“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” These words spoken by Maya Angelou, clearly align with the work of an advocate, as advocates help survivors validate their feelings, discover their strengths, learn to choose for themselves, and work towards change.
Entering into the first Saturday morning of advocate training, I slowly became awakened to the role of advocacy and its roots within empowerment. As advocates, we are in the unique position of being a witness to individual stories, to listening with an open heart, and engaging in a process where individual survivors begin to regain their own personal power.
The first training presentation, through the National Coalition Building Institute (NCBI), quickly got a room of thirty trainees to wake-up, clap, cheer, and be recognized for characteristics that define, and give meaning to who they are. I was recognized as an oldest child, someone born in a state other than Montana, and a woman. I was immediately engaged. I laughed, waved, and smiled as if I were on the Ellen DeGeneres Show. It was clear that the presentation was meant to recognize all of the diversity within the room, while simultaneously creating space for unknown traits and experiences that piece together to make our own individual story. It broke down stereotypes while giving us the tools to understand our own biases and perceptions when we approach others. They identified labels we make for ourselves and each other, illustrating how we interact within and outside the caucuses in which we engage. Subsequent presentations built off the NCBI presentation, forming a foundation of invaluable knowledge needed to volunteer and provide services.
Advocacy training lasts more than two weeks, which equals over forty hours spent within the YWCA’s center room. For those forty hours, thirty trainees, including myself, had the chance to interact and listen to numerous stories revolving around the issues of domestic violence and sexual assault. The stories and training delve deeper into the issues, and create a holistic picture of how domestic violence relates to other human rights topics such as homelessness, culture assimilation, and mental health. Throughout training, we learned about the services provided within Missoula that aim to address these issues. However, more importantly, we learned how to advocate for survivors that come to us with varying experiences and stories.
When training concludes on October 3rd, I am confident that I will have the necessary tools to become an engaged advocate working to empower survivors and their children.
Posted by Jessica, YWCA Missoula Advocate Trainee