Wednesday, October 27, 2010

200th in two

This is my 200th post on this blog in two years (well, more like 15 months, but you get the idea). It seems like only yesterday that we were celebrating 100 posts together last January during the Shared Harvest food drive season! Good times. To celebrate this momentous occasion, I thought I would talk a little about my goals over the next 200 posts.

So here goes:

1) Relax. I imagine I will still be in graduate school, plugging away on my Master of Social Work degree by the time the blog odometer hits 400 posts. So over the next two years, I aim to breathe a little more.

2) Make time for fun. Pretty self-explanatory, but I am realizing that without scheduling regular breaks with the people I love, I am setting myself up for severe burn out! That's a no-no.

3) Be active more regularly. I struggle with this one. If you recall last year I wrote about a similar goal to take better care of myself by increasing exercise and healthy eating. But after my wedding and our move to Cincinnati, I've definitely fallen off the health wagon. Of course, one of the perks to being in graduate school is "free" access to the spaceship-like recreation center on UC's campus. With a little motivation and luck, I'll be back in a good routine (and shape) in no time!

4) Leave work at work. I work in a high-stress environment, at least on some days anyway, and I've found it easy to carry the stress and pain from the women at the shelter home with me. Thanks to my experience as a Rape Crisis victim advocate, I am getting better at leaving it behind, but there's always room for improvement.

5) Continue to make our house a home. In the 5 months we have lived in our new house, Taylor and I have tackled a variety of home improvement projects. And it has become addicting! We have a lot of grand plans for our place, and I hope to share more of those 'before and after' posts with you.

6) Re-organize this blog. As my faithful readers know, a lot has happened over the past two years in a lot of different areas of my life. I am thinking about reorganizing this blog to better capture my story and the things that I care about. And maybe include more pictures in my posts. What do you think? Any ideas?

Thanks again to everyone for hanging with me for the past 200 posts. Stay tuned for more adventures, more pictures, more soapboxes, and more stories from the life of a social changer!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Extreme Makeover: Basement Edition

Lately our weekends have consisted of a lot of work. All of my hours at the shelter have fallen on Saturdays and Sundays, and Taylor has logged plenty of weekend hours in the ER. That leaves little time for weekend projects together at our house, but that hasn't stopped us from getting stuff done! We just utilize what little weekday time we have to tackle some of the projects on our list. (Check a couple of those out here and here.)

Anyway, last Tuesday Taylor had some time off so he decided to redo half of our basement floor. Our furnace, laundry machines, water softener, etc. are on the other side, so we thought we'd start with this side first. First Taylor swept, brushed, scraped, vacuumed, and mopped the floor to take up all of the old flaky paint chips. Here are the before shots:

Next, Taylor primed the floor with a water-proofing sealant. Our basement has been remarkably dry, and we want to keep it that way! After the primer dried, Taylor painted the floor:

And once the paint dried a couple of days later, Taylor and I constructed some new shelving units and started organizing all of our stuff. We even carved out a little gift-wrapping station for the approaching holiday season. Here are the after shots:

There's still a little bit to do, but we are so glad to have this project pretty near complete! It feels great to get organized and better utilize our space. It's just another step in turning our house into our home.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A 3-hour tour

Taylor and I have been working on the east side at our respective jobs for several months now. Ironically, we live on the complete opposite side of town, so we know very little about the Eastern area and the people we serve who live there. After finding ourselves off of work and school this afternoon, we decided to remedy this with a road trip into Clermont and Brown Counties.

Our first stop was New Richmond, Ohio. It's a pretty quaint little village nestled right on the Ohio River. We stopped at an overlook for a picnic and a little barge-watching. Here are a few pictures:

As we finished eating, we noticed a very interesting sign. If you're looking for an exotic vacation destination, but don't want to bother with the long drive to Florida, then this is the place for you!

But we weren't looking for an exotic getaway, so before long it was time to head out. We packed up the picnic basket and set off to our next destination: Moscow, Ohio--famous for its big power plant.

