My Avenging Angel Workshops: From Victim to Survivor to Thriver

The My Avenging Angel Workshops program, originated and facilitated by Susan Omilian of West Hartford, Connecticut, provides the critical “next step” for women who have been abused to break permanently out of the cycle of violence and to reclaim their lives. Based on the idea that “living well is the best revenge,” the program allows women to uncover their hidden talents, find the focus of their creative potential, and transform their lives in positive, productive ways.

Women who reclaim their lives in this way are less likely to return to an abusive relationship and/or suffer the long-term physical and psychological consequences of the abuse they have experienced. While crisis intervention services (i.e. hot lines, shelters, legal advocacy projects) help women make the journey from victims to survivors of abuse, what has not been fully developed is what motivates women to take the final step to become “thrivers,” happy, self-confident and productive individuals who believe they have a prosperous life ahead of them despite their experiences with abuse.

The basic component of this program is a six-hour two-session motivational "Basic" workshop that allows women to connect to the positive "thriver" energy in their lives and set new short-term and long-term goals that flow from that energy. After the basic workshop, the women can join an "Advanced" (Archangel) follow-up group that meets monthly for support, guidance and encouragement and an annual weekend retreat. A "Be A Guardian Angel" Mentor Network provides the women with access to professionals in the community who can help them achieve their career and financial goals by finding better jobs, managing their finances and furthering their education.

About You

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Location

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Your idea

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Focus of activity

Direct Support

Year the initiative began

2001

Position your initiative on the mosaic of solutions

Which of these barriers is the primary focus of your work?

Women’s Low Status

Which of the insights is the primary focus of your work?

Increase Women’s Power

If you believe some other barrier or insight should be included in the mosaic, please describe it and how it would affect the positioning of your initiative in the mosaic

Name Your Project

My Avenging Angel Workshops: From Victim to Survivor to Thriver

Describe Your Idea

The My Avenging Angel Workshops program, originated and facilitated by Susan Omilian of West Hartford, Connecticut, provides the critical “next step” for women who have been abused to break permanently out of the cycle of violence and to reclaim their lives. Based on the idea that “living well is the best revenge,” the program allows women to uncover their hidden talents, find the focus of their creative potential, and transform their lives in positive, productive ways.
Women who reclaim their lives in this way are less likely to return to an abusive relationship and/or suffer the long-term physical and psychological consequences of the abuse they have experienced. While crisis intervention services (i.e. hot lines, shelters, legal advocacy projects) help women make the journey from victims to survivors of abuse, what has not been fully developed is what motivates women to take the final step to become “thrivers,” happy, self-confident and productive individuals who believe they have a prosperous life ahead of them despite their experiences with abuse.
The basic component of this program is a six-hour two-session motivational "Basic" workshop that allows women to connect to the positive "thriver" energy in their lives and set new short-term and long-term goals that flow from that energy. After the basic workshop, the women can join an "Advanced" (Archangel) follow-up group that meets monthly for support, guidance and encouragement and an annual weekend retreat. A "Be A Guardian Angel" Mentor Network provides the women with access to professionals in the community who can help them achieve their career and financial goals by finding better jobs, managing their finances and furthering their education.

Innovation

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Description of Initiative

The My Avenging Angel Workshops program, originated and facilitated by Susan Omilian of West Hartford, Connecticut, provides the critical “next step” for women who have been abused to break permanently out of the cycle of violence and to reclaim their lives. Based on the idea that “living well is the best revenge,” the program allows women to uncover their hidden talents, find the focus of their creative potential, and transform their lives in positive, productive ways.

Women who reclaim their lives in this way are less likely to return to an abusive relationship and/or suffer the long-term physical and psychological consequences of the abuse they have experienced. While crisis intervention services (i.e. hot lines, shelters, legal advocacy projects) help women make the journey from victims to survivors of abuse, what has not been fully developed is what motivates women to take the final step to become “thrivers,” happy, self-confident and productive individuals who believe they have a prosperous life ahead of them despite their experiences with abuse.

The basic component of this program is a six-hour two-session motivational "Basic" workshop that allows women to connect to the positive "thriver" energy in their lives and set new short-term and long-term goals that flow from that energy. After the basic workshop, the women can join an "Advanced" (Archangel) follow-up group that meets monthly for support, guidance and encouragement and an annual weekend retreat. A "Be A Guardian Angel" Mentor Network provides the women with access to professionals in the community who can help them achieve their career and financial goals by finding better jobs, managing their finances and furthering their education.

Innovation

Since the impact of domestic violence on women and their children can be devastating and lead to trauma, pain and chronic medical and psychological problems for many generations to come, efforts to prevent domestic violence should not only focus on educating women and young girls so that they can avoid abusive relationships but also on encouraging women who have been abused not return to abusive relationships. Women who stay in abusive relationships often do so because they have been "conditioned" to feel helpless and hopeless, and that they somehow deserved to be abused. Therefore, a viable, unexplored strategy to prevent domestic violence is to motivate women, particularly women who have been in multiple abusive relationships, to break permanently out of the cycle of violence in their lives.

