We’re all here for each other. Though sometimes it might seem that’s far from reality, know that it is. People are inherently compassionate, generous and kind. But we get distracted by the challenges of life, we get lost and we forget that we are one big human family, here to support one another.
So what brings us back to center in the distractions of life? Our stories. The way we define the journey of our lives. Sometimes it’s unpleasant because we carry around so much baggage, but we also have the benefit of our human spirit and the ability to overcome. We can, each of us, help one another by mustering the courage to share our story.
Everyone has a story.
I am Mark Brodinsky and this is The Sunday Series.
The Sunday Series (141): A Chance to Overcome
For Amy Gainsburg it was always a blast to hang out downstairs in her childhood home. “Our basement was the best place,” says Amy. “The hang-out place, we’d go down there and play games and have a lot of fun.”
When Amy was a little girl that’s where she and her adult babysitter would frequently end up… down in the fun basement. Only thing was the games Amy played with her babysitter frequently turned from fun to something darker, something which would leave a scar on her soul. To this day it’s still a challenge to talk about it and until now she hasn’t spoken about it publicly.
Amy remembers: “The games we’d play together, eventually he would coerce me to do things and as we would do it he would convince me it was the right thing to do. At the end of the night before my parents got home he told me I better not tell anybody because I was bad and I could get in a lot of trouble.”
“I remember asking my mom to pick other babysitters and never felt like I could tell her. I think I kind of even knew as a child it was wrong, cause I had to hide it. If it’s something you are made to feel dirty and secretive about, you know it’s not the norm.”
Amy is not alone, though at the time she may have felt like it. Studies show only about 12% of child sex abuse is ever reported. Children are reluctant to say anything… especially when it happens to someone like Amy, who was under the age of 10 and it’s tough to understand. Plus Amy says outside of these incidents the rest of her younger years were going along like any other normal kid.
“I had a great childhood,” says Amy. “I feel like I did. I have the most loving mom in the world and my step-dad was great my whole life. But some things were happening that I didn’t realize how profound they were and would affect me in becoming who I am. It made me a deeper person. I’m able to dig deeper and see why people are the way they are.”
For Amy it’s also led to a life of giving back to those in need. After all with whatever you face in life – if you can take it, you can make it. Amy is taking the secret pain and has turned it into a life mission of volunteering and helping. For nearly a decade now she has worked for organizations and non-profits which help children like The Global Volunteer Network. Amy even took her two boys to an orphanage in Honduras to see how other kids live. “I happen to be a really caring person,” says Amy. “I like doing this. It’s important to me that my children realize how privileged they are… that they see where we live in Baltimore is just a dot on the map. There is a whole big world out there.”
It is a big world… a world of laughter and a world of tears. Amy’s world of mostly keeping her sad secret quiet eventually led her to volunteer and play a major role with the early fundraising, as well as become a huge advocate for The Baltimore Child Abuse Center. (http://www.bcaci.org/)
The mission of the BCAC is to provide victims of child sexual abuse, trauma, and other Adverse Childhood Experiences in Baltimore and their non-offending caretakers, with comprehensive forensic interviews, medical treatment, and mental health treatment with a goal of preventing future trauma. Amy says her experience led her there to help because that’s what she lived through and she wants to do things for the cause.
It’s also the place where she met Colby Simon. Amy describes Colby as a force for the non-profit.
Colby and her calling are the BCAC. Some call it her third child. Colby now serves as the Vice-President of the Board for BCAC. As she describes it her volunteer work for the organization is constant, because there are so many cases of child abuse… and like Amy, Colby has lived the pain.
“I was sexually abused by an older cousin growing up,” remembers Colby. “I can’t say exactly what age it started, and because I was so young you don’t always perceive it as abuse. But the last time it happened, it was forcible rape and I was 12. He had care and custody of me at the time. I was staying at his house while my brother was away with my parents. I didn’t say anything for a long time because when it’s someone you love and trust it’s hard to process. And because it’s a family member you know it would destroy your family if you told.”
Colby continues, “keeping a secret carries a heavy burden. I didn’t have an easy time. I am diagnosed as having Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, been in an abusive relationship way in my past, was sexually assaulted in college… many of the things likely to happen if you face childhood sexual abuse. Finally at 42 I’m learning to navigate it for me. I have a loving and supportive marriage and my husband supports my work in this field, he pitches in to help me be able to do what I do.”
What Colby does is go to bat for the BCAC every day. The biggest hurdle is reporting the incidents of child sex abuse, or any abuse for that matter… including domestic, human trafficking and even childhood trauma. Colby says Baltimore has many cases of early childhood trauma because of the violence in the city – kids afraid to even go outside for fear of shootings and drug gangs, these all qualify for a reason to turn to the BCAC.
It’s just like the terrorism challenge in this country – if you see something, say something. Colby says the problem is, and it’s a big problem, the state of Maryland has no way of forcing mandated reporters to speak up and let the proper groups and authorities know when a child shares an incident of abuse… because the penalties for not doing so are non-existent.
“Maryland doesn’t get very high marks when it comes to child protection laws,” says Colby. “We are one of only two states in the entire country that does not have a penalty for mandated reporters who fail to report known or suspected child abuse. Other states have criminal or civil penalties, Maryland has none. Anyone who has care and custody of children should be mandated to report.”
Colby was in Annapolis just this week testifying on two bills, one to broaden the scope of mandated reporters to include the entire field of youth-serving organizations, the other to try and get mandatory training for all mandated reporters. On the BCAC website is a free program which takes only one hour to complete and where you can earn a certificate to become a mandated reporter. As Colby says, “we can have all the resources in the world, but we can only help if people take the first step in reporting abuse. None of it works if no one is reporting.”
Both C0lby and Amy have their own children and want to protect them from anything like this affecting their world. Their commonality is the their past tough and emotional experiences of abuse – and they are transforming that pain into powerful missions of giving back and of creating change.
Amy continues to coordinate major sponsorships for the key fundraiser for the BCAC, the 4th Annual Be a Hero gala on Friday, April 28th. The event is sold out, but Amy says sponsorships and donations are still needed – so if you want to be a hero – you can still give, (http://www.bcaci.org/beahero/). Colby and her husband Kasey are Event Chairpersons and at the gala Colby is the keynote speaker, ready to share her whole story of abuse to the audience in an effort to bring more attention and dollars to the cause.
For Amy this journey of coming into her own to share her story in this blog is a tremendous act of courage, since she has kept it mostly to herself all of these years. It’s a selfless act to share and it’s breaking through the fear to do so. “I feel good about letting go,” says Amy. “If my story helps even one person than it’s worth it to me. Doing what scares you is the best solution.”
Colby too is demonstrating tremendous strength and resolve. “What I’m doing is really more important than who I am,” she says. “I wish I had come clean, I wish I had reported sooner, but I came through the BCAC as a result of my story. I don’t think I’d be where I am in my life unless I went there. So by giving back and trying to help children, I have helped heal myself.”
For both Colby and Amy their life’s mission is now giving, to go deep and hopefully offer others less fortunate, for whatever reason, a chance to overcome.
Until next time thanks for taking the time,
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