To tell my story as a date rape survivor and communicate my message in a way that can help the most people.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

NOVA Conference Workshop

A few months ago after submitting for the 2nd year in a row I was chosen to conduct a workshop at the annual (National Organization for Victim Assistance) NOVA Conference. I was excited, honored, nervous among many other adjectives since this was going to be my first workshop. It's content would be me sharing my story of date rape, the legal process, counseling and life following from a victim's point of view to an audience of professionals mostly made up of victim's advocates.

The 41st NOVA Conference was held in Dallas this year and it would be a whirlwind 2 days for me flying in on Tuesday afternoon to check in, get acquainted, on Wednesday attend other workshop/events, then it would be my turn to speak. We were set up at the beautiful Intercontinental Hotel with the entire Ballroom floor and I was surrounded by other attendees wherever I went feeling right at home with all these compassionate people who understand me and what I've been through. 

Wednesday morning was a Victim's Tribute with speakers who had impressive resume's and numerous awards. There was song and dance presented by two very talented women and a father from MADD who lost his precious son to a drunk driver and shared his story and memories. I had a chance to briefly speak with him after as his son & have the same birthday which immediately made me feel connected to him. The event ended with a beautiful candlelight ceremony that represented all categories of victim's and their survivors.

Then I went back to my room to mentally prepare for my speech which was scheduled from 1:00-2:30 pm. The previous day I scouted out my room/venue to become familiar with the layout so I knew what I would be walking into that afternoon. This workshop would be the longest time frame to fill since I began speaking over 6 years ago but although anxious it would allow me to share many details I sometimes can't due to time constraints. As the 1:00 hour approached I gathered up the few materials I had along with myself and made my way down to The Spectrum room.

Before entering my room I was greeted by my assigned volunteer, a lovely woman, who was going to take care of distributing my presentation handouts to the room full of participants prior to my speech and as they departed handing out the Workshop sticker for the conference booklet so the attendees could document each one completed. The room was nearly full and as I set myself up it approached capacity just before I began speaking with a few joining in the minutes after I started. The room was perfect for the type of workshop I was running which was me telling my story and no use of the AV or Flip chart provided. It was intimate and filled with an estimated 75 NOVA members. 

After introducing myself and laying out what my objectives were for the workshop I began telling my story and filled it with as many specifics as possible hoping there was something in it to benefit each and every participant somehow. During particular high and low points of the details I shared the group would react which I found very comforting. They were in this with me from start to finish and I liked that very much. I remember looking down at my watch to get a sense of where I was in time and an hour had passed by seemingly effortlessly. At this point I could reassess how to bring it all together leaving 15 minutes for Q & A. These were much different questions than posed to me by college students welcoming the challenge to answer them efficiently. 

Relieved and satisfied when it was over I was greeted by many thanking me for telling my story and others sharing stories of their own or asking additional questions. They were an amazing group of women and men making me feel as if I contributed positively to the subject which was my only goal. I took a moment to accept my success for having done something new and different that I ultimately enjoyed. 

Before leaving the conference there was a closing ceremony I wanted to attend since I was only there for a day and a half it was important that I experience everything I could in that short period of time. Even more people approached me in the lobby area and inside the ballroom saying that had attended my workshop offering kind words. 

What I got out of this was knowing I can expand my speaking horizons and that it's something I would like to do again. I left the conference and Dallas very happy!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Life's Challenges

Los Angeles was the most recent host of the Special Olympics World Games and I was lucky enough to have been a Volunteer and selected to be a part of the Media Operations Team as a Steward. My assignment was for the 1st day of the games when they conduct their Divisioning round at the Table Tennis event. I worked with several other volunteers sharing the same post and we connected immediately. It was a fun, exciting, upbeat atmosphere and we didn't find out until later that our event was one of few that had a DJ playing music the entire day which only added to the spirit and energy. 

I sat at the bottom of the viewing stands meeting not just other volunteers, but athletes, coaches and delegates from around the world. I observed the athletes/kids, despite their various challenges, acting just like any other no matter which country they were from. It struck me how amazing that is to see them tease each other, be competitive also sharing in each others joy when winning or consolation when not moving ahead in the event. I observed many other inspirational moments that day.

A young guy in his 20's named Sergei from Sochi, Russia flew here to be a volunteer for the week. He caught the "bug" when he volunteered for the Summer Olympics and Paralympics in his hometown a few years ago and shortly thereafter signing up for the Special Olympics World Games planning his first trip to America. We talked for about a 1/2 hour sharing our life stories with his English being excellent. I was so impressed by him, his spirit of adventure and interest in giving back at such a young age and honored to have had that time getting to know him.

That day I took a lot of pictures for the purpose of not only posting them on social media and raising awareness for the Games that week but so I wouldn't forget a moment of my experience. My volunteer partner had stepped away for a few minutes so I was left alone to people watch. Because of the Divisioning round scheduled that day it was a less formal atmosphere for the athletes and many of them sat in the stands instead of their designated space which was further away from the competition area. I turned around to observe a very sweet gesture between the athletes from Pakistan and Hong Kong neither of which shared a common language. They were digging into their backpacks for pins from their country and exchanging them. I waited until they were done and then asked if I could take a group picture for which they then posed. A few minutes later I was approached by one of the Hong Kong athletes and presented with one of their country's pins. I was so touched and said thank you several times noticing that she was bowing to me so I did the same in return hoping I was being respectful. This nearly brought me to tears and I turned away thinking about the experience wanting to remember that moment for a long time.

Several days prior to the start of the Games many towns in the Los Angeles area were chosen as Host Towns and assigned country's in which they would act as their ambassadors showing the athletes and delegates the local sites and culture. Two women from the Pakistani delegation started to chat with me and my fellow volunteer. We asked how they were enjoying LA and who their host town was telling us it was La Verne. Their faces beamed with smiles as they described the hospitality shown them and what a great time they all had. One described the experience as "Feeling it was a home away from home". I couldn't get those words out of my head and was so proud that the true spirit of Americans comes through when it matters most.

A little bit later after a 3rd volunteer joined our post a delegate from Ireland approached our table with a question (as did many others that day) and we struck up a conversation with her. I shared having previously traveled with my mother to her country and how much I loved it there hoping to return someday to see more of it. Just as she was about to leave she dug into her official fanny pack (one that we all received as part of our World Games uniform) and presented each of us with her country's pin. This was my 2nd on a day I didn't even consider getting one. I proudly pinned it to my credentials along with the other. My fellow volunteers promised to reciprocate with a US pin once they acquired one as they would be there for the entire week. 

It was very fulfilling and I am thankful to have been a part of such an important event. As I met the athletes who live with their various challenges yet go on with life as usual it got me thinking. Each one of us has a different story to tell and our own challenges that we face, some being so much more difficult than others. It is how we face them that really matters and how we choose to let if affect our lives and the outlook we have going forward.

My awesome fellow Volunteers on each side of me.