High School Water Polo Player is “Blocking” Domestic Violence

Mitchell Alandt is 16 years old, a student at Serra High School and headed for the Junior Olympics. It’s a busy schedule, but he’s added one more thing to it … helping domestic violence survivors at CORA!

Mitchell has committed to donating for every block he makes on his way to the Junior Olympics and is raising funds from supportive friends and family.

We spoke with Mitchell about his passion, both for water polo and for helping those experiencing abuse.

In one paragraph, how would you sum up all that is Mitchell?
I am a student athlete at Serra High School. Serra offers rigorous college preparatory classes and, in my sophomore year, I was challenged with four honor classes and, next year as a junior, I am looking forward to AP classes to stretch myself further. I love being part of a community that wants us to succeed at our highest potential in both areas – academics and athletics. Athletically, Serra competes in one of the most competitive high school leagues in California. Last year I was able to maintain straight A’s as well as being named the MVP of the Junior Varsity Water Polo Team. I am very proud of both of these accomplishments. However, what I am most proud of are the friendships I have made at Serra.

How did you first get into water polo?
My dad is a swimmer and he wanted me to try to join a swim team before I started high school. I had no interest in swimming but I did like playing basketball since the fourth grade. He thought water polo might be something that I might like because it sort of combined swimming with a ball. I joined the Golden State Water Polo team in San Mateo when I was 14 and have been hooked ever since.

What’s some of the most important lessons you’ve learned from playing?
I have learned that by being part of a team you always have to work together to achieve a common goal. You have to be dedicated and give your all during practice and at a game. It is something you do not only for your coach but your teammates. You do your best and try to learn new ways of doing things to improve your performance. It will not only make you a better player but inspire others. This is what me and my teammates do for each other.

What’s it like knowing you’re headed to the Junior Olympics?
Making it to the competition wasn’t easy. We lost our first qualifying game to a very tough team from the East Bay. After that loss we became more focused and kept winning until we heard last Sunday that we made it into the 2016 Water Polo Junior Olympics which will be held in Northern California. I am very excited to compete at this level and to experience the play from other teams across the USA! My team has a few more tournaments so we can practice our skills before we head to the national competition.

Why did you decide to support CORA and domestic violence survivors with your fundraising?
When I was younger, my mom started a foundation called GKay Angels. She started it to honor her grandmother, Kay, who she adored and was a victim of domestic violence. She would collect gently used clothing as well as new PJ’s and health care products and deliver them to CORA. I remember helping my mom sort things that were donated and put them into gift bags. My mom hasn’t had any time to focus on Gkay Angels recently since she;s either working or driving me to practice, games or tournaments. I thought this would be a good way to help CORA and have my mom know that even though we aren’t collecting items for abuse survivors as much as she would like, I am earning money for a cause that she is passionate about. By donating money for every goal I make, it helps me reach my goal of always trying to do better.

What would you say to other people who are thinking of donating to help abuse survivors?
You might think that domestic abuse in this area is rare, however it is not. It could be a neighbor, a friend’s mother or grandmother …. CORA helps find a safe haven for survivors to thrive and be safe. There are many way to help this cause.

Is there a quote that really inspires you?
“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.” – Michael Jordan


Turn Your Passion into Support

What’s your passion? Run, ride, walk, dance, bake, knit, volunteer ….?

No matter what it is, you can use it to help those escaping domestic violence.

With EverydayHero you can turn your personal passion into making a difference in your community.

everydayhero logo

Support CORA’s work to end domestic violence with your next adventure. Anything from a marathon to a bake sale can make a difference.

Sign up with EverydayHero, choose “CORA COMMUNITY OVERCOMING RELATIONSHIP ABUSE” as your charity and start transforming lives!

You Think Someone You Know is Being Abused. What Do You Do?

Two things always seem to happen when I’m in a group of people and it comes out that I work for an organization helping those experiencing domestic violence. The first is someone will tell me – usually aside and in a quiet voice – that they experienced abuse in their past. The second is someone – usually several people – will say something along the lines of “I have a friend who I think is in an abusive relationship. What should I do?”