But Moscow came and went quite quickly, and if Taylor hadn't said, "We're in Moscow!" I would have probably missed it. Next we programmed the GPS for Mt. Orab in Brown County so we could check out the new Mercy ER recently built there (yes, this was Taylor's idea). It was so new that the GPS couldn't locate the hospital, so we just decided to wing it and see if we could find it once we got into town. If we could ever get there! The drive there took about twice as long as it normally would for a couple of reasons. One, in many places, the road was only one lane wide and twisted and turned alongside a little creek. The hills, sharp curves and resultant poor visibility definitely slowed us down. And two:

Yes, that is a tractor. And to the left of the tractor you can see the double line that ran for many many many miles. We chugged along behind, and eventually we arrived at a clearing where we could safely pass and continue on our way. As we arrived in Mt. Orab, though, we didn't see any signs for the ER. We drove aimlessly through the town, and even pulled over to Google the address, but had no luck. Feeling a little dejected, we set out on Rt. 32 heading west back to Cincinnati. And what do you know, we passed right by the new ER on the way back! Victory was ours.

Unfortunately due to the summer drought, the leaves were pretty much one crunchy shade of brown, so I didn't get any good pictures of fall foliage. But all in all it was a good day. We were able to get a much better sense of where many of our patients/clients come from, and we now have a better understanding of some of their needs. Transportation, jobs, housing, schools; you name it, Taylor and I both saw the need.

When you think of 'poverty,' you probably associate with images of inner-city, slum-like housing, crime, and other "urban" scenes. There certainly is poverty in these areas, but there is also a wide range of services available to people in cities. Poverty also affects the less-populated towns and villages of rural areas. It's these communities that often are neglected by social and medical services. I don't think it's anything personal; it's just that there are way fewer people per square mile and it's difficult to concentrate resources in such a far-reaching area. The House of Peace serves women in the Eastern area of Greater Cincinnati, which encompasses Clermont, Brown, and Adams County. That's a huge region for one 16-bed shelter to serve. And Taylor has seen patients who have driven to Mercy Anderson in Cincinnati all the way from Brown County for quality medical care!

As beautiful as it is, Appalachia has high rates of unemployment and generational poverty, with few resources available to meet the need. It is important to be mindful and aware of the needs of all people, not just the ones living in highly-populated areas. We all have a long way to go to effectively meet the needs of people from all regions of our state.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Unpacking the knapsack

As you might expect, the MSW program at UC includes a plethora of courses exploring the dynamic impact of race, class, and gender on human development in society. We spend a lot of time talking about how our individual positions affect the whole. What you might not expect, though, is how some of these conversations play out in the classroom. Not every MSW student is a bleeding heart liberal; not every student is even quite sure about the existence of racism, sexism, classism, able-ism, etc. in our country. Because some students have never experienced the '-isms' in their personal lives, they are quick to claim that they no longer exist:

"If racism exists, it isn't nearly as bad as it used to be. We have a Black president, after all! African-Americans have made tons of progress."

"Women can do anything they want now. They have the right to vote and they can get to upper levels in the workplace if they just work hard enough."

"If they would just get up and get a job they wouldn't be poor. If I can do it, they can!"

And on and on.

These statements reveal a position of privilege. People in the majority group (typically white, male, wealthy, able-bodied, heterosexual, etc.) don't consciously think about the experiences of minority groups because they don't have to. The majority has a series of advantages in society simply because of how they happened to be born. Some of these advantages are explored in the classic text, "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack," in which Peggy McIntosh, a white woman, explores the ways she has benefited because of her race. By acknowledging such unearned privileges, McIntosh confronts the root of oppression in our society:

"For me white privilege has turned out to be an elusive and fugitive subject. The pressure to avoid it is great, for in facing it I must give up the myth of meritocracy. If these things are true, this is not such a free country; one’s life is not what one makes it; many doors open for certain people through no virtues of their own."

Whether we like it or not, all of us are affected by certain unearned privileges. While we may not actively discriminate against others, when we do not acknowledge our privileges, we oppress minority groups by perpetuating the myth that success in society is based on merit alone, thus discounting the minority experience in America.

