about what it means to be a good person and how to be an active bystander when they see something that isn’t right. I talk to them about consent and how to treat their potential significant other, as well as friends and strangers. I think that by giving them these tools, they will grow up to be men that fight for equality and they will go into their schools and be leaders, not followers. I talk to them about the work I’ve done so that they know I’m not just talking about it, I’m putting action behind it as well.

6. What advice would you give to someone who is hesitant about becoming an active member of this movement? 

I would say to think about how good it feels to have the power to say NO to the things you don’t want, and then think about what it might be like to have that power taken away from you all while being violated. When a person is victimized by sexual trauma, they are stripped of their right to use the word no. In that moment, they are told their words, feelings and needs don’t matter. Be a person that fights for those who are struggling to get that power back.

 

Get involved and make change with STAR!

Agents of Change: Javonda Nix

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There are many people in our community working to create positive change to end sexual violence. We want to feature as many of them as possible. If you would like to submit a recommendation, please email prevention@star.ngo.


I knew I had to be doing something right when a friend disclosed to me and she had never disclosed to anyone else before. That situation alone validated that just having the conversation about sexual violence can be another person’s breakthrough and the start of their healing.

– Javonda Nix    

1. What is your position at STAR?

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I am a Resource Advocate at STAR’s Greater New Orleans Branch. I serve survivors directly by providing resources, hospital advocacy, answering the crisis line and supporting them in any way that will assist in their healing process.

2. What led you to your work in sexual assault prevention and/or response?

There has always been a spot in my heart to serve the community since the age of 14. The beginning of my journey in community work started as a Summer Youth Leadership Team member. At that point, I learned that community work would be the most fulfilling job and where I would find much of my happiness.

Even though I didn’t go into a trauma-focused field when initially coming out of college, I have realized that STAR is giving me the satisfaction of serving my very own community in a way I could have never imagined, which is supporting survivors of sexual trauma and finding ways to prevent sexual violence in my community.

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3. What do you find most rewarding about your involvement in this work?

Every day when I wake, I get to witness something GREAT and that is witnessing survivors heal in their very own way. Seeing them regain strength and take back their life in different ways is breathtaking and rewarding.

4. What motivates you to keep going when things get difficult or discouraging?

Being that I am from New Orleans, I have seen different levels of trauma, so it has always been instilled in me to pray and ask God to lead me when things get rough. I am motivated to give back, and what better way to give back to my community than to educate and make people aware of this issue? I am motivated to help people realize that we can put an end to sexual violence.

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5. What are some simple, day-to-day ways you promote positive change in your community?

Day to day, I fight for this issue and make others aware everywhere I go. I knew I had to be doing something right when a friend disclosed to me and she had never disclosed to anyone else before. That situation alone validated that just having the conversation about sexual violence can be another person’s breakthrough and the start of their healing.

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6. What advice would you give to someone who is hesitant about becoming an active member of this movement? 

I would tell people that this is not at all easy work and your heart has to be in it to continue to fight to end sexual violence, however it is rewarding when you see one survivor jump over that hurdle they thought they couldn’t accomplish.

 

Get involved and make change with STAR!

Agents of Change: Tercel Harris

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There are many people in our community working to create positive change to end sexual violence. We want to feature as many of them as possible. If you would like to submit a recommendation, please email prevention@star.ngo.


More men are needed to join the movement against sexual violence and honestly I feel it is our fight first and foremost. We carry on the ideas that boys are just boys and what happens to women is their fault. We need to change our mindsets to help those in need.

– Tercel Harris    

1. What is your relationship with STAR? tercel-1

I joined STAR as an intern in their Capital Area branch back in August 2014. After my internship ended, I continued an active role with STAR as a volunteer hotline advocate.

2. What led you to your work in sexual assault prevention and/or response?

A number of close female friends in my life are survivors of some form of sexual violence. The stories they told me made me feel angry and also powerless because I didn’t know what to do to help, or what to say to make it better. It was then that I knew I had to take a stand against sexual violence and the rape culture that makes those sort of actions seem okay.

I came to realize that men need to rise up and challenge rape culture, not condone locker room talk. We as men need to take a more proactive role to address this issue.

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3. What do you find most rewarding about your involvement in this work?

The most rewarding aspect is knowing that I am actually making a difference in lives of those that have been hurt before. Through the hotline, I can provide hope to those that feel hopeless and be a resource to survivors that feel no one is there to listen to them. It is also rewarding to hear about the role STAR has played in the lives of survivors when I table for STAR in the community.

4. What motivates you to keep going when things get difficult or discouraging?

Now that I know what to say and do to help, talking to friends is my motivation because of the impact I have had on their lives. They can finally open up about the trauma and handle it in a healthier way. Another reason I don’t lose focus and push on to make a differences is because a person very close to me was a victim of sexual violence at a young age. So in the back of my mind, I always think about that when times get difficult. I know that I can’t give up because there is so much left to do.

