I spent the majority of my morning in a meeting. Normally meetings make my toes curl in my highcut go-go boots and my bum shapely ensconced in my power suit skirt wiggle in the chair. I rarely get comfortable sitting through a litany of items and believe it or not (big surprise here) I can't keep silent. Sometimes to stay focused, I write erotic poetry and draw penises on the printed agenda. Today, however, I was at a monthly meeting I enjoy attending. Why? Because it is outside of the ho-hum bureaucracy, right in the middle of community where life happens right in your face. I didn't draw a single do-hickey and i somehow stayed clear of words that rhyme with stuck....ok...i'll get serious now.....
Once a month for the past few years, I have been involved with a group of women who work in the frontlines with individuals and families who are living in domestic abuse situations. This network of community based organizations and a few representatives from a couple of appropriate government departments and the university formed after we were invited to attend a workshop on the topic and realized we were all doing good work, but doing it in separate silos. When we began to consider how complicated and convoluted the maze of services must seem to someone who needs to access them and access them quickly, we decided to form a network in order to learn more about one another thereby being able to help someone in need more effectively. And it is working. If a person "enters" into the convoluted myriad of services through one agency but needs to access another, we now know who to call and how to help that person.
Two of us co-chaired the first two years.....me and a wonderful woman I got to know through this process who has run the Sexual Assault Centre in town....and for many years the only one in the province. Like any new group, we scrambled and stumbled a bit at the beginning before we could figure out a first year gameplan and some guidelines. The first guideline....no bullshit. We meet for two hours once a month, the minutes are roughly taken by whoever pulls the short straw and not all anal retentively compiled and collated and sprayed with perfume. Key stuff is documented and distributed through email. No big whoop. The second guideline....keep the atmosphere relaxed in order to comfortably share feelings, concerns, ideas and information. Simple stuff, but warmly embraced by a group of women who just wanted to get to know one another in order to make sure the people in crisis who need the services are getting what they need.
Interestingly, the gameplan came out of the guidelines. The first order of business....sharing. For a year an a half, we all had a turn presenting information about ourselves, our career roles and backgrounds and the services our organizations provide. Because it was an open forum, we all felt comfortable speaking up, asking questions, gathering more information, offering suggestions and cleary, VERY clearly seeing the gaps in what our community was providing. And whenever we saw one, we tried to rectify it by inviting others to our network. For example, we realized very early that services for people living with mental illnesses weren't adequate for their needs when they found themselves in abusive situations and that many in the frontlines didn't know how to help them. We also realized that women and children of immigrant families, whose cultures and languages may be barriers to understanding the legal system, their rights in this country and then how to access the services when everything in the telephone book is written in English.
Since it's inception, we have created a directory for others to use and a flyer small enough to slip into a pocket or wallet with all the phone numbers of services needed for anyone who is being abused....everything from legal aid to safe housing.....from individual and family counselling to victim services. All of our offices and colleagues have copies of this to hand out. We've arranged for funding to begin providing outreach counselling and intervention services to rural areas in the region. We've shared the responsibility of facilitating various workshops to one another. My knowledge of the legal system is much more thorough than it was a few years ago, and it helps when I'm counselling someone who has just confessed to a life in hell and needs to escape it FAST. This spring, we are piloting group workshops for which will run in tandem....for Moms and their children....helping the Moms learn how to help their children process the violent experiences they have all endured.
All good stuff....
All good stuff.....
Our next project as we continue to spend two hours a month with one another (and doing much of the work in between.....) begins in May when we meet for a full morning to brainstorm the creation of a speakers bureau. Because one of the key aspects we have learned is that around the table sipping tea and coffee and swapping thoughts feelings and ideas is an amazing group of women who have a multitude of gifts and knowledge to offer to others. All ages, all backgrounds, all political and philosophical angles....are represented....in both official languages of this province and then some.
I get to lead this one. Can't wait to have a go at pulling out the ideas sitting quietly in everyone's noggins.....engaging them in a productive brainstorm that will include some serious talk interspersed with some good laughs to lighten it up. A speakers bureau......all having to do with Awareness.
good stuff....and it came out of a meeting. who knew THAT could happen.
ps.....just so you know...i don't own a power suit. i dress like a gypsy. it's much more fun.