The Blue Bench strives to one day live in a world without sexual assault and its repercussions. It used to be known as RAAP (Rape Assistance and Awareness Program), but changed its name since some survivors do not identify what happened to them as rape. It is now The Blue Bench, Blue for sexual assault awareness month, April, and Bench as a public place to break the silence on this issue. They serve anyone who seeks help, ignoring religious, political views. The organization is working towards their mission every single day with programs like little to no-cost therapy and hospital advocacy, which are valuable resources for survivors, along with prevention education programs in public school .
The role I play in the organization is that of outreach and fundraising; I’m a canvasser! Having never canvassed before this job, I was extremely intimidated by everyone and everything, but after settling down I realized it’s one of the most welcoming working environments that I’ve been a part of. Not only are our mornings filled with rounds of introductions to get to know each other a little more, but we also have briefings in which other organizations brief us on their work or a staff briefing. I have learned that the group of individuals working here are well versed in social justice topics, and truly acknowledge the privilege they possess. Not only do I get to work alongside an amazing group of activists who lift me up, but I also get to be up to date about politics, especially with all that’s going on.
After beginning the day off in the office, we head towards “lunch drop” in our campaign vehicles, Snowflake and Alan Rickman, otherwise known as our “verbs.” Lunch drop is an hour of personal time to lunch, use the bathroom and socialize before starting the night. During the drive to the nearest King Soopers from “turf,” the neighborhood we’ll be canvassing in, we do another round of intro’s and rap practice. Rap is short for rapport. It’s a structured conversation that canvassers are encouraged to adapt to their own style of canvassing, while sticking to the basic structure of: introduction, programs, issue agreement, fundraiser. Field managers like to make sure we’re a “well-oiled machine” before the night starts.
Once on turf, a field manager will set some goals for your day and send you on your way. We canvass from 4pm-9pm to reach folks when they’re home. One thing I’ve encountered many times due to the hours we knock is victim blaming language. I’ve had many people concerned and even get upset that I’m a young woman out in the dark knocking on strangers’ doors. For these folks it seems counterproductive with the mission of the organization. How we’ve been trained to deal with these comments is letting them know that, statistically, I’m safer walking alone than at a party with friends, since three quarters of survivors know their perpetrators.
Hearing statistics like those is shocking to say the least for some folks. We do realize this is a very heavy issue to bring to someone’s door, which is why, when we work on our rapport, we strive to have 7-10 “thank-you’s.” We want the individual taking time from their day to talk about rape with a stranger to feel thanked. Due to the nature of the topic, it impacts the folks we talk to, our “contacts,” differently depending on who it is. I’ve had some contacts that dismissed the crime happening in their neighborhood and others who emotionally disclose their experience. Others know nothing about The Blue Bench and will just be in awe that there are people doing this kind of work. Communities that are aware of our services are so appreciative of the work being done. The Blue Bench is not trying to force anyone to agree with the work we do. We come out to spread awareness of our services, find supporters and fund our programs from folks who want to get involved. A victory we like to use, as well, is that we’ve been reaching out to more Spanish-speaking communities. It has been reflected in the increasing numbers of calls in Spanish to our 24/7 Emergency Hotline this year. I’ve also almost perfected my Spanish rapport which is a victory for me because part of coming out here to do this work was looking forward to speaking to Latinx communities.
I have felt myself growing throughout these three months. Adjusting to Denver was amazing to say the least. Being in a city surrounded by breath-taking mountains that I can see on my everyday commute felt like a dream. In addition, I’m only used to living in small towns where there isn’t too much to do. While here, I feel like I don’t have enough time to do everything I want to do. Meeting so many incredible people as well as co-oping with familiar faces has made it so that I don’t ever want it to be anything but this.
The Blue Bench staff has made this co-op exceed my expectations. This kind of work attracts like-minded individuals, which is why there are so many one-of-kind people here. From these people I’ve learned just how important self-care is, especially doing this work. I came into this job terrified at the idea of reaching out to strangers and facing rejection. This job forces me to deal with both every night. Thankfully, I’ve learned just how mighty I am instead of seeing my limitations. Phrases like “You’re beautiful and you know what you’re doing!” are heard on a daily basis at the office. I’ve felt so uplifted, appreciated and loved while being on staff that I can easily see myself missing these people immensely. Their positive energy/vibes are contagious. I have belonged to and grown to love the Blue Bench team for the past three months. WDHQ (World Domination Headquarters), thanks for doing the work!
For my first co-op I’ve been working at Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center. More specifically, I’ve been working at the Crotched Mountain School, which strives to support students with disabilities through working to earn the highest educational degree, as well as physical and social independence. The disabilities these students are diagnosed with vary from emotional disorders, autism, developmental / physical disabilities, mental illness due to trauma. The classroom I am assigned to is middle-school aged kids; 13-15 year olds.
My daily routine consists of arriving at the residential house to which I have been assigned to every morning. I help one student from that house get ready for school and go through their morning routine. While also noting what/how much they ate, BM’s (bowel movement), body checks, every shift. Afterwards, I head over to my assigned classroom, for some people this may or may not be the same classroom their morning student is in.
My experience so far is that flexibility is incredibly important while doing this job. I find out which student I will be working with that same morning, since they change which staff is working with who daily. I’ve noticed that this way of switching up staff members allows the students to develop relationships with all of them, as well making it easier for staff to jump in and help when it’s needed. Throughout the school day I accompany my student while completing their school schedule with them. Some live off campus with their families and have a Home-School book where we let their family know how their day went, and their family lets us know how their evenings, weekends or vacations went. Slowly but surely, I am getting to know the kids more and more. Since I am just here for three months, though, it feels as if I’ll leave once I begin to build a solid relationship with them.
This job has already taught me valuable skills. I’ve received training to perform First Aid / AEP for children and adults, how to administer rectal diazepam and midazolam, both to treat seizures, and MANDT training designed to teach us how to prevent, de-escalate and, if necessary, intervene a situation when an individual’s behavior may cause harm to themselves or others. What I am still learning to do is apply these skills in the classroom in a way in which I feel comfortable. Over the past two weeks in the classroom, however, I feel more confident with the work I am doing. It’s most likely because I have finally adopted a routine which I can familiarize myself with instead of walking into the unknown.