When the latest statistics say 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, it’s virtually guaranteed someone you know well has, is or will experience it. Yet, despite the widespread nature of the issue, few of us know how to address it when we see our friend or family member in the midst of it. This is largely due to the historical precedence that domestic violence was a private, “family issue.” We’ve been taught, mostly indirectly, to look the other way. Conversely, those of us who want to be helpful agents have lived our lives in social environments where abuse isn’t addressed openly, so we often lack the tools to effectively and compassionately assist. Is it any wonder that CORA employees are so often asked, “What should I do?”

At this point, you’re probably asking how we answer in those moments. Ironically, the answer is very simple yet surprisingly complex: talk to them. Yes, it’s difficult to approach the subject, but the most caring, important thing you can do is let them know that they have your support and that there are options and they are not alone.

LEARN ABOUT DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

One of the first things to do is learn all you can about domestic violence: do some research, familiarize yourself with the cycle of domestic violence, understand the psychology at play in an abusive relationship, familiarize yourself with the resources for survivors of abuse in your community, etc. Understanding the issue and knowing what assistance is available is key to everything that follows.

Learn About Domestic Violence

Learning about the dynamics of domestic violence is essential.

STARTING THE CONVERSATION

Most people agree, the most difficult step is beginning the dialogue. Again, this is a subject that is not usually considered culturally appropriate to raise, so being uncomfortable is to be expected.

Also, make sure you are in the right place yourself, emotionally and mentally, to be a good friend. While it can be heartbreaking to see a loved one in an abusive situation, you need to keep in mind that, ultimately, any decision must come from them. You can’t do it for them or “rescue” them. You can only be supportive and helpful.

As difficult as it may be, don’t “badmouth” the abuser. Despite the situation, your friend or family member may love the person, so statements like, “They’re such a horrible person.” or “How can you stay with them?” can cause the person you’d like to help to shut down. Instead, try using language that focuses on your friend. For instance: “No relationship is perfect, and I know you love them. But I’ve noticed they don’t always treat you well, and I’m concerned about you.”

In fact, that’s an excellent way to begin this challenging conversation. Some useful phrases could be:

“No relationship is perfect, and I know you love them. But I’ve noticed they don’t always treat you well, and I’m concerned about you.”
“I just want to be there for you. How can I help?”

SHOW CONCERN

You love your friends and family. It’s why you’re concerned about the abuse they’re experiencing. Don’t be afraid to tell them you’re concerned about their safety. You can acknowledge that it’s a difficult situation for them while also recognizing the abuse. It’s important to verbalize your concern. Some helpful phrases might be:

“I’m worried about your safety and am afraid they’ll really hurt you next time.”
“Promise me you’ll come to me if you need to talk.”

Remember, you’re trying to avoid confrontation when you show support. Let them guide how much they want to address the issue. They should choose when they’re ready to discuss or act on their situation. Here are some great ways to show support without being confrontational:

“Remember you’re not alone. I’m here whenever you need to talk.”

Don’t make decisions for them or tell them what to do. Calm, patient, vocal concern and support is paramount.

Starting the Conversation About Abuse

It’s a challenge, but having a conversation about the abuse can make all the difference.

THE POWER OF COMFORT

Comfort is a powerful tool in these situations. It’s important to let them know that the abuse is not their fault. This may sound intuitive to you, but to someone in the emotional battle zone of an abusive relationship, self-blame can be a normal part of their outlook. Some useful phrases are:

“It’s not your fault they treat you this way.”
“You are not responsible for their behavior.”
“No matter what you did, you do not deserve this.”

By gently helping them understand the fact that, despite any feelings they may have, no one deserves to be abused under any circumstances, you can break down barriers of shame, guilt and isolation.

BE ACCEPTING

It’s normal to want to see the situation improve, but understand that your friend may dismiss your concern, may acknowledge everything but want to stay in the relationship, or may leave and then return to it. There are a multitude of reasons someone would choose to stay in an abusive relationship (despite how foreign they may seem to us on the outside), but it’s important to support them in whatever decision they make, without criticism or judgment. Remember, they may have spent a long time feeling unempowered or being told what they think is “wrong” or “stupid.” Don’t let your actions amplify that voice in their head.

Be Accepting of Their Decision About Domestic Violence

Remember to be accepting of their decision, even if it means they decide not to leave the abusive relationship.