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5. What are some simple, day-to-day ways you promote positive change in your community?

I promote positive change in my daily life by educating others on the issue of sexual violence. Being a man, I point out the offensive ways my male friends make jokes or do anything else that promotes negative views and rape culture. I also try to bring the issue into my school life by joining organizations that stand with the movement and educating my fraternity about the issues so it starts a trend for other chapters around the world to join the movement.

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6. What advice would you give to someone who is hesitant about becoming an active member of this movement? 

My advice to men is to stand for something or fall for anything. More men are needed to join the movement against sexual violence and honestly I feel it is our fight first and foremost. We carry on the ideas that boys are just boys and what happens to women is their fault. We need to change our mindsets to help those in need.

If men out there don’t want to do it for others, at least do it for your loved ones that may be affected by sexual violence. I couldn’t live in a world where I condone the violence that is being done to someone else or my loved ones. Men, we are needed in this fight to challenge the men that create rape culture. Just doing simple things like educating other men is a step forward in the right direction.

 

Get involved and make change with STAR!

Agents of Change: Lisa Mount

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There are many people in our community working to create positive change to end sexual violence. We want to feature as many of them as possible. If you would like to submit a recommendation, please email prevention@star.ngo.


I love when people ask me what I do. It may be awkward at first, but it is usually a great opportunity to talk about STAR and the important services we provide. It also brings attention to the fact that these services are needed in our community – this is not something that only happens somewhere else.

– Lisa Mount    

1. What is your position at STAR? 

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I am the counselor at STAR’s Central Louisiana Branch. I provide individual and group trauma-informed therapy to adults and adolescents of all genders who are survivors of sexual abuse or assault. Because the support system is a vital part of the recovery of survivors, I also provide individual and group therapy for the support persons of survivors. This may include parents, grandparents, friends, significant others or spouses. The CenLa branch is brand new and I am also helping with program development activities so that we can get the word out about the services that STAR is now providing to this area of Louisiana.

2. What led you to your work in sexual assault prevention and/or response?

I became interested in learning more about responding to the needs of survivors early in my career. In every setting where I provided Social Work services, I was encountering people who had experienced some sort of sexual violence, or who had a loved one who had. I took steps to educate myself, then in 2007 I had the opportunity to work at a sexual assault center named Stuller Place, now Hearts of Hope, in Lafayette, Louisiana.

I continued to grow and learn through that experience and through my experiences as a board member for LAFASA, the Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault. Even after I left Hearts of Hope, I continued to provide counseling to survivors in community-based and mental health settings. I was very excited when I got the opportunity to work with STAR to provide counseling and support to survivors in my home region of Central Louisiana.

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3. What do you find most rewarding about your involvement in this work?

It’s the little things — the accomplishments that we see among survivors and their families as they move along in their journey towards healing. It’s the moment in counseling when the person realizes something that is important to their recovery — it is like a light comes on and you can see a little bit of the weight lift from their shoulders. It’s the day someone shows up for their first session, despite their fear of starting counseling. It’s when a person expresses a feeling of empowerment or the day someone lets you know they were able to do something they were not able to do before, like go grocery shopping or sleep through the night. It’s when parents of a child that was abused start healing and showing that they are more confident in their ability to help their child.

4. What motivates you to keep going when things get difficult or discouraging?

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Although everyone at STAR is working different angles of the mission, we are all working toward the same things. The culture of the agency supports growth and provides an environment where we learn from and support each other. This teamwork and support helps me to keep going even when things are difficult or discouraging.

Still, this is hard work. Support and self-care are important. My family and friends are supportive. I also make sure to do fun things like spending time with family and friends, getting my nails done, or hiking and kayaking every chance I get so that I can take care of myself. The passion I have for working in this field is also great fuel that keeps me going. That passion, compassion, and desire to help others helps me turn setbacks and roadblocks into hurdles to be overcome and problems to be solved.

5. What are some simple, day-to-day ways you promote positive change in your community?

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It is important to live the change you want to see in your day to day life.  This is something I have found impacts others by setting an example and helping them feel like they have permission to stand up against things in our culture that normalize or justify rape, assault, sexual harassment and other forms of sexual abuse.

I am always educating others. I love when people ask me what I do. It may be awkward at first, but it is usually a great opportunity to talk about STAR and the important services we provide. It also brings attention to the fact that these services are needed in our community – this is not something that only happens somewhere else.

Many times the people I’m talking to disclose that they are survivors or know someone that was abused.  When I hear someone say something uninformed about sexual abuse or rape, I immediately speak up in an effort to dispel the myth and educate the person. These little steps are witnessed and repeated within my social circle.

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6. What advice would you give to someone who is hesitant about becoming an active member of this movement? 

