Pieces of a toy train set were dispersed among members of the Colchester-Milton Rotary Club last week, not for fun but to teach a greater lesson: the engines and tracks couldn’t function without their counterparts.
“I use this as an example of how we all need each other in our community,” Janice Santiago, a guest speaker from Steps to End Domestic Violence, said of her introductory activity.
Santiago, who does community engagement for the non-profit organization, entered the Hampton Inn conference room last week to teach Rotarians how to help those struggling in the community.
Formerly known as Women Helping Battered Women, Santiago’s organization aided about 4,700 people between July 2015 and June 2016, 108 from Colchester, 102 from Essex, 130 in Essex Jct. and 107 in Milton. These town specific numbers don’t include the 2,193 adults and children who reach out anonymously, its annual report states.
Looks of shock, wonder and confusion filled the faces of attendees once they read the data.
“It’s one of those things that you hear about, and you always think it’s happening to someone else, someone you don’t know,” Rotary president Kiki Leech said. “I think some of our members were surprised what defines domestic violence.”
Leech said people often assume domestic abuse is physical, but it’s not just bruises; verbal and emotional abuse are included. To help solve the confusion, Santiago provided a solid definition for domestic violence, per the audience’s request.
“[It’s] a pattern of power and control,” she said. Sometimes, the victim is blinded by their perpetrator’s harmful acts.
Rotarian Kelly McCagg said her friend’s husband moves her friend to a different location every year and doesn’t allow her to develop or maintain any intimate friendships. The woman doesn’t see it as abuse, McCagg said.
Santiago added the husband may not see his actions as abusive; a person’s upbringing can normalize certain behaviors, she said.
From there, the conversation flowed into the warning signs of abuse. These range from being distant from friends, frequently making excuses of being sick and wearing long, modest clothing even when the weather doesn’t call for it.
When Santiago packed up her car at the end of the afternoon’s gathering – toy trains intact – she also went back to work with a slew of other goodies.
The Rotary collected a number of beauty products including shampoos and soaps, along with school supplies and used cell phones for domestic violence survivors. Colchester Rescue, Burnham Memorial Library and its patrons, town government, Counseling Connection, Family First Chiropractic, Sage Massage and Tea Moons were among those who contributed.
“So many of our users leave or flee, and they don’t have anything with them,” Santiago said. “They don’t have the money to purchase all the health and beauty aids that we take for granted every day.”
Leech said after hearing Santiago speak, she’s more aware of domestic violence. The Rotary will continue exploring service opportunities with Steps to End Domestic Violence.
Appreciative of the support, Santiago said she’s impressed with the Rotarians’ willingness to help, learn and come together with a collective mission, particularly after the presidential election.
Two days after Election Day, Santiago acknowledged many people are fearful but said her job hasn’t changed.
“With all the changes in political offices statewide, even nationally, pay attention. Buckle in,” she said. “If you have questions, have a voice. If you’re not happy with something, use your voice and say something. Be active.”
Santiago urged people to call Steps’ hotline if they feel at risk. Partner with people in the community, she said, and be aware of what abuse looks and feels like. If you see something out of the ordinary, speak up, she said, and maintain a zero tolerance policy for yourself and others.
“For us, until we end domestic violence, until we don’t have any more people calling us, until our numbers are way down, until we’re not needed anymore, we still have to come to work every day,” she said.