ENCOURAGE THEM TO GET HELP

Remember that homework you did at the beginning? Now’s the moment to show them the resources you’ve discovered. Have some websites you can recommend. Give them the information about their local domestic violence agency or hotline, like CORA. Getting them in touch with professional counselors with resources will drastically improve their situation.

“Here’s the number to our local domestic violence agency. They can help you with safety plans, housing and support groups.”
“If you need to go somewhere, I can go with you for support.”

It’s not easy to watch someone you love go through the trauma and turmoil of domestic violence. With love, patience and awareness, your support can be a powerful tool helping them through this terrible time.

JOIN OUR MAILING LIST

Stay up-to-date with everything that’s happening with the domestic violence movement in San Mateo County. You’ll receive helpful tips, learn about volunteer opportunities and discover ways to help make relationship abuse a thing of the past in your community.

A Witness and Volunteer with a Story to Tell

This piece was written by guest blogger Alessandra Jimenez*. Aly is a child witness and volunteer here at CORA. We’re proud to be part of the complex, healing and powerful process of telling her story. 
*All names have been changed for this piece.

 

Alessandra “Aly” Jimenez, recently graduated from Skyline College with an Associate of Arts degree in English. Alessandra, an aspiring writer, unsure of her next step in life, heard about CORA’s volunteer program through a family member. After learning about CORA, the sole domestic violence agency in San Mateo, Aly began volunteering in August 2015. She felt apprehensive, yet extremely excited to start because she had never submitted her written work to an agency. Aly volunteers for the Development department and continues to learn new writing techniques each week.

As nervous as she was, Aly never fully realized how CORA would help her in her own healing process. Aly was born four and a half months premature as the result of a domestic violence conflict. Sometimes her childhood felt anything but normal. The lack of normal experiences started from the very moment Aly was born. Her mother Jade started to feel labor pains after getting into a physical argument with her husband. Forced to leave her home with no shoes or help, Jade eventually made it to the hospital. For three days, Jade struggled to keep Alessandra in the womb. By the third day, Jade had no other choice but to deliver the baby. Alessandra was born in 1992, barely weighing a pound. Aly was so tiny she could fit in the palm of her mother’s hand. Miraculously, Aly was more physically developed than most premature babies at her stage. She had a full head of hair, fingernails and strong lungs. However, this did not mean Alessandra’s birth was free of complications.

Aly was only a newborn when she endured her first surgery in a string of many. The first procedure she had done was to shut an underdeveloped heart valve. Although her surgery was successful, doctors still needed to monitor her health and growth rate. Aly spent the first five months of her life in an incubator. After reaching the weight of six pounds, her parents were finally permitted to take her home.

At the age of two, Aly was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy (CP). Doctors claimed she would most likely never be able to walk, speak or do much of anything in terms of mental capacity. As a result of CP, Aly remains wheelchair bound to this day. However, with help from her mother and her grandmother Ellie, she made several developmental strides throughout her youth. Aly consistently learned new objectives and grew stronger every day. She began Early Childhood Education as a toddler, where she made friends. At the time, Aly was happy, but she quickly realized how different she was from her peers. Although she was in a special education program, she felt different because there were not many other students in wheelchairs. When she turned six years old she began attending a mainstream public elementary school in 1998.

Throughout her youth, she experienced a multitude of surgeries that became a blur over the years. It was one corrective surgery after another as a result of her Cerebral Palsy and, later, her scoliosis. The exact years and specific procedures are difficult for her to remember, but her visible scars remind her every day of the pain she endured. Thirteen scars mark her body, stemming from six major surgeries. For a time, as difficult as some aspects of her childhood were, parts of her childhood were great. She looked back fondly at times she had with her family when they went to Nevada every year to see the snow. She also remembered a time she and her family went to Disneyland for the first time in the winter of 2000. Despite the fact that it poured sheets of rain for a week, she still had a lot of fun.