If you aren't familiar with Peggy McIntosh's work, I'd encourage you to check it out. Dr. Kathy McMahon-Klosterman and Dr. Jean Lynch (my mentors/professors in my undergraduate career) introduced me to her work several years ago and forever changed the way I thought about myself and the world. This article was assigned for my class tonight, and I have enjoyed revisiting it now with a different perspective. I remember the first time I read it I felt defensive; I wanted Peggy McIntosh's observations to be wrong, because if they weren't I would actually have to confront racism in our society and do something about it. I could no longer sit back and think racism was someone else's problem.

We can not be afraid to confront such privileges in our lives--instead, we must take a critical look at our experience and use our knowledge to lift up others. By recognizing our own privilege, we can identify where others are not privileged and use our power to make a change. It isn't painless and it certainly isn't easy--after all, subjects of privilege, racism, and discrimination rarely are--but it's an important piece in promoting the equality and progress of our society as a whole. For me it's a continual process, and I hope it is for you too!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Justice for all?

After a long hard day of work, what do you like to do? Read a book? Table a bubble bath? Watch TV?

Chances are, your answer probably included kicking back with the remote every once in a while. And when you do, what do you typically watch? Taylor and I still don't have cable, so our TV consumption is whatever is on the main networks. And during the week, about 80% (my estimation) of the primetime shows on TV have something to do with crime. Have you noticed that? You've got about a hundred different Law and Order, CSI, or other crime/law thriller shows out there to choose from:

Law and Order: Special Victims Unit
Law and Order: Los Angeles
Detroit 1-8-7
Hawaii Five-O
NCIS: Los Angeles
Criminal Minds
The Defenders
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
CSI: Miami
Blue Bloods
48 Hours Mystery

Okay, so maybe it's not a hundred, but it's quite a few crime-themed shows, and these were just what I've seen listed on 3 networks. There's plenty more where this came from on cable.

Aside from being a little jumpy when the suspenseful music started, these shows never really bothered me. I didn't think much about them, but I suppose they were kind of exciting from time to time. After all, it is quite thrilling to witness a crime, track down the perpetrator, build a case, and get a conviction all in an hour's time. Add a few twists in there, and the puzzle is that much more fun to solve.

After I started working with the Butler County Rape Crisis Program and the House of Peace, though, my perception of these shows began to change. Suddenly it wasn't nearly so exciting to watch cases of rape, domestic violence, or other assorted violent crimes as entertainment. In fact, those Law and Order chimes brought out the cynical, resentful me:

"Where are the advocates? Where is the SANE nurse?"
"What the? That's not how real police interact with rape victims."
"Please show me a real precinct with marble floors, huge plasma screen TVs, hologram models, and plush leather chairs. I've yet to see one."
"You know, hospitals are never this dark. Especially not in the ER. And look at the size of those rooms! Sheesh!"
"Oh my gosh, are you serious? There is no way they would get lab results back that fast."
"Seriously, they are going to a full trial just one week after the rape/murder/etc.? As if that would EVER happen."

Needless to say, I make TV-viewing less than enjoyable for my companions. And yet, I don't feel too badly about it. I think these types of TV shows do a huge disservice to our communities and maybe we'd be better off if we weren't watching them at all.

First of all, these shows distort the public's view of what rape, domestic violence, etc. even look like. These shows sensationalize violent crimes to make them sexier, more provocative, and more outrageous all for the sake of entertainment. However, that's not always on our minds when we're watching. While the shows don't claim to be reality-based, these are likely the only views people have of rape or domestic violence or murder. They start to buy into the myths that these shows perpetuate (i.e. rape happens only to vulnerable women out walking alone at night) instead of examining the real facts and statistics in our communities. And God forbid when it happens to them, they have little real knowledge about what is happening or what to do next.

Second, these shows give victims a false idea of the legal process ahead. I have seen dozens of rape victims who believe that the detectives will personally process their rape kit upon leaving the hospital, and that we'll get the "results" back in a few hours. The truth is that it takes weeks and sometimes months to get any analysis of the evidence back from the crime lab.

