By Will Dietrich-Egensteiner
All photos from the NYC Teen Dating Violence Awareness Walk-A-Thon
Victims of gender-based violence often feel like they have nowhere to turn for the support that they so desperately need. When a spouse is verbally, emotionally, physically, or spiritually abusive it can be hard to determine whom to trust, and many people suffer in silence. The Healing Center, in partnership with Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, is working to bring awareness and help prevent family and intimate partner abuse.
"The Healing Center helps families affected by violence to understand their options and to take steps toward healing and self-sufficiency," said Antonia Clemente, the center’s co-founder and executive director. "In all instances, we believe their story, validate their feelings, emphasize safety, affirm that the victim is not to blame, and respect, support, and empower without telling the individual what to do."
Clemente co-founded The Healing Center in 2000 after witnessing firsthand the damage that domestic violence causes. She had been working at a women’s and children’s shelter for abuse victims, and felt that the church could do more to address issues of domestic violence. Since then, The Healing Center has grown, linking with Bethlehem in 2008, and more than 500 people turned to the center’s staff in their time of need in 2013.
Each victim of gender-based violence has a different experience and needs, and Clemente stresses the importance of tailoring guidance and assistance to each person. And often, faith can be a major facet of that approach. "Faith plays an important role for many of the women who go to the center," Clemente said. "They are searching for spiritual meaning in the midst of the violence they are experiencing….Having someone pray with the victims, believing their story, and keeping their story as sacred is so important in the healing process."
To cater to these needs, the center provides counseling, crisis intervention, community education, and referrals for legal assistance, housing, and mental health support. A teen program, Daughters of the Lotus, addresses dating violence prevention, making safe choices, peer pressure, building self-esteem, and healthy relationships. The most recent initiative is The Children’s Project, made possible through a grant from the Lutheran Services Children Endowment Fund. This program provides individual and group counseling for children age five to 10 who have witnessed domestic violence in their homes.
The Healing Center also sponsors the NYC Teen Dating Violence Awareness Walk-A-Thon, and holds several annual events: a teen retreat at Koinonia in August, a children’s Christmas event, an International Women’s Day luncheon, and an interfaith breakfast which brings various communities of faith together to talk about what they are doing to stop intimate partner violence.
In recognition of the vital work The Healing Center does, the ELCA recently named it an official social ministry organization. "We became a social ministry because we saw the need within our faith community to address domestic violence; we wanted other Lutheran congregations to share in this vital ministry of serving families who have been impacted by gender-based violence," Clemente said. And congregations don’t need to have a full-time, dedicated domestic violence shelter to take part in the important ministry. Simply believing the victims, having domestic violence speakers at church, and holding workshops not only during Domestic Violence Awareness Month every October, but throughout the year, can do much to help the afflicted families.
"The Healing Center is a gift to the church," Clemente said, "whereby people who are suffering because of intimate partner violence can find a safe place and hope in their lives."
To learn more about The Healing Center, visit www.thehealingcenterny.org or telephone at 718-238-5138. All calls are confidential.