Poloncarz, officials join at Isle View Park to raise awareness, unite against domestic violence
Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz was joined Saturday in Tonawanda at Isle View Park by local leaders to cut the ribbon and officially open Erie County's new Tribute Garden honoring domestic violence victims and survivors. Located in an Erie County park and overlooking the Niagara River, the Tribute Garden is the first of its kind in this area and is the first known permanent public space in the country to provide a place for peaceful, quiet reflection for individuals and families whose lives have been touched by domestic violence.
"For too long, domestic violence has hidden in the shadows of our households, neighborhoods and communities, destroying lives and scarring families in a seemingly endless cycle," Poloncarz said. "With today's ribbon-cutting, Erie County and our partners are making an emphatic and unified statement that the cycle of violence can be broken, that there is hope and healing for survivors, and that our memories of the victims of domestic violence will always be alive here.
"We are strongest when we stand together, and today we are doing that and proclaiming to the world that we will cooperate as a community to eliminate domestic violence and bring healing and peace to those affected by it."
Poloncarz was joined by Erie County Commissioner of Public Advocacy for the Erie County Commission on the Status of Women Sawrie Becker, Chairman of the Buffalo and Erie County Greenway Fund Standing Committee Alan J. Bozer, members of the Erie County Department of Parks, Recreation and Forestry, WNY domestic violence agencies and community partners, victims of domestic violence and their families, and community members committed to ending domestic violence.
"The significance of holding an annual event and the impact of a permanent memorial to lives devastated by domestic violence will, hopefully, be a catalyst to prevent further violence," Sawrie said. "Silence is deafening and deadly. Awareness can make a difference in saving lives."
The Tribute Garden is believed to be the first permanent garden of its kind located on public land in the U.S., and both the site itself and $50,000 in funding for completion of phases one and two of the project were donated by Erie County.
Earlier in this year, the Buffalo and Erie County Greenway Fund Standing Committee awarded the project nearly $200,000, which enabled the garden's completion in time for the annual bike-a-thon and walk.
The New York Power Authority funds the Buffalo and Erie County Standing Committee as part of a settlement agreement related to the 50-year federal operating license received by NYPA for the Niagara Power Project in 2007.
Additional funding was secured by founding sponsors and generous private, corporate and individual donors who realize the importance of building awareness with a goal of saving lives and breaking the cycle of violence.
"The Tribute Garden is a welcome addition to the Greenway system of trails and parks along the Niagara River stretching from South Park in South Buffalo to Lake Ontario," Bozer said. "We are delighted with the quality of the work and recognize its significance to the community."
The Parks Department worked closely with landscape architect Joy Kuebler on the design and implementation for the garden, which includes two walls of bricks and stones honoring or memorializing loved ones, an earth-berm amphitheater, bench settings and plantings. An intricate metal-forged trellis designed by sculptor Sarah Fonzi of the Foundry adds a visual focal point to the peaceful setting.
"The Parks Department is honored to be a part of the Tribute Garden Project, and having the site of the garden located in a county park highlights both the importance of the issue and the commitment Erie County has to eliminating it," Commissioner of Parks, Recreation and Forestry Troy P. Schinzel said. "We were glad to work with our partners to create this unique and peaceful place that will always stand here at Isle View Park as a testament to that commitment."
The ribbon-cutting was preceded by the sixth annual Break the Cycle Bike-a-Thon and Walk, which brought together cyclists and walkers to raise awareness of domestic violence. The ceremony also included a Native American blessing of the land that once belonged to them; a performance by New York City actress and domestic violence survivor Lisa Regina, whose monologues describe what domestic violence looks like and how survivors and families can heal; several poetry readings; and local domestic violence survivors claiming the garden as a place to celebrate their hope and healing through the beauty and peace it offers.
Domestic violence has claimed the lives of victims locally and across the country. The National Institute of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control report more than 1.5 million women - one out of every four - are physically assaulted by an intimate partner annually in the U.S. Erie County Central Police Services states more than 11,580 calls reporting an act of domestic violence were answered in 2014. On any given day in 2014 in New York, domestic violence hotlines answered 1,045 calls, averaging 43 per hour.
The Break the Cycle Bike-a-Thon and Walk and the Tribute Garden are supported by The Erie County Commission on the Status of Women in cooperation with Catholic Charities, Crisis Services, CSEA, Erie County Department of Social Services, Erie County Coalition Against Family Violence, Erie County Sheriff's Office domestic violence unit, Family Justice Center of Erie County, Child and Family Services Haven House, Hispanos Unidos De Buffalo, YWCA of the Tonawandas, Child and Family Services and community volunteers.
The women who guided the garden from concept to reality include:
•Tahmina Rehman, who was appointed to the Erie County Commission on the Status of Women in 2008. There, she challenged the commission to take action on the issue of domestic violence and was the catalyst and largest funder in establishing the first Erie County Break the Cycle Bike-a-Thon in 2010. The commission and domestic violence service partners made a decision in 2012 to use the money raised from the Bike-a-Thon/Walk to build a permanent public garden for families affected by domestic violence. To Rehman, "The garden is a vision, where the fruits of awareness will help to end the violence."
•Sabina Ramsey, who is founder of Insight International. She became involved in the very first Bike-a-Thon through her volunteerism as a YWCA board member. A graphic designer and social media expert, she designed the logo and created a website for the Bike-a-thon/Walk and then went to work on designing the Tribute Garden logo and website. Her marketing creativity, enthusiasm and participation throughout the six-year process never waned.
•Kuebler, designer of the Tribute Garden, is no stranger to the Buffalo/Niagara landscape. Throughout her career, Kuebler has focused on the human experience in the landscape, integrating architecture and the logistics of outdoors to create unique and inspiring environments. In 2003, she formed Joy Kuebler Landscape Architect PC to promote her sensitive and responsible designs that positively impact quality of life.
Kuebler described her work on the Tribute Garden as profound.
"As a landscape architect, I am often the arbiter of the thoughts of the project user and the unique opportunities of a particular site," she said. "In this case, the users were a group of the strongest people I have ever met: Women and families affected by domestic violence. Their stories were horrid, their pain was tangible, their losses profound. I have never before felt so humbled to be the facilitator of a design that pours such incredible emotion into a small site."
Artist Fonzi has spent the past eight years working out of metal sculpture studios in Buffalo and teaching others the creative process through welding. Gracing the Tribute Garden is her interactive sculptural trellis designed to represent safety, passage and emergence. The fabricated steel structure is 12 feet tall and its form abstractly represents a swaddled figure wrapped in patterned textiles. These melding motifs are inspired from various heritages around the globe. The trellis is carefully placed to align with the sun during the summer solstice in order to emphasize the sun's luminance.
For more information on the Erie County Commission on the Status of Women, visit http://www2.erie.gov/csw/. Find more on the Erie County Department of Parks, Recreation and Forestry at http://www2.erie.gov/parks/.