And speaking of slow processes, the court process is definitely not "as seen on TV." These shows make it look like we are in a full-blown trial with a guilty conviction just days after an arrest. It's just not the case. There may be a preliminary hearing shortly after an arrest, but there are a whole slew of additional hearings, motions, and procedures that have to happen before we get to a trial. The courts are so backed up that it can be weeks and months between each hearing and before you know it, a year has lapsed and we're just now making it to trial. That is, if we even get that far. In many cases, victims get worn down from retelling their story over and over and drop the charges out of exhaustion. Or there just isn't enough evidence to go to trial and the case is dismissed.

And third, perhaps most importantly, I think these crime shows are an injustice to victims of violent crime. Since when do we consider it entertainment to watch someone go through crisis? It's amazing that we can watch hours of rape, murder, and abuse and not even bat an eyelash. These crimes happen to real people in the real world, and I think we forget that.

Surely there must be healthier forms of entertainment out there. I would encourage everyone to really think about your choice of primetime television shows. Before mindlessly flipping to Law and Order: SVU, think about the millions of women who experience such trauma in their real lives every year. Suddenly it doesn't seem so entertaining, does it? Please join me in taking a stand against shows that exploit violence against women and children. When a show comes on with this as the main theme, change the channel and find something else. You'll be glad you did.

And if nothing else is on TV, hey, you could always pick up that book.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

You know it's fall when...

...the view from your kitchen window looks like this:

...your dining room table looks like this:

...your calendar is full of assignment due dates, study reminders, and tests that suck the life out of you, your family, and your blog. Or maybe that's just me.

Sorry for being MIA this week. You should know that instead of thinking up witty posts I have spent my time reading hundreds of text book pages, researching ethnic sensitive strategies in therapy, generating developmentally-appropriate questions for an interview on middle childhood, completing 10 hours of online training on trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy with kids, finding news articles relating to social policy, and studying for and taking my first graduate school exam. (Which, by the way, I scored a 92.5/100. How does one not get a perfect score on an open-book, open-notes, online exam? Grr.)

What's even more incredible are the men and women who are doing all of this and more. The ones who are still working full-time, who are raising young children, AND doing the graduate school thing. When I start to feel stressed out and tantrum-y, I remind myself how truly fortunate I am to have a partner producing steady income so that I can go to school and dabble in work in my spare time.

If only my kitties could be a little more supportive. They are so gosh darn cute that I can never seem to concentrate on my work when they are around. :)

Friday, October 8, 2010

Real lifesavers

As my loyal readers may know, my husband is a scribe in a local emergency department, the chief scribe to be exact. But before that, he worked as a nationally registered emergency medical technician. Although he isn't working on a squad anymore, Taylor still reads a lot of EMS blogs and keeps up with the latest information from the field.

A few days ago, Taylor came across this article that he rightly assumed I would like: "Utah Medics Offer Domestic Violence Support." The article shares the account of a woman who credits the paramedic first responders in her community for helping her take the first steps in leaving her abusive relationship.

So often we think of domestic violence as a social work-y thing, that only people in "social services" will ever have to really deal with that kind of thing. The reality is that survivors of domestic violence will come into direct contact with many different professionals, each having an impact on her health and well-being as she works to regain control of her life. If the paramedics or ER staff had been judgmental of her situation, she might not have been comfortable leaving the relationship or seeking help in the future.

One thing we advocates know is that women will leave their abuser an average of 7 times before they leave for good. There are a variety of reasons why women go back to their abusers, but lack of empathy or support from medical professionals should not be one of them. First responders must combine training in social issues and medical knowledge when administering services. The article states "44 percent of victims killed nationwide in a domestic-violence related homicide had visited an emergency department within the two years preceding death." That statistic is indicative of the tremendous responsibility emergency service providers have in properly responding to the needs of the whole person, not just the cut lip or the fractured arm that the patient may initially present with.

Social workers, counselors, advocates, law enforcement, and medical personnel must collaborate to effectively care for survivors of domestic violence. It is their combined diligence and support that will encourage survivors to take the steps best for them to maintain their health and safety.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Alphabet soup

For the past two weeks I have been doing this graduate school thing. Five courses, 3 nights a week, 16 hours of classroom learnin'. And in each of those 5 courses, the professor usually has a roster of the class that she uses to take attendance. Some professors have a list printed with all of our names and we are to sign next to our name. Others just call the names in alphabetical order, you raise your hand and say "here!" (or you grunt or nod or make a peace sign, as I have observed), and that's that.

