Saturday, February 26, 2011


It's been a [busy] week since my last post, and I find myself charging full steam ahead into my 9th of 10 weeks of my second quarter of graduate school. I'm not particularly gifted in time right now, but I did want to post an interesting article about my neighborhood, more specifically, vacant buildings in my neighborhood.

It's no secret I intern and live in a "rough" part of town with its fair share of problems. And it's important to remember that people aren't solely to blame for all of their problems. Any social worker worth their salt knows the environment plays a leading role in the big picture of poverty. This quote from a city inspector tells the story:

"Here's a prime example of how vacant buildings create a domino effect to ruin a neighborhood," Bohnert said.

Once a house becomes vacant, "kids break out the windows. Then vandals take all of the copper pipes and anything of value. They knock holes in the walls and the roof. Water gets in. Floors buckle. Plaster and drywall fall apart. The interior is ruined. Garbage gets dumped in the yard. No one wants to live there. The house gets boarded up.

"No one wants to live next to a vacant house. So, the process repeats. Neighbors move out. One house after another gets boarded up."

So read the article (and view the slideshow) for a closer look at Price Hill, Sedamsville, Westwood, and Fairmount, to name a few increasingly vacant neighborhoods. It might shed some light on what we're working with here.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Dare I Say?

Tonight concludes Miami University's production of Vagina Monologues, and if you haven't been yet, tonight is your night! I went with the staff ladies from Rape Crisis last night, and we had a blast.

It appeared other audience members had a good time, too. We met a few performance-goers at our display table before and after the show, where we officially launched our newest awareness initiative that I alluded to in this post.

Drum roll, please! It's called Dare I Say? and as our volunteer coordinator Becky eloquently put it, is in the style of the PostSecret books with the message of the Clothesline Project. In other words, we're asking for postcard submissions from the community speaking out about issues of rape, sexual assault, and abuse in our society. If you click here, you can see a few examples. Some are funny, some are hopeful, some are angry, but all are powerful. Once we amass enough cards, we will display them around the county during Sexual Assault Awareness month in April.

The beauty of this project is that it gives all people a voice to speak up about this issue, with the comfort of anonymity. It's an opportunity to use creativity through art, imagery, and words to speak out about an issue that is often taboo in our society.

To submit your own postcard (or two or three or seven), mail us a 4 x 6" postcard with your message to:

Butler County Rape Crisis Program
110 S. College St.
Oxford, OH 45056

Or via email:

Or visit us on Facebook

Remember, anyone can and should speak up about this issue, not just survivors of sexual assault. If you have a thought about this topic, we want to hear it and see it.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Sexual Assault and the U.S. Military

Today I was driving home from a meeting for my internship and I happened to hear this story on NPR:

Sexual Assault and the U.S. Military

It's about a lawsuit seventeen veterans and active-duty service members filed against the Pentagon for permitting a culture conducive to sexual assault in the military. Toward the end of the segment, a male caller from Florida weighed in saying it is important for women in the military to understand that men have more testosterone and naturally need sex more. In other words, women unrealistically expect to be "charmed and seduced" into sex, especially in a male-heavy military environment.

These offensive remarks are the caller's constitutional right to free speech, I'll give him that. But clearly he is uneducated and, well, just plain wrong. Men don't have the right to rape just because they are men. Testosterone or not, people must be accountable for their actions. And the fact that not all men are rapists is evidence of this fact.

My colleagues and I in rape crisis centers around the country have a lot of work to do to educate the public and reform these caveman attitudes. We all have a lot of work to do. When you hear something like this, please speak up and educate those around you. Policy change and legal avenues are important, but if the people don't revise their way of thinking, they will be largely ineffective. That's how we can make social change.

Tonight marks the beginning of the Vagina Monologues performances at Miami University in Oxford. Women stand up in a series of rehearsed monologues to celebrate women's sexuality and strength, while also addressing women's rights, including issues of sexual assault. Proceeds will go to the Butler County Rape Crisis Program, and I would highly encourage you to check it out--consider it homework in your quest to cultivate a more educated public.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

More bandaids for school nurses

In my short time in Cincinnati, I have observed quite a bit of tension between the city council, the mayor, and the constituents of this city. The most recent round of tension? The debate over school nurses.

The City of Cincinnati is facing a $54 million dollar deficit. That's nothing to sneeze at (pardon the pun). So how does Cincinnati reduce the deficit? Cuts. To just about everything.

I don't want to minimize the value of a balanced budget and a city operating in the black. But it's going to be painful getting there, and services are going to suffer. Lots of services, including highly-valued police and fire. For the sake of today's post, I'm only going to focus on school nurses.

