Thanksgiving week is one of my favorite weeks of the year. I love to sit back and look at the year in retrospect to appreciate all of the gifts that the year has given. As I look back at 2020, it would be easy to fall into the trap of noting all of the challenges and focusing on all of the missed events, fundraisers, concerts, and family gatherings. Sometimes it takes the loss, the grief, the challenge, to truly force us to appreciate what has been right in front of us the whole time.
When I reflect on what I am most grateful for in 2020, it is the gifts of hope, joy, and love. It has been said that we must understand pain in order to appreciate joy, and vice versa. I can think of very few things that are more painful than the experience of child abuse and sexual assault, and the devastating effects that these can have on an individual, a family, and a community. At the same time, I can think of nothing that has taught me more about hope, joy, and love than my work with survivors of child abuse and sexual assault.
On February 14, 2020, I along with over 1000 supporters witnessed the courage of Brianna as she shared her journey from child sexual abuse victim and foster child to the empowered, married, mother of two who is pursuing a career helping other trauma survivors on their own journey. It was one of the proudest moments of my career seeing Brianna standing before us thanking us for the support that Julie Valentine Center had given her over the course of her childhood. All I could think was how grateful I am to her for the gifts of hope, joy, and love that she has given me: hope for a future that is not defined by abuse, joy that comes from knowing connection with others, and love that is unconditional.
In May 2020, House Bill 3309 was signed into law creating and implementing a rape kit tracking system in South Carolina. This is an accomplishment that we are extremely proud to be a part of, but what I am most grateful for is the experience of sharing this accomplishment with two fiercely courageous survivors who have turned their trauma into advocacy and action, Evelyn and Kira.
Evelyn has given me the gift of persistence and passion as she has poured her heart and soul into pushing for legislation for rape kit tracking and testing. As Evelyn testified before the House and Senate Committees, I was filled with gratitude for her fighting spirit that continues to give me hope for change. She refuses to take no for an answer and finds strength in knowing that she can use her personal experience of rape and a criminal justice system that failed her to change the system for others.
Kira has shared the gift of empowerment by sharing her own experience to help others. As I listened to Kira testify before the Senate Committee, I could hear the pain, the passion, the courage to stand up for herself and for others, and for the future of change. I am grateful that I have been able to be a small part of Kira’s healing journey. It is incredible to watch the transformation from surviving to thriving, and for this I will always be grateful.
Our work at Julie Valentine Center is some of the most challenging on a regular day. Add to that a pandemic and some of the largest funding cuts we have ever experienced and one might lose hope for the future. Fortunately, thanks to the incredible staff, board, community partners, volunteers, and supporters, we are not only surviving, but thriving. I am grateful that we have been able to provide services to more than 1300 individuals thus far this year. It has been a challenging journey full of twists, turns, disappointments, cancellations, and changes. As we celebrate this season of gratitude I am grateful for the gifts of hope, joy, love, growth, change, and resilience that have been shared. As I reflect on this journey, I am reminded that sometimes our journey is as important a gift as our destination.
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Contact Robin Longino at rlongino@Julievalentinecenter
Jaycee Dugard was kidnapped by two strangers from a bus stop in her hometown of Lake Tahoe in 1991. After surviving 18 years of abuse at the hands of her two assailants, she was finally reunited with her mother and family in 2009. Jaycee is now the author of two New York Times Best Sellers: A Stolen Life: A memoir (2011) and Freedom: My Book of Firsts (2016).
Reuniting with her family required an extensive, multi-disciplinary approach to get through a very difficult transition in their lives. They needed protection, expertise, support, and the ability to make choices as they started their healing journey. Jaycee believes that families who survive major life traumas need and deserve the kind of support her family received. Because of this belief, Jaycee and her family formed The JAYC Foundation (Just Ask Yourself to Care). The JAYC Foundation mission is to be of service to families and individuals that have experienced a severe crisis, challenge or conflict through a major life disruption.