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Outreach Specialist Kelly Gast and a look inside the Family Justice Center.
Outreach Specialist Kelly Gast and a look inside the Family Justice Center.

GI leads off workshop series for Family Justice Center

Sat, Jul 22nd 2023 11:00 pm

By Karen Carr Keefe

Senior Contributing Writer

The Grand Island satellite of the Family Justice Center was chosen to lead off a Wellness and Safety Workshop this coming week, from 6-7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 25.

The session is a craft workshop where each participant can create a Tree of Strength watercolor. It will take place at 2074 Whitehaven Road.

“Grand Island is our newest satellite location, and we really wanted to be able to highlight how beautiful that space is,” said Ava, operations director for the Family Justice Center (FJC). Her last name is withheld to maintain anonymity because she is a former victim of domestic abuse.

The FJC provides services and support to individuals in unhealthy relationships and helps them break cycles of relationship abuse.

FJC satellites and the downtown offices offer direct access to services such as court proceedings that issue orders of protection that victims need. They also provide health assistance such as body imaging to document evidence of abuse, as well as connecting them to agencies that provide emergency shelter, food, medical services and other needs.

Kelly Gast, a Grand Island resident who is an FJC outreach specialist, said a lot of community groups came together to help reconfigure an older, run-down house into a helpful, one-stop center on Grand Island for individuals in crisis.

The building used to be a rectory for Trinity United Methodist’s post of assistant pastor. The FJC worked through several options before Trinity’s site was offered.

Gast said when the new pastor, the Rev. Kevin Slough, arrived, “he was on board from the get-go” in helping the FJC. But it also took a full church vote to approve the arrangement.

She pointed out that a significant motivating factor in placing the FJC satellite on Grand Island is that the town has the highest incidence of domestic violence in Erie County, outside the City of Buffalo.

“That’s alarming for a small town,” Gast commented.

The satellite can serve other northern communities in the county, as well.

She showed off the welcoming space with its peaceful colors and beautiful artwork. A number of Grand Island groups sponsored rooms in the center, donated funds or helped decorate the space, Gast explained.

“This location is perfect,” she said. “The sheriff’s station is right down the road, it’s right off the main line, it’s close to a bus route – people need to take public transportation, but yet it’s serene enough back here … and there’s private access.”

That’s an important safety factor for victims of abuse, she stressed.

Gast said the Island satellite opened in 2021, but struggled – as many service organizations did – to assist people when the COVID pandemic restricted contact with clients.

The workshop is an outreach to the community as a whole. Ava and Gast share the philosophy that the FJC is not solely for the survivors, but also for the survivors’ support network.

“We developed these workshops to incorporate not just survivors, but really anybody that is interested in something like this,” Ava said.

She explained, “What we find is we work with survivors, but we also work with their friends and family members. When someone is a victim of domestic violence, it doesn’t just affect them. It’s everyone that knows them. And so we get calls all the time from employers or doctors or a family member. This is a way to introduce ourselves into the community.”

Being in the welcoming host space of the FJC, “you don’t have to be a survivor to do these workshops,” she said. “It really will benefit anyone.”

As a survivor, herself, Ava said she knows the benefit of what FJC can offer to help rebuild an individual’s strength and confidence: “There’s a lot of different things, and I think one of them is to not feel alone. And that’s how these workshops are designed.”

Ava said some specific types of support groups focus on a certain type of abuse, or you have to be married, or you have to have kids to become a group member.

“I know, for me, I felt like all the things I was trying to find to connect with, I couldn’t,” Ava said. “We’ve designed these workshops so that anybody at any point in their life, whether they’re a survivor or not, can take one of these workshops and really take away some good stuff out of it. That’s our main thing – we want to connect with everyone.”

Ava said the template for the workshops is to draw off a strength, just as they do for individual clients at the centers.

“A lot of time, our clients don’t feel worthy of services. They feel embarrassed and like it was all their fault,” she said.

The goal, Ava noted, is for the clients to feel worth and empowerment.

The focus of the workshop is for participants to identify and embrace their own strengths.

The event is open to anyone to come and learn about FJC and its services, to focus on overall emotional wellness and safety, and to enjoy a fun and creative activity together.

Whether you're a survivor requiring anonymity, a concerned friend or loved one, or a community member looking to support or volunteer in the future, the workshop is open to all. 

The workshop is free, and light refreshments will be offered.

For more information, or to reserve a spot, email [email protected].

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