Homewood-based nonprofit tees up powerful messages
BY HANNAH KOHUT Correspondent April 29, 2012 8:54PM
Arley Guzman, a junior, reads words of domestic violence victims on T-shirts that are part of the South Suburban Family Shelter's Clothesline Project at Bremen High School in Midlothian. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media
The South Suburban Family Shelter’s 24-hour hot lines are (708) 335-3028 (local) and (877) 335-3020 (toll free).
The South Suburban Family Shelter will hold its spring fundraising gala “A Night of Illusions: Things Are Not As They Seem,” at 7 p.m. Saturday at Idlewild Country Club, 19201 S. Dixie Highway in Flossmoor.
Jumping off from the idea of a seemingly happy, harmonious family masking domestic violence issues, the event uses illusions and magic as a metaphor to remind us that families may be suffering even while appearing healthy, according to the organization.
Festivities feature fine dining, an illusionist performing several shows throughout the evening, a roving magician and his assistant, a stilt-walker, dancing, a live band, games, raffles and more.
Tickets are $100 and include dinner and an open bar.
Proceeds will fund a capital campaign for a new counseling services building.
NBC 5 meteorologist Andy Avalos will be the honorary chair.
For more information, visit www.ssfs1.org.
To view more photos of the “Clothesline Project,” visit southtownstar.com.
Updated: June 1, 2012 8:07AM
The silence that came over the Bremen High School library as students visited last week was a rather uncomfortable one, not the typical library type of quiet.
Shock and confused emotions took over students as they made their way through rows of some 200 T-shirts carrying powerful messages from victims of sexual and domestic abuse and even incest.
Some of the messages were graphic, all were heartbreaking.
“Grandpa, I’m so glad you died before I got my hands on you.”
“Please, Daddy. Stop, don’t hit me anymore.”
The shirts are part of the “Clothesline Project,” a traveling reminder from the Homewood-based South Suburban Family Shelter about how lives are affected by abuse.
“It’s very disturbing,” said student Joseph Torres, 18, of Posen. “I can only imagine what it’s like.”
The numbers are not imaginary. Brianne Hetman, the development training and prevention service coordinator for the South Suburban Family Shelter, said the organization provides direct services to about 3,000 clients per year and extends outreach efforts to many more. She said the number seems to rise a bit each year, but the shelter can’t pinpoint whether abuse is on the rise or victims are just more aware that services are available.
She said it’s hard to track abuse victims over time because many are transient, and many contacted for follow-ups won’t provide updates.
“Not everybody is comfortable with that, or it might not be safe to do so,” Hetman said.
The Clothesline Project gives abuse victims and families of those who died as a result of such violence a chance “to break the silence that often surrounds their experience, and bears witness to their personal experience of violence,” according to the shelter. “For some, it celebrates their transformation from victim to survivor in a powerful statement of solidarity.”
As disturbing as some of the victim-created shirts are, Bremen High School social worker Ted Bailey said it’s important to bring the issue to the attention of students.
“This gave us the opportunity to impact possibly 1,400 students,” Bailey said of the display that visited the Midlothian school on Thursday and Friday. “A lot of these shirts are about teen dating violence. It’s also about showing males that women aren’t always the only victims of abuse. We know we have male students here who are growing up in homes with domestic violence.”
Theresa Connelly, another social worker at the school, said she was surprised at how intense the shirts’ messages were.
“I had a really great conversation with a group of young men who were really bothered by them,” Connelly said. “When the students come in, we tell them this may not impact them directly, but it may impact the person next to them. This makes them aware of what others may be going through.”
Connelly said the purpose of the shirts isn’t to display rage and anger.
“It’s about forgiveness and healing,” Connelly said. “It’s about coming out on the other side stronger and better.”
The messages that Torres called “disturbing” weren’t what bothered him most.
“Forgiveness after what that person’s been through ... that really bothered me because I can’t forgive them,” he said.
Ja’Bria Cole, 16, of Midlothian, said she had volunteered to help hang up the shirts and could relate to the messages.
“At first, I didn’t know what it was; I just wanted to help out,” Cole said. “When we got the shirts, I was really emotional about it because you had to read the shirts and hang them up, and you think about your own story and how grateful you are that your situation isn’t as bad as theirs. I think it’s important because they never know what’s going on in somebody else’s life.”
Hetman said the Clothesline Project, a national network, was launched locally by Dr. Denise Fraser-Vaselakos in 1993. The clinical psychologist, whose office sites have included Orland Park and Homer Glen, has turned over thousands of shirts and display pieces to the South Suburban Family Shelter, which loans the materials to hospitals, universities, “Take Back the Night” rallies, clubs, organizations, schools and other community groups.
For questions about the project, call the shelter at (708) 798-7737.