Aly’s happy childhood shattered in 2003. Her parents began the processes of separation, divorce and custody. Aly, Jade, her sister Rose and Ellie were forced to leave the home they had lived in for over a decade to move away from her father, Matthew. Unfortunately, it was not simply just the divorce or the move that caused Ally to feel like her entire life was forever changed. It was the reason behind the divorce. The custody issue was quick and easy since Matthew wanted to have as little time as possible with his daughters, but the persistent arguments between Jade and Matthew only complicated the situation. Aly did not understand why her parents were both so angry at each other. They fought and yelled loudly at one another. But Aly and her sister Rose never saw it as anything more than verbal anger spewed back and forth throughout their thirteen years of marriage. Occasionally Aly was curious about the state of her being. Questions about why she was in a wheelchair or why she had CP would pop up every so often when they were driving in the car. During those times, Jade would explain that she had the flu or that she fell over a vacuum cleaner. It was not until the following year, in 2004, that Aly finally learned the actual truth about her father and her parents’ marriage.

Aly’s father, Matthew, a child of domestic violence himself, pushed Jade over a vacuum cleaner for not wanting to do housework at his request. That single event caused Jade to not only have a fractured rib, but also caused her to give birth to her premature daughter. Aly’s disability was set in that moment. Her first reaction was utter disbelief, but then she thought back to previous years when Matthew would curse Jade out, cursing at her in every way possible. Aly also learned that her father was a serial cheater and liar. Anger bubbled up inside her like puss in an infected wound. She was furious at what her father not only did to her mother, but to her as well. Aly had to live every single day in a wheelchair because of Matthew, who also continued the cycle of generational and familial abuse. By 2005, Aly and Matthew’s relationship was mostly severed. Matthew was absent from her life for several years with the exception of texts on her birthday every year.

Life seemed easier for a time up until 2007, when Aly’s scoliosis became so severe that she needed major surgery – a spinal fusion. Before Aly could even get the surgery she needed to regain the weight she had lost months prior. The exact number did not matter, but the reasons behind her actions did. She could not control her own body at times. As much as she grew to hate her father, there was this negative little voice in her head which was not her father’s. It was her voice and it influenced many of the decisions she made. Her weight felt like the only aspect of her life she could control, so she adopted some unhealthy eating habits. Part of the reason behind her decision was because she hated her body as a teenager. However, with some help from her doctor, mother and her mother’s boyfriend, Adam, she got the help and treatment she needed to become strong enough for surgery. While she did not blame everything on her father, his abandonment weighed on her heavily.

Like many children of domestic violence, she felt like it was her fault. She believed she could have done something more to help her family. Aly also wondered why she felt like her father never really loved her. Matthew gave her the answer to that question after she spent seven years wondering. A couple of months after her eighteenth birthday, Matthew sent her an e-mail. In that e-mail he spoke of an ultimatum as to whether or not she really wanted a father in her life. Similar to the incidents she’d seen with her mother, Matthew cursed Aly out while he also explained his extreme desire for wanting sons rather than daughters. He also mentioned that he did not want a daughter like her, someone who was disabled.

Aly was instantaneously crushed. Instead of delving back into a dark place in her mind, she decided to apply for college. There she found her passion for writing. Aly formed new friendships and after a year and a half she found her first love, Josh. It took a while for Aly to open up her heart to him, because she did not trust people easily. She was very aware of the warning signs of an unhealthy relationship. Aly was nervous and her father’s words broke her spirit. There were many times when she did not feel confident enough in herself or her abilities. Fortunately, Josh and her mother were both really positive influences in her life. Writing not only became her passion, it served as therapy. After hearing about CORA and completing the necessary training needed to volunteer, she hoped to use her skills to help others at CORA. Little did she know, through her volunteering, CORA would help her heal too.

After completing the forty-hour DV training, she was grateful to understand more about domestic violence. From the lessons learned at the DV training, Aly realized she was not the one at fault. Although she still carries the pain of abandonment and verbal abuse from her father, she realizes she was never responsible for her father’s actions or emotions. Those scars are the only ones that are not visible but, like all her other scars, the pain remains. Nevertheless, her past turmoil and scars give her strength to keep going.

As of today, she is happy and proud of how far she has come. Aly admires her mother for her strength and for simply being there for her every single day. Jade’s journey ties directly in with Aly’s journey of life. The next step in Aly’s path is to write down her story – no matter how uncomfortable it may feel to her. Aly hopes her work and her story will someday aid in the fight against domestic violence.