Anybody can be part of the movement to end sexual trauma.  Everyone has their own unique strengths and skill sets.  The most effective way for someone to get involved is to find their own personal way to contribute to the effort. There are no small actions. You can make a difference by doing things as simple as educating yourself, talking to those in your social circles, reporting and not spreading posts on social media that promote rape culture or myths about sexual trauma, and choosing not to listen to music or watch movies that normalize sexual violence. Everyone can make a difference.

To learn more about STAR’s Counseling services in Central Louisiana, call (855) 435-7827. 

Get involved and make change with STAR!

Agents of Change: Cherita McNeal

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There are many people in our community working to create positive change to end sexual violence. We want to feature as many of them as possible. If you would like to submit a recommendation, please email prevention@star.ngo.


At STAR, I am provided with the unique opportunity to help survivors get justice…I am grateful that I am allowed to be creative at STAR in finding solutions for survivors with the law as my aid.

– Cherita McNeal    

1. What is your position at STAR? 

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I am a staff attorney for STAR and provide a variety of legal services at our Capital Area branch and Greater New Orleans branch. As a staff attorney, I have the opportunity to represent survivors of sexual assault in areas including privacy, safety, employment, immigration, housing, education and criminal justice advocacy.

2. What led you to your work in sexual assault prevention and/or response?

I have always been actively involved in social service organizations. The importance of giving back to the community and helping other was instilled in me at a very young age. After I finished law school, I was looking for a career that would align with my Bachelor’s degree and Juris Doctorate. STAR was the perfect place for me because it aligns with my passion for helping others and provides me the opportunity to make a difference in the community as an attorney.

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3. What do you find most rewarding about your involvement in this work?

The most rewarding part about working at STAR is seeing the effect I have on survivors. The victories small and large are rewarding to watch, especially watching survivors regain control after such a devastating incident. At STAR, I am provided with the unique opportunity to help survivors get justice. Justice is subjective; it can be an arrest, a protection order, a job transfer, or a lease termination. I am grateful that I am allowed to be creative at STAR in finding solutions for survivors with the law as my aid.

4. What motivates you to keep going when things get difficult or discouraging?

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I am motivated by the support I receive from my family, friends, and co-workers. Having a supportive circle is the best thing in the world; it reminds me that I am not alone in this fight. When the system fails a survivor and I feel like I have done all I can, I look to my support group for inspiration. They remind me of the opportunity I have to make a positive impact on the world by making a difference in others’ lives. This motivates me every day.

5. What are some simple, day-to-day ways you promote positive change in your community?

On a day-to-day basis, I try to have conversations with people to educate them on how sexual assault impacts people. By talking about sexual assault in my social circles, I am able to bring awareness to the issue. Since I have started working at STAR, I have noticed that my friends and family also bring awareness to issues regarding sexual assault. One powerful and inspiring time that I often think about is when my mother called me to tell me how she dispelled a rape myth at work and that alone was so reassuring of the impact I have on others.

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6. What advice would you give to someone who is hesitant about becoming an active member of this movement? 

What do you have to lose? There will never be the perfect moment where you will feel 100% comfortable to talk about sexual assault, but by starting the conversation you are taking steps to end sexual violence. Educate yourself on the realities and myths of sexual assault and then have a conversation with someone. It all begins with you!

 

To learn more about STAR’s Legal services, call (225) 615-7093. 

Get involved and make change with STAR!

Emerging Together

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Last year, STAR’s newly established New Orleans branch received a grant of $10,000 from the Emerging Philanthropists of New Orleans (EPNO). Since being awarded this funding, STAR’s New Orleans branch has accomplished the following:

  • Responded to 176 hospital call-outs 
  • Answered 409 hotline calls
  • Served 233 unique clients through our counseling, legal, and advocacy programs
  • Covered 92% of all hospital medical advocacy shifts since starting shared 24/7 coverage of hospital medical advocacy at University Medical Center in April
  • Reached over 3,800 people in the GNO area through tabling, panels, forums, presentations, and meetings
  • Engaged all universities in St. Tammany, Orleans, and Jefferson parishes
  • Participated in the New Orleans Sexual Assault Response Team and the Jefferson Community Coordinated Response Team
  • Hosted a Clergy Open House to engage the faith-based community and participated in Take Back the Night
  • Trained over 80 community members through our 40-hour STAR volunteer training
  • Presented to over 500 people who are currently incarcerated at the Orleans Justice Center (formerly the Orleans Parish Prison)
  • Established a growing internship program
  • Grew our staff from 2 full time staff members to 5 full time and 2 part-time staff members
  • Reached 100% staff giving to support our services

As with any new endeavor, we have also experienced challenges. These include:

  • Meeting the community’s ever-increasing needs with a small staff
  • Navigating new systems and relationships with community partners
  • Funding prevention and community education efforts

After an astonishing year of successes and challenges, STAR’s Greater New Orleans Regional Director, Margaret Reynolds, became interested in paying it forward this year. She applied for and was accepted into the 2016 Racial Equity EPNO team, which awarded a grant of $10,000 to BreakOUT!, an organization that fights the criminalization of LGBTQ youth in New Orleans.

