Jill Gruenberg: Guest opinion

Jill Gruenberg
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Most of you know that October was Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The local and national Komen Foundation has always done a tremendous job in raising awareness and funding to address and battle the epidemic of breast cancer. Understandably, the Komen Foundation and its mission are worthy of the attention, and their success is due to the enormous effort and work they have accomplished.

I do, however, want to point out that October was also Domestic Violence Awareness Month. As such, I wanted to let the community know all that was done on a local level to address the issue of domestic abuse. In many ways breast cancer and domestic violence share many commonalties: They are both significant community health issues; they both affect predominantly women victims that do not deserve to be victimized; they both have a significant impact on the lives of families; they both result in physical suffering and even death; they both have remarkable tales of survivorship and triumph; and they both are deserving of our attention and response as a community.

A recent letter to the editor in the Aspen Daily News, titled “Leonard gets it on domestic violence,” raised the point that both of these causes are nationally recognized in October and went on to address some of the differences in how these causes are promoted and addressed locally.

I want to thank the writer of this editorial for bravely sharing her personal story of the ravaging effects of family violence that she and her sister endured due to the domestic abuse that occurred behind the closed doors of her home. Although her story was referencing domestic abuse that had occurred decades ago, sadly these are the stories that we at RESPONSE: Help for Survivors of Domestic Abuse and Sexual Assault, hear on a regular basis. And just as this woman is using her experience to “give me the determination to do what I can to awaken our community to the effects of domestic violence,” she is not alone. We at RESPONSE are undertaking this same effort.

The work of RESPONSE is at a very exciting crossroads. We have just said good-bye to Peg McGavock, who served tirelessly as RESPONSE’s executive director for a remarkable 27 years. Peg was a part of the original, volunteer, grassroots effort to start a local domestic violence and sexual abuse program countering the common misperception that unfortunately still persists today: that domestic violence doesn’t occur in Aspen. As the torch of leadership is passed to our new executive director, Lauren Mbereko, there is a unique opportunity to assess our place in the community by taking a comprehensive look at our mission and our services with renewed energy. Through this transition, RESPONSE and its staff, board of directors, and volunteers are evaluating our efforts and the needs of the community and engaging in many new and revived endeavors.

Perhaps you have seen our new ad campaign, “After the Hurt … Hope,” with print ads in the local paper, on buses, and in offices and stores throughout the valley. This same campaign has been aired on local radio and television stations as well, all with the desire to get our name and contact information to members of the community that are in need and may not be aware of our services. As always, RESPONSE’s 24-hour confidential helpline, 925-SAFE (7233) continues to be a source of comfort and immediate help for those in need including friends and family members of those affected by domestic abuse. We are also continuing to offer free, weekly, counselor-facilitated support groups to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and Spanish speaking survivors.

Court advocacy and civil protection order assistance in both Pitkin County and El Jebel are available for those victims who are navigating the often foreign and intimidating criminal justice system. Perhaps our most exciting recent undertaking has been a collaborative effort with the Aspen Counseling Center, the Aspen Police Department, and RESPONSE to bring age-appropriate, comprehensive, prevention education on the topics of healthy relationships, boundaries, bystander intervention, teen dating violence, technology and abuse, sexual harassment, and resources to our community’s schools including Aspen High School, Basalt High School, and Aspen Middle School.

We are also excited about upcoming community programming including a presentation from 5:30-6:30 p.m. Nov. 16 at the Aspen public library for friends and family members of those experiencing domestic abuse. In the near future we will also be offering our multi-week “Personal Finance Seminar for Women” and our “Make It Your Business Training” for local businesses, human resource staff, and employees to learn more about Domestic Violence and Sexual Harassment Law in the workplace.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of all of RESPONSE’s efforts in both direct service and prevention education, yet I hope that it gives you an idea of the work that we are doing in the community. Throughout all of these efforts we are proud of the collaborative partnerships that we have built and maintained with other agencies and community partners. Those affected by domestic violence often feel alone and without hope. My greatest hope is that anyone in our community that is or has experienced domestic violence knows that RESPONSE is somewhere they can turn for much needed confidential, non-judgmental, professional support.

If you would like more information on how to be involved with RESPONSE as a volunteer or donor please call our office at 920-5357. As a victim of domestic violence or sexual abuse please call our helpline at 925-7233. Please remember: After the Hurt … Hope.