CINCINNATI – They meet in a Camp Washington carpentry shop every Wednesday night – brought together by the trauma they have in common.
The women talk and tell each other their stories as they learn about power tools and work to build what program organizers call “healing benches”.
“These benches will be storytellers where we can sit in neighborhoods so people can come and talk,” said Loretta Davis, director of Broken into Beautiful, a women’s empowerment group that works with the organization to aim. nonprofit Wave Pool on the program. “I’m going to sit on each bench. I want you to come talk to me. Tell me a story. Tell me about something you are going through so that I can give you resources. Not just the resources, but the idea and the conversation.
Carpentry instruction is the most recent phase of Own your own voice, a program that aims to empower women who have lived through trauma, addiction and other difficult life circumstances to be proud of their stories and reduce stigma by sharing those stories, said Cal Cullen, executive director of Wave pool.
Since the spring of 2020, the women involved in the program have worked alongside Reverend Aaron Maurice Saari of the United Church of Christ in Washington to create spiritual autobiographies, Cullen said, a process that allows them to express their feelings, to work with others and reflect on what the future of community resilience might look like.
“Through the process of building these healing benches, they also share their story and go through the process of autobiography,” she said. “The hope is that these benches will come out into the world, into the neighborhoods where these women live so that they can really promote healing.”
Johnnie Mae Gutter said her involvement with Cullen, Davis and their work helped heal her.
“I went through trauma and had no one to help me,” Gutter said. “They help me make sure I do what I’m supposed to do and keep going. “
A “safe space” from all points of view
Lacey Haslam, the artist-teacher in the program’s woodworking workshop, chose a design for the benches that encourages conversation. Each bench will have two seats designed by the women in the program. And each seat will have a space to keep a field guide to guide people through the process of creating their own spiritual autobiographies.
Haslam said she emphasizes safety during classes, making sure each participant has their hair pulled back and wears safety glasses.
“Confidence always starts out a bit, like cautious,” she said. “And then at the end it’s gone and you see the comfort really skyrocket.”
But as wonderful as it is to see all of the women building their skills and confidence, Cullen said it’s not the most important thing they take away from classes.
“The friendships they build,” she said, “that’s, I would say, the biggest part of it.”
Dai Williams is a local artist who creates a community mural as part of the project to showcase the personalities of the women involved and some of what they have learned about themselves. The mural will be painted on the wooden fence that surrounds the community wave pool garden.
“Honestly, I felt honored to be allowed in this space,” said Williams. “It’s a very safe space for these people who are part of the program, and I was just great to see everyone being vulnerable and open.”
Hearing the women speak highlighted how much they had in common, they said, and how everyone wants to feel safe and seen.
“It was the perfect collaboration,” said Williams, “and a beautiful fuel for my works.”
“Here to help, not to judge”
Haslam said women inspired her as well.
“Oh my God, I mean the energy in this room is amazing,” Haslam said on a recent Wednesday night just before starting the class. “These women are, I think, inspirations in so many ways. But listening to them motivate each other was just one of the highlights for me, just listening and experimenting.
This motivation was fully visible at the start of the course. Each woman was given a board and a pencil to draw a seat shape for the benches. Davis drew a butterfly. Another student drew a four leaf clover. Gutter sketched an angel.
“Because God sends his angels to earth to save us,” she said. “Maybe they will understand my story if they see an angel. If they believe.
April Radcliff drew a heart and was the first student to learn how to use the store’s bandsaw to cut out the shape.
The whole class applauded as she did the final cut.
Gutter said she hopes more people will join the group over time and get the kind of healing and love she has received.
“If you all have any problems or need advice, come see us,” she said. ” We are here to help you. It doesn’t matter what color, what religion, your type, what you’ve been through or anything else. We are here to help you, not to judge, but to help and guide you.
“That’s all I have to say,” Gutter told the press team there to interview him.
And with that, the whole class clapped for her too.
More information on Own Your Own Voice is available online.
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the tri-state great and highlight the issues we need to address. To reach Lucy, send an email to [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.