In a My Avenging Angel Workshop, women are exposed to a unique, innovative motivational model that Susan originated and developed specifically for women who have been abused. Using writing, focusing and interactive exercises, the model draws women into the "thriver" energy and shows them positive patterns in their lives where they have pushed through their fears and made significant changes. The women are then motivated to achieve new goals that flow from this fearless "thriver" energy and see opportunity in what they once experienced as loss so that they can create a bright new future for themselves and their children. The power, efficacy and promise of Susan's model is evident from testimonials of participants that the workshop was "life-changing" and "provides a component for women recovering from crisis that until now has been virtually overlooked.”

Delivery Model

Participants are primarily attracted to the workshops' adage that "living well is the best revenge" and that they can get started on a new life. Publicity about the workshops that includes that information is sent to local media and flyers are posted at public libraries and on community bulletin boards. They are also given to therapists, counselors, health care workers, attorneys and human services agencies as a resource for their clients.

In addition, staff at domestic violence programs help identify women who may be ready to move on after leaving the abuse and give them information about the workshops. Susan also has an active web page (www.myavengingangel.com) where information about her workshops is posted. Once in the Advanced (Archangel) follow-group, the women join a community of "thrivers" who communicate regularly with Susan and each other by e-mail, on the phone and with monthly follow-up activities. The annual Archangel weekend retreat is also a time for women to connect with their "thriver" energy and each other so they stay motivated and positive.

The overall impact is that the women focus less on past events/abuse in their lives, have more faith in themselves, less fear of change and take more risks with life and career goals. These outcomes have been measured by a pre- and post-surveys at the basic workshops sessions, follow-up sessions and weekend retreats.

Key Operational Partnerships

The key partnerships for the My Avenging Angel Workshops program has been the sponsorship of the Domestic Violence Prevention Program at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, CT and support of Interval House, a domestic violence program in Hartford. The hospital has provided free rental space in comfortable, private rooms, helped with publicity in the community and handled registration for the basic workshop through their Health Referral Services Line. Interval House staff regularly invites Susan to attend support groups to recruit women for the workshops and Susan has been able to refer women back to Interval House for services if they are still in the process of dealing with the abusive ex-partner or have divorce or child custody proceedings and their need can be better served by a 24/7 crisis intervention and support services.

Impact

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Financial Model

All services in the My Avenging Angel Workshops program including the Basic workshop, Advanced group follow-up sessions and Mentor Network are provided free of charge. Susan has been adamant since the beginning of the program that women would not be charged for the opportunity to heal, grow and change after being abused. This is not a luxury item! As for the annual weekend retreat, Susan only charges the participants what her costs from the retreat center are. In addition, Susan has set up a scholarship fund with the retreat center for women who cannot afford the cost of the retreat. Donations for the fund are made to the center by Susan’s family and friends and other supporters of the program in the community.

What percentage, if any, of the total operating costs does earned income (from products, services, or other fees) represent?

0

How is the initiative financed? Is it financially self-sustainable or profitable? How much do beneficiaries contribute?

At the current time, the My Avenging Angel Workshop program does not have an operating budget. Susan is currently not reimbursed for the workshops, follow-up sessions or retreat weekend that she provides. Professionals who provide job and financial counseling services in the Mentor Program also provide services free of charge as volunteers.

Effectiveness

The My Avenging Angel Workshops program has identified and articulated that there is a critical “next-step” that women who have experienced abuse must take in order to move from victim to survivor to "thriver" in their lives. The prevailing myth is that women who have been abused are irreparably damaged and incapable of making real, lasting change in their lives. Susan’s work shows that these women are highly motivated to transform their lives after abuse, but few know how.

One indicator of the impact of the program is that over 250 have sought out the workshops since 2001 and currently the follow up group has over 80 women involved. Susan’s work has also been recognized as a new, cutting-edge approach and she has received several awards acknowledging the extraordinary vision and depth of her work. In 2004, Susan has received the Woman of Character Award presented by The Hartford Courant and Hoffman Auto Group, an award that recognizes women who have the courage and compassion to change their communities. She was also featured in the 2005 “Women Who Make A Difference” calendar of the Greater Hartford Section of the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) and received the 2005 “Women Making a Difference Award” from the Greater Hartford Soroptomist Club, a women’s service organization, for her innovative work on behalf of women who have been abused.

How many people have benefited from your program over the last year? Which element of the program proved itself most effective?