Given her unique perspective as a former grant recipient and emerging philanthropist, Margaret was selected to give a speech at EPNO’s annual awards and graduation ceremony on November 2nd. Below is the text of her speech:

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Margaret Reynolds, STAR’s Greater New Orleans Regional Director

Good evening. Over the past two years, I have been in the unique position of both receiving and awarding an EPNO grant. Tonight, I’d like to not only talk about how this experience has informed my personal view on philanthropy, but also the impact philanthropy has had on the hundreds of survivors of sexual assault supported by the choices of last year’s EPNO class.

The effects of philanthropy are hard to calculate. While each grant application has measurables, outcomes, and goals, it can be difficult to discern the actual effect of your philanthropic dollars on someone who needs support.

Being a philanthropist is and should be so much more than simply giving money. Being a philanthropist is acting as a guide. It’s using your particular set of skills to strengthen others in the community. It’s a supportive role in every sense of the word. EPNO has taught us that, as philanthropists, it is our job to be diligent while empathetic and supportive while ensuring accountability.

To be a philanthropist is also to be an ally. It is to use our privilege to equalize power imbalances. Supporting marginalized members of our community means educating others on why and to whom we give. It is confronting the intersectional nature of oppression and using both our money and talents to work with our community partners to remove systematic barriers. Simply put, to be a true philanthropist is to commit to supporting others in a strategic, holistic manner.

So, putting theory aside, I’ll tell you about my experience. In my professional life, I work as the Greater New Orleans Regional Director of STAR, or Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response. It is my organization’s vision to build a community free from oppression and sexual trauma. To do this, we work to support survivors, create social change, and improve the systemic response to sexual violence. This is accomplished through free legal, advocacy, and counseling services available to all survivors and their friends and families.

As you can imagine, sexual assault is not always an easy thing to talk about, or for which to receive funding. But, two years ago, when STAR decided to expand for the first time, we needed to talk about it, a lot. So, we applied for our first grant in the GNO area (and incidentally the first grant I had ever written).

In the grant application, we asked for the full $10,000 from the 2015 EPNO Women’s Issues Team. We applied for funding to hire an AmeriCorps member as STAR’s Volunteer Coordinator. During the one-year grant period, it would be her job to recruit and train two classes of hotline and medical advocates.

A few weeks after submitting the grant, I took a road trip to Maine. On the way there, I received an e-mail from the Women’s Issues Team with “a few more small questions.” Answering these “small questions” took me from Alabama to northern Virginia. That is a long way. And, side note, I wrote all the answers on my iPhone while taking a lot of Dramamine for car sickness.

However, the questions posed were poignant. With a single three or four page grant application, that team was able to identify STAR’s areas of improvement and push us to critically think about ways to expand upon our initial plan. Neither before nor after that process have I experienced another grantor who has cared so much about the stewardship and impact of their donation.

So, after one of the most rigorous vetting processes I’ve ever experienced while applying for a grant, STAR was awarded the funding. Since then, Michaela (our wonderful Volunteer Coordinator) has moved on to Tulane Law School. But, during her year at STAR, she coordinated the training of 30 volunteers who have since served upwards of 200 clients over the hotline and at the hospital.

Those clients have been able to seek counseling, bring civil legal action, and utilize all the case management services STAR offers. They have been able to return to work, to watch their perpetrator be held accountable, to move forward with their lives, and to help other survivors in turn.

One can’t really calculate the impact of their philanthropic dollars, but I’m here to tell you they go so far beyond a few measurables.

After experiencing the EPNO process from the outside, I started asking questions of current members. I wanted to know what the vetting process was like, what other organization’s applications looked like. I wanted to see what it was like to give in a strategic, holistic way. But, I work at a non-profit, so $500 is about a year’s salary. Still, when I found out there was a payment plan, the rest was history. I joined the (some might say) best EPNO team, the Racial Equity team, and we started to meet weekly.

My team members challenged me and gave me new perspective. By the end of the year, we had defined racial equity, reviewed strong applications, and selected an organization that will impact their members in ways that go far beyond the single program we’re funding.

EPNO is integral to a vibrant community. I encourage you all to stay involved. Continue your efforts and keep in touch. Participate in GiveNOLA day. Find your cause, push your organizations to provide excellent services. Integrate the philanthropic perspective that EPNO has encouraged into your daily lives.

Because a strong New Orleans, one where marginalization is addressed and our citizens are supported, starts with organizations like EPNO and philanthropists like you.

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STAR NOLA Staff (July 2016)

 

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