Saturday, December 12, 2009

Portrait: Central Coast, CA

submitter's note: trigger warning

I managed to score a wonderful job just as the recession hit. I am employed by a non-profit organization, and happily took a slight pay cut in order to regain a sense of personal satisfaction with my work.

My non-profit assists survivors of sexual assault in various aspects of their lives - we advocate for their rights when dealing with police or employers, provide one-on-one and group therapy, maintain a 24 hour hotline, and much more. We also provide educational programs, trainings, and presentations for the community in an effort to prevent sexual assault. Like all other non-profits in this day and age, money is a problem. Federal and state funding has floundered for countless social service organizations.

What has been even more difficult for us is the lack of donations and support from the community. As people scale back their expenses, charitable causes are one of the first things to go, and we have certainly felt the hit. We have also seen interest in volunteerism decrease, despite the high level of unemployment. I personally believe that the fear and dread people feel is overwhelming their ability or willingness to give back to their community, especially when they feel they have received nothing themselves.

We have far less than ten employees, and we have been forced to lay one off and give a pay cut to another. Both women go above and beyond in their efforts to educate and assist sexual assault survivors, and neither deserve to be without adequate income.

Ironically, the stress of the economy and loss of many social service organizations has significantly increased the need for our services. Money problems and other economic fears have "triggered" many sexual assault survivors, bringing back memories and feelings they believed to have been 'resolved' or 'over' years ago. Furthermore, people who were receiving support from other social service agencies that were forced to close their doors are turning to us for help. While we do our best, it is increasingly difficult to meet the varying needs of our clients. For example, we have a lot of mentally ill survivors turning to us for support after their mental health agencies had to close their doors or turn them away. We are simply unable to give the survivor what they need (medication or mental illness-specific therapy) in order to even being the healing process, but as I said, we do our best.

Though we are all being told to "do more with less," that is simply NOT an option when you provide face-to-face, human services. Our counselors cannot counsel two survivors at once. Our advocates cannot be present for one survivor's police report and another's forensic exam simultaneously. Therefore, we will have to begin turning people away.

Turning a sexual assault survivor away is more painful than you can imagine. It usually takes a survivor months, if not years, to get to a place emotionally in which they are ready to share their pain and begin the healing process. To struggle to that point, and then be rejected from the one local organization that can provide you with the healing you need, is indescribably horrible. But we cannot meet the needs of our community without community support, monetary and otherwise. And frankly, our community has completely failed us while expecting our level of services to be maintained or improved.

To conclude, none of us are unaffected by the economy and alone in their plight. For the under- and unemployed - think about volunteering some extra time to a local non-profit. To those struggling to hold onto their jobs, or unsure about their future - think about the consequences of losing some of your most vital social services, and see what you can personally do to help prevent that. I believe that one can find a healthy balance for taking their of their personal struggles while helping to curb larger issues as well. Though everyone needs money, we all need support and a sense of community as well. Ask yourself what you can do to build that sense of community, and help us all emerge from this experience in as good shape as we can hope.

Central Coast, CA