Since September 23rd, I have been through this process 11 times. And yet, I still panic every time when the teacher gets to the C's and she hasn't called my name. Yep, I keep forgetting that my last name is now Wessels, not Baker.

The odd thing is that I have been married now for six and a half months, so I'm definitely used to signing my name or introducing myself as Kaitlyn Wessels. I think the reason I still haven't made the name transition in academia is become I have always been at the top of the alphabet in school. The Student Me has always been at the top of the list, always the first in line, always at the front of the room. I have gotten used to leading the class when we're ordered by alphabetical ranking, and as I went back to school this fall, I guess I just fell right back into that role and alphabetical identity.

I will transition, it will happen--I will become a 'W' in all aspects of my life. Until then, I will resist the urge to scream in panic that my name isn't on the class list (I'm a little Type A, can you tell?) and I will be pleasantly surprised when my presentation is due a week later with the second half of the class.

I'm loving the N-Zs!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Introducing: October

Somewhere between now and last week, we stumbled across October. I rang in the new month with Taylor and my parents in my hometown of Urbana, Ohio. We spent the weekend doing yard work (okay, Taylor helped my dad trim the huge 40-ft tree in the front yard while I went shopping), dining local, and catching up. We also went to the community craft fair known as Octoberfest (not to be confused with area beer festivals known as Oktoberfest). And in the middle of all of that, I fell drastically behind in my graduate studies.* Such is life.

(*Note: Instead of knocking out a few chapters of reading tonight, I thought I'd write this blog post instead. Besides, after 6 straight hours of class, preceded by 3 hours of training on recognizing and preventing child sexual abuse, I'm spent for the evening. So I guess I'm not that far behind. Or maybe I am in denial.)

Anyway, October seems to be off to a great start, with plenty of fun stuff to come: leaf-raking, cider-drinking, pumpkin-carving, and of course, awareness-raising for domestic violence!

Yes, October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. To help you out, I've compiled a few events for you to attend in the Cincinnati area hosted by the YWCA:

In Hamilton County:
Bark Out Against Violence Pet Fest, Saturday, Oct. 9th, 11a-2p
She Screams Without Sound candlelight vigil, Tuesday, Oct. 26th, 6:45p-8p
A Tribute to Esme: Journey of Grief and Healing art exhibition, Oct.1st--Jan. 14th, 2011

In Clermont County:
Proclamation of Domestic Violence Awareness month, Wednesday, Oct. 13th, 1p
Clothesline Project, Oct. 18-22
Hearts and Hands/Men Against Menacing, Tuesday, Oct. 19th
Domestic Violence Vigil: Mending the Wounds, Thursday, Oct. 21st, 5:30-7:30p

Of course, there is plenty more in-depth information about all of these events (plus additional events in Brown and Adams Counties) here. (You can also visit to search for events in your area.) Unfortunately I will not be able to attend most of these events due to my evening class schedule, but I would encourage you to check them out if you can. These are bound to be very powerful, empowering experiences not to be missed.

We must come together as a community to talk about and solve this serious issue. When we pretend domestic violence isn't happening, we enable it to continue to affect thousands of women and children each year. We must send a message to abusers that we as a society will not stand for domestic violence. And we must offer our continued support and resources for victims who suffer in silence.

If by chance you or someone you know is struggling with domestic violence, remember you aren't alone. What's happening to you isn't your fault, and you don't deserve to be hurt. Please feel free to call our 24-hour helplines to talk about the abuse, to create a safety plan, and to secure additional resources.

Cincinnati helpline:
LOCAL (513) 872-9259
TOLL FREE (888) 872-9259

TTY Accessible
Eastern area helpline:
LOCAL (513) 753-7281
TOLL FREE (800) 540-4764
National helpline:
1.800.799.SAFE (7233)
1.800.787.3224 (TTY)

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