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Skip wrote the following 10-minute speech for Katelyn Brewer, president of Darkness to Light, to deliver at the organization’s 2018 national conference in Memphis, Tenn. Darkness to Light is the world’s largest organization dedicated to protecting children from sexual abuse:
Good morning, and welcome to Ignite 2018, Darkness to Light’s National Child Abuse Prevention Conference. We have an exciting and informative program planned for you this week and I’m looking forward to getting underway.
But before we get to that I want to catch you up on what Darkness to Light has accomplished since Ignite 2017, what we continue to work on, what we intend to accomplish in the coming year, and how we plan to get there.
One of our most important accomplishments during the year has been to establish a partnership with Aly Raisman in a campaign called “Flip the Switch.” The program is designed to teach adults how to recognize signs when youth athletes are being sexually abused by trainers, doctors, coaches or other adults.
You’ll remember Aly Raisman as one of the most accomplished American gymnasts of all time. She’s won six Olympic medals, three of them gold. She also was captain of the United States teams that dominated the last two summer games: in London in 2012 and Rio in 2016.
But you’ll also remember Aly as the brave young woman who publicly told her story of how she was sexually abused while competing on the U.S. National team. Her story, and those of other young women, led to the resignations of some of the most powerful people in her sport.
It also led to our partnership with Aly last March. And since then, even though Flip the Switch is still in its infancy, it already has reached more than 3,000 adults. And we are just getting started.
Overall, since we last met at Ignite 2017, Darkness to Light has trained more than 142,000 adults how to recognize the signs a child broadcasts when she or he is being sexually abused. We’ve also trained nearly 900 new facilitators, who in turn are training many more adults.
Another important accomplishment is that we have continued to expand internationally. During the last year, we have started training programs in South Korea and Germany, and we plan to keep on expanding. We’ve worked hard, and we continue to work hard, to reach audiences where they are and to deliver content that makes sense to them.
We’re also working on a new training module called Adverse Childhood Experiences, better known as ACEs.
ACEs are adverse childhood experiences that harm children’s brains and changes how they respond to stress. Sexual abuse is the major ACE experience, but others also include living with an alcoholic parent, racism, bullying, witnessing violence outside the home, physical abuse and losing a parent to divorce.
These experiences can damage a child’s immune system so profoundly that the effects show up decades later, and those effects can — and usually do — last a lifetime.
We know that ACEs can lead to such problems in adulthood as alcoholism, drug abuse, obesity, eating disorders, and mental health problems. But even more important, they also can lead to more serious health problems such as cancer, diabetes, heart problems, stroke — even suicide.
Studies have shown that most of us have at least one ACE, or one such experience. But children with four or more ACEs are almost certain to suffer these consequences.
And I remind you: Studies consistently show that one of every 10 children will be sexually abused before they are 18. One in ten! And those are only the ones we know about. We do not know how many children are sexually abused and never reveal it. Many of those victims carry that pain alone throughout their lives.
We’ll be using ACEs in our work with people who are involved with law enforcement. We’ll use it to teach judges, lawyers and others how deeply such experiences can affect the children, even for the rest of their lives. And we’ll show them how they can use this information when working with young victims of trauma.
But we’re not stopping there. Darkness to Light is laying the groundwork for future work with ACEs. One example is that, in addition to training people involved in law enforcement, we are adding ACEs training as a fundamental part of our facilitator training.
And, we are still focused on our goal to train 4 million adults by the year 2020. That’s less than two years from now, but rest assured we are making progress.
We have a vision of what the world should be, and a mission statement designed to get us there.
Our vision is a world that is free of child sexual abuse, a world in which adults form prevention-oriented communities that protect every child’s right to a healthy, safe, happy childhood.
And our mission to make that vision a reality is to empower adults to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to child sexual abuse through awareness, education, and stigma reduction.
More specifically, we want to teach adults everywhere about our program, “Five Steps to Protecting our Children.” We want them to learn the facts involving child abuse and know how to minimize the opportunity for it to happen. We want them to know how to talk with their children about the problem, how to recognize the signs a child emits when she or he is being abused, and how to respond to signs or reports of child abuse.
We at Darkness to Light are proud — and, especially, extremely thankful — that we have a board, leadership, staff and volunteers who are dedicated to this incredibly important work. We are committed to viewing challenges as opportunities even if the result is merely learning from perceived failure. We will emphasize growth over speed, and we will encourage risk-taking in the company of our peers.
We believe that what we are doing — and when I say “we” I mean our board, our staff, our volunteers and our donors — is more important now than ever. And so, as stewards of this public trust, we take our accountability very seriously.