In Cincinnati, there are 50 nurses covering 42 elementary schools. They are funded in part by the City Health Department (60%) and in part by Cincinnati Public Schools (40%). This is an unusual set up. Most school nurses throughout the state are paid through the district's school board, but not here. So when the city experiences financial strain, the schools feel it too. The proposed cuts would eliminate 35 of 50 school nurses by June, leaving a majority of the district's 33,000 students without health care.

For many of these students, the school nurse is their only health care provider, which would make for serious implications for the students and their families. Schools will undoubtedly have to call more parents to pick up kids with minor injuries, aches, and pains that the school nurse would previously have handled with no problem. And students with more serious health issues like asthma and diabetes will be less able to manage their health at school. In this way, cutting school nurses hurts the entire community. Kids with chronic conditions won't be routinely screened and monitored, which means absenteeism will go up, academic achievement could drop, and more community resources will be used up to meet the need.

You can read more about this issue here, including information about state mandates for school nurses (there aren't any in Ohio), and recommended nurse-to-student ratios (1:750) that are already not being met as it is.

If you are in the Cincinnati area and feel strongly about this issue, you there is a rally tomorrow to push city leaders to reinstate funding for school nurses. The rally will be held on Wednesday, February 16th at 12:45 p.m. at City Hall located at 801 Plum St., downtown. The public may also address the council at 1:30, before the regular meeting convenes at 2:00.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Statement of Impact

I'm a proud AmeriCorps*VISTA alumna, having spent a year at Shared Harvest Foodbank in national service. So this bit of news I'm about to share was truly saddening. I received an alarming email from Krupa, the current VISTA at Shared Harvest today. Here's an excerpt:

"As you may know, Congress [the House of Representatives] is set to vote on a Continuing Resolution (CR) bill today that would extend federal spending temporarily. The bill that is currently set to be voted on completely de-funds the Corporation for National and Community Service. If this bill passes in its current form [in the House and Senate], all AmeriCorps and AmeriCorps*VISTA projects will stop immediately.

"It is critical now more than ever that we educate our elected officials about the true impact of National Service."

The email goes on to call for brief statements of impact to be sent to Dustin Speakman at Ohio Association for Second Harvest Foodbanks by 4 p.m. today. Even if you were not an AmeriCorps service member, you know the impact this program has not only on our communities, but on the service members themselves. This blog is a testament to that very fact.

I always want to do my civic duty and advocate for things I believe in. So I just sent my statement of impact, and I would encourage you to do the same. I'll leave you with my statement, which combined with other voices, will make social change:

Last year I dedicated a year of my life to national service at Shared Harvest Foodbank in Fairfield, OH, as part of the AmeriCorps*VISTA program. It is, hands down, one of the best experiences of my life to date. I could tell you all sorts of stories about the people I helped--about the elderly woman whose monthly income I helped to increase by signing her up for food stamps, or about the thousands of school-aged kids who received school supplies because of my efforts. It goes without saying that AmeriCorps service members make a difference in the community. But have we ever stopped to think about the effect this program has on its members? Because of my service in AmeriCorps, I have a better handle on tough issues of poverty, racism, and hunger, just to name a few. I confronted my own white, middle class privilege, and learned what compassion really means. I am more engaged in my community and my mindset has shifted from one of selfishness to service. I am truly a better citizen as a result of my national service, and I believe all young people should have the opportunity to serve their communities--to serve their country. Please continue funding the Corporation for National and Community Service. Our nation's future depends on it.

Kaitlyn Baker Wessels,

AmeriCorps*VISTA alumna 2009-2010

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Striking a balance

Tonight will be my last ever shift at the YWCA House of Peace. I decided to quit about two weeks ago when I finally realized I had too many balls in the air. Never mind the fact that my husband, friends, and family have been telling me that for months. But I resisted because I felt like I needed to contribute more to our household, despite Taylor's assurance that I did not. Now after more than a month of late late Sunday nights at the shelter and early Monday mornings at my internship, I'm exhausted and ready to start listening to my pals. I needed to cut something. But seeing as how my classes and internship are pretty much non-negotiable, and my work with Rape Crisis is rewarding, long-standing, and largely federally funded through my financial aid award, the House of Peace was the most logical choice to get the axe.

So there you have it--I'm leaving House of Peace after 7 months of employment (read here about the day I started). The shelter environment is intense, and as glad as I am for this experience, I have a new perspective on shelter work. I'll gladly gain back a second day off each week, not to mention more sleep time, saved driving time, and a little more peace of mind. Still, my leaving is bittersweet as I will miss working with some very resilient shelter residents and some incredible advocates.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

She lives

As I wrote last week at this time, our kitty Louise was in bad shape. In fact, she was so sick, that our veterinarian advised we begin thinking about end of life plans. Louise has been sick before--she has visited the vet's office a handful of times since last May when she came to live with us. But never before have we had to seriously consider losing her.

