By Beth Browne
The Genesis Alliance was born in 2004 at the kitchen table of attorney Sidney Powell who had previously volunteered for a homeless shelter in Dallas, Texas. When she came to Asheville she thought it seemed like domestic violence was a “dead issue” here and she resolved to change that. She says, “Every child deserves to grow up in a home where they are loved and safe.”
The first year, those ten women at the kitchen table, led by Sidney, raised $25,000 for Helpmate (a local domestic violence agency) and they were off and running. Over the next seven years, they raised money for a wide range of different organizations working to reduce the effects of domestic violence, such as the Black Mountain Home for Children and the Mission Children’s Hospital Child Abuse Evaluation Center.
In 2012, The Genesis Alliance started a scholarship fund to provide higher education for victims of domestic violence. AB Tech already had a scholarship fund for single parents (The Lavender Fund), but The Genesis Alliance wanted to take that a step further. “We wanted to reach kids before they became parents and help them get an education,” Sidney says. “The longer people can put off parenting until they are better established, the more stable family they’re going to have.”
Dreama Davis was the first recipient of a Genesis Alliance scholarship.
An ambitious and determined young woman, Dreama knew she would need help if she were going to realize her goal to become a registered nurse. Her father has been incarcerated since she was born and her mother battles addiction and also suffers from Multiple Sclerosis. Growing up, Dreama had to give her mother injections for her illness and she found she really liked it. In high school, she took electives in Allied Health and enjoyed the classes in anatomy and physiology. When she had the opportunity to “shadow” some health care professionals at their jobs, she knew this was what she wanted to do. She also knew she would need help financially, so early on, she began seeking out scholarships.
Dreama had interviewed for other scholarships and found the process rigid and intimidating, but at The Genesis Alliance, things were handled differently. She met The Genesis Alliance interviewer at Panera Bread and they ate pastries and enjoyed casual conversation. Dreama says, “They took the time to get to know who I was, not just how I looked on paper.”
In May of 2014, Dreama will realize her goal and graduate debt-free from NC A&T State University. She is very grateful to The Genesis Alliance, not only for the generous financial assistance, but also for helping motivate her to keep working toward her goal. “It drives me and pushes me to continue to do well, because I know these people have invested in my future and they believe in me.”
Dreama Davis was one of the speakers at this year’s annual luncheon, the primary fundraiser for The Genesis Alliance. The keynote speaker was Geoff Sidoli, clinical director of the Barium Springs Homes for Children. He spoke about his work with children who have been abused. The effects of trauma and abuse are wide-ranging, affecting both the body and the brain. Geoff says, “When the body is under stress or threat, a lot of the bodily functions shut down, such as the immune system and the digestive system.” Research has now shown that there is a direct connection between sexual abuse and high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.
Abuse affects children’s development negatively as well. Geoff says, “The problem with kids who have been in traumatic situations is that the emotional/memory part of the brain takes over and the frontal cortex, which is supposed to help manage those things, begins to shut down.” At Barium Springs, they try to help kids manage and regulate their emotional states so they can change their cognitive thoughts about things so they don’t have the same negative emotional responses. “We’ve been doing things backwards for a long time,” he says. “We used to use words to get to emotions, but really we have to help them manage emotions so they can get to the words.”
To accomplish this, Geoff and his staff use a variety of techniques, including guided visualization, deep breathing and some interesting sensory approaches. For example, Geoff says he stopped wearing cologne because they contain alcohol and can trigger negative emotions in kids who have been traumatized by someone under the influence of alcohol. “Of all your five senses, smell is the one that is directly connected to the emotional and memory part of your brain.” The sense of smell is a last line of defense, to keep you from eating something that might be toxic. Reactions to smell are more immediate than reactions to other senses.
Kids can be encouraged to choose a scent that calms them and they can carry the scent surreptitiously in a pocket at school, to avoid stigma. When they feel stressed, they can rub it with their fingers and bring it to their face to smell it without anyone being the wiser. For some kids, a soft piece of fabric might be soothing.
Geoff says he admires The Genesis Alliance because it is one of a very few organizations whose sole function is to raise money to help people who have been victims of domestic violence. “In this day in mental health, money is going away, so having an organization like this is really unique.”
The Genesis Alliance has no administrative expenses and is entirely volunteer-run. Anyone can join for as little as $40. President Sidney Powell says, “I’m convinced that domestic violence is at the root of every evil in our society because it causes kids to have low self-esteem and turn to violence, drugs, alcohol, guns and gangs. If every home could be a safe one, we wouldn’t have nearly the other social problems that we have.”
As part of their ongoing effort to raise awareness of domestic violence issues, The Genesis Alliance has arranged a showing of the film MISSRepresentation at Carolina Cinemas on September 26, 2013, about the treatment of women in our media and culture.
“We need to remind ourselves what is really going on out there,” Sidney says. Our gender problems today are huge. We’ve made a lot more progress on the racial front than the gender front. Fortunately, people are not beaten or killed often merely because of their race. However, women and children are beaten and killed in this country every day by men who claim to “love” them. Our society is dangerously misogynistic. We’ve got a helluva lot of work to do. It should be as safe to be a woman or a child everywhere in the world as it is to be a man.”
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Beth Browne is struggling to return to her previous incarnation as an otter and now owns a wetsuit and a sailboat. She loves her job at Main Street Rag Publishing Company.