Racing to End Domestic Violence

Another bead of sweat trailed down Tanya Edwards’ cheek in the Florida sun. Her legs burned and a tightness had set in over the last few miles. Her lungs pulled in the humid air, grasping hungrily for the oxygen in each breath. The shadow of EPCOT’s iconic Spaceship Earth fell across her as she raised her foot and glided over the textured plastic mat, recording her time. It was the final step of Tanya’s Walt Disney World Marathon. With 26.2 miles behind, she raised her arms triumphantly skyward and a smile erupted across her face.

If you asked Tanya why she ran, she’d give you many reasons. Her health. To test her limits. To have a family experience. She’d also point at the shirt she’s wearing as she unwinds after her marathon and say she’s running to support CORA.
Tanya Post Race - Resized

Six and a half years ago, Tanya picked up running. She was in her early thirties and realized she needed to focus more on her health. “I was a former D1 collegiate softball player and after I graduated I literally stopped exercising and eating right until I decided to make a life change to better myself,” she says. “Part of my transformation was incorporating running.”Running turned into racing. One afternoon she opened her inbox and looking back at her was an email announcing the San Francisco Half Marathon. Looking at the screen, Tanya felt sure she was up to the challenge. “I thought to myself, well this is going to be a huge goal but I’m an ‘Edwards’ and I can do anything due to my determination. So, I signed up for the race and purchased a half marathon training book.”

Twelve weeks later, Tanya stood silently at the start line for the SF Half, a race that, as the Wall Street Journal points out, often intimidates even professional athletes. “I completed it faster than I envisioned and never stopped once to walk … so in my eyes, I killed it,” she says.

As Tanya delved deeper into her race training, her mother, Michelle, was getting involved in her own passion by joining CORA’s Board of Directors. Michelle sponsored a table at CORA’s annual fundraiser, so, of course, Tanya came along. Little did she know that this would begin to bring the two – running and CORA – into a single adventure.

Time passed and racing became a regular part of life. Tanya felt happy with the half marathon distance, even going so far as to say the only other marathon she’d run would be the NYC Marathon. That all changed one afternoon when her brother, Jerome, presented her with a truly magical racing option. “My older brother approached me about running the Walt Disney World Marathon and making it a family vacation for his twin 10-year old daughters,” Tanya says.  She had to admit, the thought was appealing. Running with her brother in Disney World, all as part of a fun-filled family vacation…. Despite saying she’d never again run a full marathon, the whole experience of this fanciful and fun endeavor was too great to pass up. â€œI could run my last marathon with my brother and enjoy it with my parents, nieces and boyfriend! So I signed up for the Walt Disney World Marathon. Florida here we come!”

Tanya & Brother Post Race - REsized

Tanya’s mother Michelle continued to be active with CORA and eventually joined the board. Added to this, Tanya’s boyfriend is a police officer in Daly City, so he’s seen firsthand the tragic effects of domestic violence in the community. “He told me about the connection with CORA and the police agencies in San Mateo County,” says Tanya. It wasn’t long before Tanya was a deeply-committed CORA supporter. “CORA is an amazing organization that is truly living their mission in every way.” So, when her brother mentioned he was thinking of raising funds for Make-A-Wish with his run, Tanya’s ears perked up. Michelle was one step ahead, as Tanya describes it. “My mom said, ‘Why don’t you run for CORA?’ And of course my response was ‘YES!’”

All the training and passion culminated with an alarm clock ringing into the 3 a.m. Florida darkness. Tanya got up, rubbed her eyes and put on her running clothes. She knew when she put her toe on that starting line she would be chasing another goal, another finish line, but this time for an amazing cause. Then she was off, moving swiftly through the early morning air, surrounded by the hum of other runners.

When you ask Tanya what drives her on race day, she’ll initially tell you about the joy of the challenge, but then she’ll talk with a smiling reverence about the ‘runner’s high.’ “It doesn’t happen every run,” she says. “Just the good runs when your body and breathing are in sync and you’re feeling great. You are clear of negative thoughts … you literally feel like you’re running in the sky on cloud pillows.”

Ever runner knows what it’s like to have a bad run, but they still chase the beauty of the runner’s high. It’s about not stopping the race; not giving up running just because it’s bad now. It’s about going on through the darkest of moments. It’s about hope for something better. In that way, being a runner is like escaping domestic violence. It may be harder than it’s ever been. You can feel like you can’t possibly take another step. Then you reach out with hope. Hope that you can move into something soft, joyous and beautiful.

