#MeToo and Resilience

Us too.

In the wake of the growing publicity and number of allegations against Harvey Weinstein, the #MeToo campaign has taken off on social media platforms. Women (and survivors of all genders) use the hashtag to identify themselves as survivors of sexual harassment, assault, or abuse. Some choose to share their stories, others prefer to post just the hashtag, sometimes including the message that “If all the women who have been sexually harassed, assaulted or abused wrote ‘Me too.’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”

The hashtag has helped open the door to conversations about crimes of sexual harassment, assault, and abuse. The #MeToo campaign highlights what we know and see daily at CMC– this violence is not just something that stars and celebrities or people in other communities deal with. This is not a far away problem.

CMC residents screen printed shirts and other fabrics with empowering slogans like the one pictured for Women’s Equality Day 2018. The #MeToo campaign helps break the silence about sexual trauma.

Domestic violence and past sexual traumas are linked to myriad problems in a survivor’s future. ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) is a tool that assesses instances of trauma a person may have experienced in childhood in order to help better understand the long-reaching effects that those experiences have on a person. Sexual trauma in a woman’s past specifically put her at a higher risk of obesity, as well as many other potential challenges.

This is close-to-home. This happens in Iowa, in Cedar Rapids. With the rare exception, all CMC residents have been victims of crime, including domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking/harassment, or financial crimes. The multilayered effects of crime– including mental health and interrelated substance abuse challenges, low self-esteem, social isolation, homelessness, untreated medical conditions, debt and credit damage– can all present significant obstacles to a woman’s sense of stability. Past trauma can impact everything from employment success and housing eligibility to medical needs and capacity to build healthy relationships.

That isn’t the end of the story though– past trauma presents challenges, not total roadblocks. The residents here at CMC– along with women globally– work through those traumatic events and their effects in order to regain stability and discover their own resilience. With consistent support from CMC staff, women in the program are committed to working through the complex and damaging effects of past trauma and rebuild their lives.

We are honored to stand together and work for stability and resilience and equality for people. We echo what staff and residents and friends of CMC are all saying: us too.

CMC connects residents with resources like counseling and support services in order to work through adverse experiences and trauma. If you or a loved one needs immediate assistance, please reach out to the Iowa Help Line to speak with a trained counselor.
Chat: iowacrisischat.org
Phone/text: 
1-855-800-1239

Carly: On Recognizing Domestic Violence

A speech from the Transitional Housing Program’s 2017 Women’s Equality Day Celebration.

The powerful women with domestic violence experiences have only recently learned that domestic violence has come to gain some appropriate attention as a major social problem. However, speaking from personal experiences of my own, there are a lot of negative thoughts and beliefs that were drawn. I myself have recognized the traumatic aspects and chose to re-align my mental and social character to identify my own self-worth.

The aim of this speech is to share positive, effective education to those that don’t have the knowledge. As women we need to build one another up, speak out on our lifelong learning combined with eager approaches that will help others to acquire those coping skills, strategies and self-care, as well as we manage our wellness, boundaries and support services in our everyday lives.

If we don’t stand for something, the trends will never change. Nor shall we allow this to define who we really are today. Let us continue to take a stand and reach out.

Find additional Women’s Equality Day speeches from Ann and Lesa on our blog. 

Ann: On Health and Self-Care

A speech from the Transitional Housing Program’s 2017 Women’s Equality Day Celebration.

Again, thank you for joining us for Women’s Equality Day. I began a journey with the Catherine McAuley Center in February of 2017. It’s been a time of change and growth that centered me on both my mental and physical health.

I was supported by Catherine McAuley Center with a stable, safe, secure environment so I could focus on getting well. I had no idea the real barriers ignoring my mental health created. It took one person, Nat from EIHC (Eastern Iowa Health Center), to make that one phone call which led me to the Catherine McAuley Center.

I was homeless but not considered in immediate need of assistance. My daughter Peyton and best friend Char took turns giving me a bed to sleep in when there were no spots available in the overflow shelter. But really they couldn’t provide for me daily for an indefinite period of time. I had no idea the growth and positive change that would occur just being able to take care of myself.

I began regular visits to all of my healthcare providers including a therapist. Also, Catherine McAuley offers time in a learning environment to focus on our needs. I spent so much time trying to care of other people that I didn’t give any time or care for myself. After just 5 weeks of medicinal compliance, attending my diet with the Diabetes Education Center while being here I showed significant improvement in my health.