So when we got the news she was in rapid decline, we trusted it was true and prepared for the worst. I spent last Wednesday and Thursday nights sleeping on the couch with Louise on my lap. It wasn't very comfortable but it felt like the right thing to do.

Slowly over the following few days Louise started regaining her strength. She ate with more vigor, she walked with more assurance, and by Tuesday of this week she was climbing up and down the stairs with ease. She's seemingly back to her old 15-year-old self, and for now, that's a gift. We've been on an emotional roller coaster in the past few days. We don't know if we have days or months or years left, but it's all worth it if we get a little more quality time with her.

If cats really do have nine lives, I'd say Louise is probably on her 12th. But we'll take it.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Acceptance speech

I'd like to thank the Middletown Community Foundation for a $7,000 grant recently awarded to the Butler County Rape Crisis Program!

Last November I wrote the narrative for the grant application (read about that process here), and we just got news this week that a portion of our request will be funded. (Here's a link to other highly worthy award recipients for this funding cycle.)

We're doing everything we can to come up with local support for our program after the Butler County United Way decided to re-prioritize their funding, leaving us with a huge funding gap (read more about that here). Without those funds, we aren't able to provide the cash-match to secure more than $100,000 in federal and state grants. And without that funding, we lose our program.

This month will bring a new round of grant-writing to more local foundations, as well as a refresher grant-seeking workshop at Hamilton County Public Library next weekend. And soon I will announce a new project we are officially launching later this month at the RCP to help raise awareness about sexual assault in our community. Stay tuned!

(P.S.--Taylor tells me Louise had a good day while I was at work today. She still isn't quite herself, but she's a little stronger today and just as sweet as ever. We hate to get our hopes up, but it's nice to see her happy.)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

End of days

A few months ago I shared a brief history and some pictures of how we acquired our two cats, Thelma and Louise. In that post, I commented on how our kitties have made our home so cozy and warm, especially after a long hard day. Spending time with them is always a treat, especially when they're doing quirky, funny things, (like climbing among boxes and wrapping paper from Taylor's birthday celebration, seen here).

But there are times when spending time with them isn't so great. Like now.

About 3 days ago, Louise seemingly lost her appetite. This isn't particularly uncommon for her. When we adopted Louise, we knew she was 15 years old with an enlarged, diseased liver that has been increasingly encroaching on her stomach. Sometimes there just isn't enough room for her food to digest and she has a few days of sickness and finicky eating. After a day or two, she usually bounces back and even ends up taking over Thelma's food bowl in the process. But when she started coughing up bile and becoming more lethargic, we knew something else was wrong.

We called our veterinarian yesterday morning and got an appointment for the afternoon. Louise has been to the vet a few times over the past 8 months, so we're used to the routine. She is so sweet and small that everyone likes to say hello and take turns holding her; she has made fast friends with the doctors and techs who work there, just like everyone else she meets.

During these past visits, the doctor optimistically suggests a manageable treatment regimen, confident she will be just fine. And so far he's been right. But this time after poking around a little and taking a closer look at our kitty, he said the words every pet owner dreads:
"We have some options to keep her comfortable, but I think we need to start thinking about the end for her."

The mass in her liver had grown significantly since our last visit, and there isn't anything we can do to reverse it. The vet took some basic tests, and fortunately they revealed normal kidney functions, normal liver enzyme levels, and a normal body temperature. Still, she is sick and dehydrated, with a poor prognosis for recovery. He decided to have us administer subcutaneous fluids, give her special food if she'll eat it, and keep her comfortable.

If you've ever loved a pet, you know how hard this time is for us. We can't bear the thought of losing our beloved kitty, but we don't want to selfishly prolong her suffering. Most people say that we'll just know when it's time, but right now we're caught in a limbo. Louise has regained her appetite and has voraciously eaten each regular serving of food (and a few extras) that hits her bowl. She has been able to make it to the food bowl and the litter box, and has responded warmly to petting and cuddles just like normal. But she has a bit of a wobble when she walks, no longer climbs the stairs to our bed, and isn't able to fully clean herself after some messy trips to the litter box. She certainly isn't herself, but I don't think she's gone. Not yet.

Our vet agreed to call us every day to check on her and discuss our options. We appreciate that he has been honest and straightforward with us, and that he hasn't suggested any unnecessary, pricey operations or tests at the end of her life. We hope we can keep her happy and comfortable at least through Monday so that our friend (her original owner) can come visit and say good bye.

We're taking it one day at a time, and I'll be the first to admit it hasn't been easy. How do you spend your last few days with a beloved friend? Taylor and I have managed to alternately be home with her at all times so we can keep an eye on her and make sure she is doing okay. There have been a lot of tears (mostly from me), and a lot of desperate hugs and cuddles. Her purrs and meows show us she's still here with us, but we dread the day when she stops responding.

Until then we will keep talking to her, keep petting her, keep loving her, just like always.