When Tanya crossed the finish line that day, hands raised high, she carried hope to those escaping domestic violence. She’d run an amazing race and raised over $6,000 to help those in need. The smile that spread across her face is just one of many that her event brought. There is also the smile seen on the face of a young woman finding solace in a CORA safe house. A smile spreading wide in a counseling session as healing takes hold. A smile shining on the faces of children who can now sleep peacefully in a home free of violence.

It truly was a race that transformed lives.

What’s your passion? Run, ride, walk, dance, bake, knit, volunteer ….? No matter what it is, you can use it to help those escaping domestic violence.
 
With everydayhero you can turn your personal passion into making a difference in your community. 
everydayhero logo
Support CORA’s work to end domestic violence with your next adventure. Anything from a marathon to a bake sale can make a difference. Sign up with everydayhero, choose “CORA COMMUNITY OVERCOMING RELATIONSHIP ABUSE” as your charity and start transforming lives!

The Importance of Volunteering

Like many volunteers, my motivation for volunteering was hard to pin down. To others, it seemed wild that I would willingly spend weeks on end learning about issues like sexual assault, domestic violence, and human trafficking. But when I found out about the opportunity to volunteer with Monarch Services in Santa Cruz, CA while I was in college, I jumped at the chance. These issues had always been important to me, and I was thrilled at the chance to be there on the front lines to support people who have experienced these issues, educate the community and turn my passion into action. I worked on their 24 Hour Hotline and did community outreach on my campus and in the community. It was such a rewarding experience, I knew I wanted to stay in this line of work. Of course these are intense topics, but I knew the only way to change the world and end issues like domestic violence and sexual assault was to step up and participate in the fight. Volunteers are motivated by their desire to be the change they wish to see in the world, and I was no exception.

Volunteers-Tabling

When I joined AmeriCorps VISTA and became the Volunteer Coordinator with CORA, I was excited to work with people who felt that same passion and to help turn their passion into action. Volunteering is rewarding for so many reasons, but it really does take a special kind of person to sit through dozens of hours of training (40 hours to be exact), and then spend more hours each week working to end domestic violence. Vicarious trauma is real, and while we do our best to emphasize self-care, this work isn’t for everyone. It can be disheartening to see the ugliest parts of our society up close – but it can also be immensely rewarding to be surrounded by talented, passionate people who are working to support survivors and victims. Our volunteers work on the Crisis Hotline, accompany clients to court, work with the children of our clients, give presentations to the community, and more! Each one combines their passion for this issue and their unique skills to support CORA in our mission to end domestic violence.

Volunteering takes a lot of time, commitment, and strength, but it has a lot of perks too! Many of our volunteers go on to graduate school in areas like social work, marriage and family therapy, and law, and their time with CORA undoubtedly gave them the skills and knowledge to turn their passion into a career. Volunteering also benefits CORA as an organization. Our staff are all wonderful, talented people, but like all people, they need support. Volunteers help answer the Crisis Line when staff are in a meeting, they go to resource tables and spread the word about CORA in the community and bring fresh and new ideas to the staff. Best of all, sometimes our volunteers eventually join CORA as staff.

Volunteers-Completing

We appreciate everything our volunteers do, and try to show that appreciation in various ways. Staff and volunteers work closely together, and those close relationships are essential to the work we do. From thank you cards to just a simple, “Thank you” now and again, sometimes the smallest gestures mean the most. We also honor our volunteers in a formal way every spring with our Volunteer Appreciation Event. We award three special volunteers with either the Wolfklain Commitment Award, Skill Based Award or Impact Award, and honor all of our volunteers with certificates of appreciation. It’s a unique chance to show our volunteers how deeply we appreciate the work they do, and a fun chance for volunteers and staff to socialize outside of work.

CORA is always happy to have more volunteers, and most of our volunteers get started in our 40 Hour Domestic Violence Training, which takes place in February and August of every year. We are always happy to spread knowledge about this important and help individuals become agents of change in our community. Volunteering is a great way to support CORA and your community, while joining the fight to end domestic violence.


 

Erica
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Erica West is an AmeriCorps VISTA and Volunteer Coordinator with CORA. She graduated UC Santa Cruz in 2014 with a degree in Psychology. She is passionate about domestic violence and sexual assault, and enjoys traveling and going to brunch.