It’s important as women that we take the time to nurture our own needs. Be attentive to ourselves because I’m sure you’ve been told before you can’t take care of anyone else if we don’t take care of ourselves. This means taking the to time to speak with your primary provider and take time for preventative health care including mammograms and sexual and mental health needs.

There are still some out there who are unaware of the effects of untreated depression. It’s what contributed to my homelessness. Please trust yourself to communicate openly with your healthcare providers. Advocating for yourself is key and can’t be done if you can’t be heard.

Find additional Women’s Equality Day speeches from Carly and Lesa on our blog. 

Lesa: On Being Female and Homeless

A speech from the Transitional Housing Program’s 2017 Women’s Equality Day Celebration.

Imagine ghosts in the darkness, darting into the shadows to avoid being spotted by police driving by.

Imagine when night falls, the daunting realization that you have nowhere to go. There is no place you call home.

Imagine the overwhelming feeling that you belong nowhere.

This is what it feels like to be homeless. In my mind, belonging nowhere meant I was nothing, I was nobody. Insignificant, less than zero.

What would Cedar Rapids be like with no homeless women and children? Imagine a city where domestic violence is an isolated incident, not the norm. Imagine if enough support existed for women to break free of the violence and oppression; break free of the prison that domestic violence is.

Poverty, despair, hopelessness, learned helplessness. These are just a few of the characteristics women experience as they live with an abuse- and leaving frequently means homelessness.

We celebrate women’s equality. The right to walk down the street without being assaulted or threatened. The right to vote. The right to be a homeowner. The right to be your own person. The right to NOT be punched, kicked, slapped, pushed, sexually assaulted or any of the abusive behaviors that take place every day to women among you. Where are they to go?

Women need safe housing, equal pay, medical services, and transportation. Survivors of domestic violence turn to homeless service programs because they lack the economic resources to obtain housing after leaving an abusive relationship. These women need supportive services that can help them heal from the trauma of abuse and improve their financial security and well-being.

Living in darkness and fear causes brokenness and low self-worth to the women who face domestic violence and homelessness. It is baffling and terrifying to escape the clutches of the one who hurts you, yet claims to love you. These toxic relationships damage the victims, heart, soul, mind, and psyche.

We must celebrate women. Embrace their challenges, get involved, reach out. Invest in women. Yes, we have achieved equality in many areas. But there is still lack of shelter, services, and funding in comparison to the need.

Equality for women isn’t a women’s issue. When women fulfill their potential, society as a whole benefits.

Celebrate women, those who are successful, as well as those who are struggling.

Women’s equality means NO MORE FEAR!

Find additional Women’s Equality Day speeches from Ann and Carly on our blog. 

Master Gardeners feature CMC garden

Master gardenerEach of the past two years, the Catherine McAuley Center Gateways Garden has produced over 800 pounds of food from their community garden. This year, they were featured as one of two community gardens in the Linn County Master Gardeners Garden Walk 2017 that was held on July 8. Chelsea DeLarm, Support Services Coordinator at CMC and master gardener, said there were over 200 people who visited the CMC garden that day.

“It was a very long day, but it was an amazing day and the garden was looking beautiful,” said DeLarm.  The garden features food such as cucumbers, squash, green beans, onions and more, and sits on 12 raised 4×8 beds. It even has a pollinator garden with plants that attract Monarchs and other butterflies and bees.

DeLarm stated that the garden shows off all the hard work the women in the CMC transitional housing program have put into it and that the work done in the garden has enhanced the program and become a landmark in the community. “The garden is just this awesome place where people feel really connected to each other, and I hear residents say, ‘I just love being in the dirt,’” said DeLarm.

Upcoming activities for residents include harvesting and preservation projects. The women will get to cook a lot more with the fresh produce from the garden and try different things out.

Volunteers Build Connections

Interview groupBy Jennifer Tibbetts

Volunteers are an integral part of the rebuilding of hope, sense of self, and connections that we do at CMC. Volunteer groups are interwoven throughout the housing program at CMC and offer educational and social opportunities for residents. Through volunteer interactions, women build skills to then become engaged in the community through their own acts of volunteerism.

One of my more recent favorite memories is when the Mount Mercy University Enactus group hosted a mock job fair for residents, which was the finale of a series of employment skill-building sessions. The group arranged for several local business leaders to volunteer their time to conduct interviews with women in the housing program to practice their new interview and employment skills.