From January, 2006, to present, 32 women participated in the Basic workshop sessions of the My Avenging Angel Workshops program and became a part of the Advanced (Archangel) follow-up group. In that same time period, over 50 women participated in follow-up activities, including an average of 15-20 women at monthly follow up sessions and 22 women attending the annual weekend retreat in October, 2006.

Pre- and post-workshop data shows the program has produced significant, tangible changes in the participants’ attitude about abuse and their ability to transform their lives. For example, they have been asked to indicate if they “always, sometimes, or never” feel this way:
• “Abuse has always been in my life. There is not much I do about it.”
• “My biggest fear is that I’ll never get my life together.”
• “I’ll never figure out who I am or what I want to be when I grow up.”
• “There is no way I can create the life I want right now.”
• “Taking time for me is a selfish thing to do.”
In response, the surveys have shown that between 38 to 51% of the participants have registered a shift in the attitudes listed above after completing the workshop. There has also been a striking change (51% of participants) in the belief that taking time for themselves is not a selfish thing to do and a noticeable change (38%) in that they have finally found a group of women who have been abused and want to move on. This belief has been supported in the program with regular follow-up sessions for the Advanced group through which a strong community of like-minded women has been formed.

The program has also increased the wellbeing and financial stability of the participants and women who have attended both basic workshop sessions and continued in the advanced group have not returned to an abusive relationship. Several have, in fact, entered into new, non-abusive relationships.

Scaling up Strategy

1) Secure funding for program facilitator and others to cover preparation time (e.g. recruiting participants, preparing for workshops) and actual time conducting workshops, follow-up session and weekend retreat in order to expand to new locations and audiences.
2) Train women in the Advanced group of the workshop program help facilitate Basic workshops in order to expand program, broaden its base and get more feedback on efficacy of the model.
3) Complete and publish a self-help, inspirational work book about the workshop program to include the writings of workshop participants and success stories of women who are “thriving” after abuse in order to reach a national and international audience.
4) Create a network of services such as expressive arts program (music, art, photography); a free or sliding scale legal services to women who are facing legal battles over child custody with their abusive ex-partner; summer camp program for moms and kids to bond, and "Healing-Touch" offerings including massage, reiki and yoga specifically geared to women who have been abused. This network will help the healing process for women and remove obstacles for them to move on with their lives.

Stage of the Initiative

1

Origin of the Initiative

In the early morning hours of October 18, 1999, Susan' nineteen-year-old niece Maggie, a college student, was murdered by her ex-boyfriend who then killed himself. Determined not to have this bright, talented young woman who was the most unlikely victim of intimate partner violence die in vain, Susan wished to transform this tragedy into a unique opportunity to help others move beyond abuse and violence in their lives. Following Maggie's death, Susan, an attorney and published author who has advocated for over 30 years on women’s issues, began her own journey from victim to survivor to “thriver” through the innovative and groundbreaking work she is doing in Maggie’s memory. Because Maggie’s moment of realizing she was being abused was the moment of her death, Susan empowers other women through her My Avenging Angel Workshops to transform their lives after abuse as Maggie could not do.

This Entry is about (Issues)

Sustainability

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How did you hear about this contest and what is your main incentive to participate?

I heard about the contest via a posting on an e-mail list serve put out by a statewide domestic violence coalition. I want to have an opportunity to reach a wider audience with my work and get feedback on the model I am using to help women move on after abuse.

Main Obstacles to Scaling Up

A major barrier in implementing this program will be to continue to recruit women to attend the workshops. Since the idea of “thriving” after abuse is a new concept, many service providers are not clear what women might need in this restorative stage of recovery or what they would respond to best.

Another obstacle was the lack of funding for these critical next-step services. Since currently most funding for domestic violence programs goes to the crisis intervention and support groups, I have, for the most part, volunteered my time and services to this program. I hope that this critical next step in services for abused women will soon be recognized and funded across the country.

Main Financial Challenges

I would need financing and funding that would not compete with or take away money from the critical front-line services (e.g. shelter, hot lines, support groups, advocacy) provided by domestic violence programs across the country that help women get from victim to survivor and are so essential for me to do my work in getting them to move on to “thriver.”

I would also like to look beyond the conventional way of viewing funding for such services for women. The model has traditionally been to set up a non-profit organization, go after funding cycle after cycle from government and private foundations, always worrying where the next grant will come from, always fundraising from scratch every year. I would like to see some alternative structures, such as for-profit and/pr commercial ventures or private operating foundations that funneled money into more traditional non-profit service programs while continuing the earning potential of that money or having a for-profit business (such as a thrift shop or book store) that supports the non-profit efforts. I think a blend of business savvy with non-profit services would be very interesting. Such efforts are happening around the country and should be encouraged

Main Partnership Challenges

I’d like to identify more business and corporate sponsors and partnerships, ones that would allow them to support an important social issue such as domestic violence prevention while providing women with very viable options for moving forward with their lives.