With community sing-alongs and a swishing rainbow dress, the South Suburban Family Shelter kickoff event for Domestic Violence Awareness Month looked a bit different this year than its previous incarnation.
For years, Homewood-based SSFS has hosted a candlelight vigil near the beginning of DV awareness month, a solemn event with emotional speakers and recitations of serious statistics.
The revamped 2019 program, called Be the Change Celebration, still included the ever-present moment of silence to honor those who lost their lives due to domestic violence. However, the tone of the brief event at Marie Irwin Park in Homewood was upbeat and focused on positive action.
Throughout the event, Ahren Hawkin from Melody Mart led a community ukulele band, and motivational speaker Gina Bell cast a spell of positivity over the crowd.
“I’m excited about the new format this year,” said Kerry Hill, SSFS’s manager for community education and outreach. “I really like the shift to empowerment.”
The program opened with a sing-along of “Stronger” by Kelly Clarkson, led by Hawkin and the ukulele band.
Then the crowd heard from a woman named Angela, a mother of five who benefitted from SSFS’s Sanctuary program. Sanctuary services assist people who want to leave situations of domestic violence.
“I don’t know where I would be if it wasn’t for this organization. It got bad; I had no peace,” said Angela, holding her youngest daughter on her hip. “Do whatever you can to support this organization. We need this, our families need this, our girls need this.”
After Angela received a rousing round of applause, SSFS Executive Director Jennifer Gabrenya welcomed Bell to the stage. Bell is a motivational speaker and women’s empowerment coach from Dyer, Ind.
When she took the stage, Bell told the crowd that night was the first time she ever spoke publicly about her own experience with domestic violence. She did so briefly, and then transitioned into her program where she encouraged members of the audience to spread positivity.
Everyone has an inner light, Bell said, though most people don’t want to show it. To represent this, Bell, who was dressed all in black, put on a big fluffy skirt made from a rainbow of tulle layers.
“Think about the light inside all of us,” she said. “You have the ability to shine your light out into the community.”
Bell led the audience through a participatory cheer of sorts, where they recited the words, “Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight.”
The quick presentation brought smiles to faces in the crowd. Then Gabrenya invited attendees to visit the resource table to get information, along with a Be the Change suggestions card and a purple light bulb to “Shine a light on domestic violence.”
The ukulele band closed the program with a sing-along performance of “Perfect” by Pink.