Mock interviewThe night of the mock interviews, it turned out that all of the volunteer business leaders were female. Seeing an opportunity for connection, I decided to ask the volunteers to share a little about their journey to where they are today. This started a truly powerful discussion as the female businesswomen shared their successes and struggles, building bridges with residents’ stories. You could see that the residents connected to their stories which were helping residents to regain a sense of hope for their own lives. These volunteers had a larger impact than their original “assignment.”

Many other volunteers and groups help build the same sense of hope and connection in the Transitional Housing program through their service. The Soroptimists cook and share a weekly meal with residents, and a group of Master Gardeners teach valuable skills in garden preparation, care, and harvesting.

If you want to learn more about ways to support skill-building and connection in the Transitional Housing Program, please contact volunteer@cmc-cr.org.

Jennifer TibbettsJennifer is the Transitional Housing Program Manager and has used her 18 years of experience in social services to implement female-responsive programming at CMC. Jennifer is proud to be a part of a mission-driven organization like the Catherine McAuley Center and feels privileged to be in a role in which she can help create a safe and supportive environment that allows women to realize their own potential. In her free time Jennifer finds creative ways to be an advocate for women throughout the state, and organizes community groups and female-led initiatives that allow women to connect and find their voice.

The Power of Words

Door opening, welcoming Nervous to take the step into the professional world with an internship required to complete my English degree at Mount Mercy University, I came to the Catherine McAuley Center hoping to be able to use my passion of helping others through writing. Through my internship in the Development and Communications Department at CMC, I have been able to expand my passion for writing in a professional setting. I have also seen firsthand the impact the Center’s programs have on adult learners and women who are overcoming past trauma.

Having a loved one who has participated in other supportive living programs throughout the State of Iowa, the Transitional Housing Program caught my attention right away. The Transitional Housing Program offers a chance of a brighter future for women overcoming trauma, homelessness, and in some cases, substance abuse. The Center provides the women with a safe place to live while they take the necessary steps to overcome their Hand sharing pencils for writingpersonal obstacles, and offers classes for women to take to help build their life skills and to recover from trauma. While meeting with the Housing staff, I learned about a resident writing group that is offered to help the women with their writing skills and aid the recovery process. My own belief in the power of words to transform lives drove me to participate in the group.

In my first visit to the writing group,  I was fortunate enough to witness how the power of words can move women to greatness. To start off the class, we were told to write instructions of how we wake up and get ready for our days. While we began to write our answers, one of the women began talking to me, and in response, another woman whispered with a light in her eyes, “SHH!! This is my favorite time of the week.” The passion in the swift flick of her wrist forming words moved us to silence, and we too began to write.

A few minutes later, the women were asked if they wanted to share what they wrote. After one woman shared, the one who hushed us began to read her passage. Powerfully, she told us how she wakes up every morning, and how she has to overcome her personal obstacles every time her alarm goes off. She told us of her strength and power as a woman with the eloquence of Maya Angelou.Maya Angelou's picture and quote from her poem "And Still I Rise" Through the power of her words, she shared that despite her struggle of waking up with the knowledge of her past overwhelming her—she still thanks God for giving her another day to live, and she counts each day as a blessing. She gave me the strength to wake up every morning believing that life is worth living. Not only did writing help her in her daily struggle, it gave her the time and the tools to inspire others in the room to do the same.

Words are powerful. The writing group is giving these women the stepping stone to strengthen themselves through the empowerment of writing. Just like Maya Angelou wrote, “Up from the past that’s rooted in pain / I rise.”  In just one hour per week, these women are rising up and defeating their limitations through the power of writing.

By Abby Herb, Development and Communications Intern

Trauma-Informed Yoga Offered to Residents

Mindfulness brings awareness to the present moment, increasing feelings of safety and control.

Thanks to Support Services Coordinator, Chelsea DeLarm, residents now have the opportunity to practice “mindfulness”, or focusing awareness on the present moment’s thoughts and sensations, through yoga!

Yoga instruction at CMC is trauma-informed, meaning special care is taken to make the practice useful and accessible to women who have experienced past trauma. Chelsea says that she never touches or re-positions students, assures safety in the practice room by keeping her eyes open at all times so residents can close their eyes in meditation, and tailors poses to the physical abilities of people in the class.

