Ayeshah Raftery

MONTPELIER — Ayeshah Raftery, a Colchester resident with a passion for helping children, is the new director of development for Prevent Child Abuse Vermont, an organization whose work has taken on new meaning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

PCAVT, which is based in Montpelier, hired Rafterty late last month to lead its fundraising campaign and to help spead child abuse awareness.

“I can't imagine anyone not being disturbed about a child being abused, but we don't always want to talk about it, so my job is to talk about it, to bring it to light and to share the work of these wonderful clinicians and staff,” she said.

Raftery has numerous experiences in development under her belt, but she said working for Pine Ridge, a Williston boarding school for children with learning disabilities that closed in 2009, was the most influential of those experiences.

“You don’t go to college and say you are going to be a fundraiser,” Rafterty said. “No one says ‘I’m gonna go raise money for an organization,’ but as you move on and live your life you find things you personally want to support.”

PCAVT’s longtime executive director, Linda Johnson, said Rafterty’s natural warmth and professionalism made her the perfect fit for the job.

“The moment we met her, it became abundantly clear to us that she had the right credentials, the right experience and the right enthusiasm and understanding of not only the importance of our work but our approach to our work,” Johnson said.

Since July 2019, PCAVT has hosted programming for about 300 individuals in Chittenden County. One-hundred and seventy of those were trained in sexual abuse prevention.

While PCAVT offers trainings and informational items on a variety of topics, some have become more relevant than others due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the governor’s Stay-At-Home order was announced back in March, a child’s risk of experiencing abuse increased, Johnson said. More time at home means more risk of being confined in possibly abusive situations and more time spent online opens up the risk of being exposed to online predators.

“That form of abuse is up 90 percent,” Johnson said, and therefore PCAVT has upped its programming around technology safety.

One of those programs is Technicool, an online seminar that helps parents and caregivers strategize ways to keep children safe in digital environments. PCAVT’s support groups and parent education programs have been transitioned to online platforms, such as Eventbrite, that are interactive and confidential.

Johnson also said COVID-19 has caused many parents, especially those of newborns and toddlers, to feel more isolated and stressed than ever before.

“In the time of COVID, people might be more apt to take their baby in their beds, just out of sheer exhaustion and frustration, thinking this will be cozy and convenient for nursing,” she said. “Having the baby very close by, in some kind of a crib, right next to the bed is the safer option by miles.”

PCAVT typically works with school districts across the state on educational programming for young students. For the last several years, the Colchester elementary schools have used the organization’s CARE for Kids curriculum, which focuses on body parts, health and boundaries.

While staff from PCAVT hasn’t yet been able to visit Colchester this year due to COVID-19, Johnson is hopeful they will be back in the classroom soon.

Because PCAVT’s work has evolved and been adapted over the last several months, Rafterty is looking forward to sharing it widely and personally.

“I know a lot of people in our community, and they don't know about this particular organization,” Raftery said. “We really do wonderful work and I’m already very impressed by the dedication and the professionalism at this organization.”

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