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Raising Awareness One Knock at a Time: Jocelyne Cruz ’19 at Blue Bench

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!

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I am a second year at Antioch College. Major undecided although I'm looking into a self-design with Psychology and Art. I am currently completing my second co-op in Denver, CO working at a nonprofit called The Blue Bench. It provides long-term care for sexual assault survivors and prevention programs in schools. I am a canvasser, doing outreach and fundraising in local Denver as well as the nine counties surrounding. Going out and knocking on doors is how we break the silence on this very serious issue. That is also the best option to get the information in everybody's hands. The Blue Bench has helped me not only realize how important self-care is, since this job can be emotionally tolling. It has also taught me communication skills, being transparent, firm and using strong language since I'm speaking to about 50 strangers a day about a very heavy issue.

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