Chelsea DeLarm

Support Services Coordinator, Chelsea DeLarm

For example, one recent yoga class included “chair yoga” with poses specifically designed for being seated in a chair so that women with physical disabilities could participate. Before becoming an instructor, Chelsea completed an intensive three-day certification process and continues to research how she can make yoga accessible to residents with specific challenges such as hearing impairment.

The goal of yoga at CMC is simply to focus on breathing and the mind-body connection. While concentrating in this way, residents are able to recognize why they are thinking or feeling what they are at that moment, increasing feelings of safety and control.

Somali yoga

Photo courtesy of VOA.

Chelsea says she can see that residents are often tense and unsure of themselves before class, but relaxed and confident after a half hour of yoga. Chelsea says residents often share a meal after their Thursday yoga class and become more open to talking and often comment, ” This is the only time I can relax,” and “I can move this side of my body more easily!”

Trauma-informed yoga is not unique to the Catherine McAuley Center. The practice has been used to aid people of all backgrounds throughout the world, including trauma-survivors in Somalia!

You can learn more about trauma-informed yoga by visiting Trauma Center Trauma Sensitive Yoga.

Women’s HERstory

Women's History postersWomen’s history (or HERstory) is an important topic here at the Catherine McAuley Center. An extraordinary group of women, the Sisters of Mercy, founded our organization in response to community need. They were inspired by Catherine McAuley, who created a place of refuge in 19th century Ireland where women could be treated with dignity and gain meaningful employment skills. How appropriate, then, that following International Women’s Day on March 8 and during Women’s History Month the ladies of our Transitional Housing program were featured on a broadcast from KGAN CBS 2 about the life-changing impact healthy relationships with other women and with the community has on residents’ outlook for the future.

In the report, Jennifer Tibbetts, Transitional Housing Program Manager, says of the program, “We recognize that women are relational, which means that they will grow and develop and become the woman that they really, truly are through the connection that they have with others and the community, and so that’s what we do here at the Catherine McAuley Center.” Connection with others extends beyond the relationships among women in the program to connection with women’s history and an understanding of historical female influence.

Transitional Housing residents have celebrated women’s HERstory in recent weeks through trivia games about the influence of historical female figures and watching the film Standing on My Sister’s Shoulders, which details the many ways black women contributed to the Civil Rights Movement. The staircase and hallways of their living space are decorated with posters that serve as reminders of the great contributions made by women in history and that each woman in the program is capable of making today.

HERstory is also celebrated throughout the year at the Catherine McAuley Center, most notably at the annual Women’s Equality Day celebration in August, where the community is invited to speeches given by residents about their own journeys to independence. Stay tuned for details on this year’s celebration and take a moment to watch one resident share her story here.

Wellmark Foundation Garden Grant

Cold winter weather is in full swing, but the outcomes of last summer’s community garden project, reported in the video below have us looking forward to another season of planting & harvesting to grow the impact of the garden! The video was produced by the Wellmark Foundation, who supported the project with a grant of more than $14,000.

Objectives of the project, which was designed for the residents of the Catherine McAuley Center’s Transitional Housing Program, included increasing the availability of fresh produce for residents, increasing residents’ knowledge and skills in using fresh fruits and vegetables in food preparation, and increasing residents’ community involvement and connection to resources through the community partnerships formed for the project. All objectives were met, as more than 800 pounds of produce were harvested throughout the growing season, which was then used in weekly cooking classes for the residents. Community volunteers participated in each stage of the project alongside the residents, from the construction of the raised beds, to garden club meetings, to cooking classes.

Residents have expressed the impact the project has had on their daily habits and have already put their new cooking skills tor practice, “I’ve been lucky to live somewhere with all the fresh produce. It’s made me want to cook differently and to think differently.” As another resident stated, “I didn’t know that I liked pesto so much. After learning how to make it in cooking group, I make it all the time with the basil from the garden.”

CMC plans to continue leading the garden effort in 2016 and hopes to make even more improvements in the coming year, including adding flower beds to attract beneficial insects and deter harmful pests. Adding flowering plants would also enhance the aesthetics of the space and could help to make it an inviting environment for meditation and one-on-one or group therapy sessions.

CMC thanks Wellmark and our many other community partners for the impact they’ve had on residents through sharing their time, skills, knowledge, and resources. For the residents who explain that “I haven’t had experiences like this before and I’m 40 years old,” you are fulfilling the Catherine McAuley Center mission of offering hope and opportunity!