Graduation for Core Advocates

Written by Christine Langa

Saturday, July 2, was graduation day for the volunteers and staff who participated in the SafePlace 40-hour Core Advocate Training. This was a large training group with 63 folks graduating. We took photos, enjoyed desserts, and thought ahead as the group transitioned into their roles as volunteers and staff post-training. As the group reflected and shared what they learned and how they were inspired, I took a moment to reflect on the growth I witnessed. I marveled at the magic of each new group and all the changes that can happen in one month.

At the beginning of June, I welcomed this group of 70 mostly strangers to the SafePlace Community Room. Our Core Advocate Training is comprised of 11 sessions spread out over one month with overall training objectives designed to:

  • Support prevention and social change by building critical thinking skills, examining various forms of oppression, and understanding how these interlocking oppressions affect survivors of trauma and how we can be allies in our communities.
  • Prepare for crisis intervention and advocacy work (either in their volunteer or staff roles or to offer better support to survivors in our everyday lives) by understanding and applying trauma-informed core values of safety, trustworthiness, choice, collaboration, and empowerment.
  • Cultivate a commitment to self-care. Working to end violence and abuse in our homes, communities, and schools is incredibly transformative and meaningful, but it takes an extremely heavy toll on the volunteers and staff. For this reason, we have a very strong emphasis on understanding self-care, learning best practices, applying those skills and knowing that none of the work to help others is possible if we neglect our own healing work or fail to put our health and well-being front and center. As Audre Lorde said, “I have come to believe that caring for myself is not self-indulgent. Caring for myself is an act of survival.”

The training serves as an essential first step and requirement for many of our staff and volunteer positions. Our training curriculum is a certified Sexual Assault Training Program (SATP) through the Texas Office of the Attorney General, which includes an exam component for all participants.

After facilitating over 30 Core Advocate Trainings over the past 11 years, I can tell you that every group is different, and what they learn from the training and from each other is unique and powerful. Universally, folks tell me that the first week of training is the hardest. I think of it as being similar to the first week of school. It’s all new, the people, the routine—and we talk about trauma and violence. We examine the social and historical context of sexual and domestic violence, rape culture, the neurobiology of trauma, and barriers to leaving an abusive relationship. We have the honor of hearing survivors tell us their stories in person. This is all in the first week, and it can very extremely taxing.

As I share with each group, not every person that starts the training finishes it, and that is perfectly fine. There are so many ways to be involved at SafePlace and at SAFE. Taking the training is just one way. Many folks continue on with the training and, in the remaining weeks, we look at diversity, power and privilege, the effects of trauma on children, legal remedies for survivors, empathetic communication, and advocacy skills. The training comes full circle, closing out our last session with a focus on advocacy and social change.

For many, the training is a safe haven, the first time they have found a community of people who believe in the power and strength of survivors. For the first time, they witness the shared passion and courage to work towards creating real social change in our community. It can be a place of healing and connection and a reminder that we can transform painful experiences into truly meaningful work. There is a liberation and freedom to doing this work, and so on that Fourth of July graduation weekend, it felt fitting to spend Independence Day together, celebrating freedom and safety for all people.

Heather Crawford, 5-year veteran of our legal advocacy volunteer program sums up what she learned from SafePlace with this Neil Gaiman quote:

“It is easy to pretend that nobody can change anything, that we are in a world in which society is huge and the individual is less than nothing: an atom in a wall, a grain of rice in a rice field.  But the truth is, individuals change their world over and over, individuals make the future, and they do it by imagining that things can be different.”

Heather continued: “For teaching me how to be an ally, for changing my world, and for the work that you do, thank you so, so much.”