We therefore pledge to manage ourselves, our partnerships and our operations responsibly. We will be ready and willing to answer for our decisions and account for our actions.
We promise to continue to honor and respect victims and survivors and their individual journey. We commit to the principles of “do no harm,” and we will promote communication styles that reduce stigma.
We obligate ourselves to using only those programs and services that are supported by external research, proven processes and rigorous evaluations. Excellence is our standard of measure, and if we do not meet our standard we commit to learning and continuously improving through research.
But we cannot do this work alone. We must have partnerships, both with corporations and individual persons, where trust, clarity and expectations have been established.
And so we promise to do our part. We commit to focusing on our clients, whether they are partners, funders, survivors, volunteers, or each other. We will strive for mutually beneficial partnerships that align with all our core values.
Wrapping this up, if you take nothing else away from my talk this morning, I hope you will remember three major points.
First, we have made some major advances during the last year, such as our partnership with Aly Raisman and the new “Flip the Switch” program. We’ve also trained more than 142,000 adults how to prevent and recognize child sexual abuse, plus nearly new 900 facilitators to train even more in the future. And we have expanded internationally into Germany and South Korea.
Second, we’re not slowing down. We are working hard every day to reach our goal of having 4 million adults trained by the year 2,020. We are training new facilitators every day, and we are starting the new ACEs program and teaching it to law enforcement officials wherever we can.
And the third point that I hope you will take home with you is the most important point of them all. Plainly we cannot do this work alone. As I just said, we must have partnerships where trust, clarity and expectations have been established. In fact, the third point is so important that we have made it the theme of this conference, so please keep it in the forefront of your mind throughout this conference and when you go home. That is, It Starts With You!
Skip wrote the following direct-response letter for Rural Mission, which serves the poorest of the poor who live on South Carolina’s Sea Islands. The letter was a ringing success.
I’m writing to you today to let you know that Rural Mission is in grave danger of being forced to close. Because you have been so generous to us in the past, I hope I can count on you to help us get through this crisis now.
The danger is real. As you may remember, until a little more than two years ago our main source of income was the Head Start program, which rented our facilities as a school for children of migrant workers.
But in recent years developers have been scooping up farmlands all over the Sea Islands for housing developments and commercial projects. As the farms vanished, so did the migrants.
Eventually, too few migrants were coming to the Sea Islands to merit having a school. The school closed, and we lost our main source of income.
But although the migrant population shrank, the numbers of deserving people who need our help did not. Your donations became their primary lifeline.
We were doing well — until Charleston’s infamous “Thousand-Year Rain” in October 2016. Five days of unrelenting downpour covered some parts of Charleston County under more than two feet of water. Rural Mission was flooded, as were many Sea Islands homes, especially those built on low-lying lands that cover much of the islands.
The sudden increased need put a severe strain on our finances, but we were able to help a lot of people get through it while we repaired damage to our own buildings. After the emergency ended we continued our work, although with depressed finances.
Then came last October’s heavy rainstorm that again flooded the Mission and many homes in the area. We pinched our pennies and got through the emergency, helping others while recovering ourselves, but it left us with an extremely tight budget.
And then, just three months later, we were slammed with last January’s snowstorm and bitter cold. Temperatures plummeted into the 20s and below, and snow covered the ground, even the streets and roads, for days on end — very unusual for Lowcountry South Carolina. Many Sea Islands people could not pay to heat their homes. Your donations kept them warm.
But the storm devastated our already nearly depleted resources, and as a result we are suddenly desperate.
That’s why I’m asking you today to donate whatever you can to end this emergency.
If we are forced to close because of lack of funds, hundreds of the Sea Islands’ neediest people will be cut adrift from their primary lifeline. Most of them, because of their age or infirmities, would not be able fend for themselves. I really don’t know what would happen to them if we were to close.
We can’t give the Sea Islands’ most helpless citizens everything they need, but with your help we can, and do, give them hope.
This has been our story for nearly 50 years, during which time our wonderful donors have supported thousands of needy, deserving people. We hope to remain working here for as long as there is a need.
But we cannot do it without you. That’s why I am asking you to please open your heart again today and give as much as you can. Our need is urgent.
I’ve tried to make giving as easy as possible. You can enclose your check in the envelope provided; have your bank send a check to us; or telephone the Bank of South Carolina (843-724-1500) and give them your credit card number.
From the deepest part of my heart I thank you for any help you can give us. And may God bless you for your caring.
Yours in service,
Linda D. Gadson