Advocates from throughout our region gathered at UW-Superior Tuesday, May 12th, for a day of building community and learning from each other.
This exciting event began taking shape in October 2014, when the first design team meeting, expertly facilitated by Dr. Maria Stalzer Wyant Cuzzo (UW-Superior Legal Studies Dept.), took place at CASDA. Other members of the design team included several CASDA employees; Beth Olson, Executive Director of First Witness Child Advocacy Center; and Jill Abernathy of Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs (DAIP). Emerging from this first meeting were two primary goals: 1) to “pursue the ideas of ‘social change’ advocacy, grassroots inspiration and recognition that advocacy organizations are ‘NOT ONLY SERVICES’ and 2) that “the day must contain hospitality, passion, authenticity, liberation and mining for stories.” Judging from participant feedback and the design team’s own experiences of the event, “Making Connections” stayed true to this initial vision.
The 40 advocates attending “Making Connections” represented ten different agencies throughout Northwestern Wisconsin and Northeastern Minnesota. The group’s common thread was our advocacy work with individuals and families hurt by domestic violence and/or sexual assault and/or child abuse. Attendees heard informative and inspiring speeches by several local experts. Beth Bartlett, (UM-Duluth Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies Dept.), spoke about the background of the women’s movement and advocacy work in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin. CASDA Executive Director Kelly Burger recounted her moving journey of personal survival and public advocacy. First Witness Director Beth Olson spoke about the relationship between social change and advocacy work. Finally, CASDA Children’s Program Coordinator Renée Graves shared her hard-hitting, yet ultimately uplifting, survivor story. The courage, strength and dedication demonstrated by all four speakers held their audience captive and helped us contemplate the deeper meaning of advocacy and our own journeys to this field, in which an advocate’s expertise is so often derived from personal experience and challenges overcome.
Twin Ports-based singer/guitarist Sonja Bjordal closed “Making Connections” by singing three of her original songs to inspire a good trip home. As one participant commented in her evaluation, the day was a “very calming, productive and well-rounded connecting event,” and as another pointed out, she was “empowered by being in a room of advocates. It’s a beautiful thing and needs to happen more often.”