Firecracker Spark Spreads
Photo credit: Jena McShane of McShane Photography (provided by The Firecracker Foundation)
Beginning at midnight on Oct. 20, Tashmica Torok is asking sexual trauma survivors to participate in a social media event called, "Why I Told". Survivors can share what inspired them to tell their story, and hopefully encourage others to tell their stories.
The event will be facilitated by Torok, Founder and Executive Director of The Firecracker Foundation. Not only is this meant to break the silence, but Torok plans to compile the stories, with the authors' permission, into an anthology. This is the first time that an anthology will be created from stories shared.
“Mainly because people asked for it. They wanted to hold on to the stories that were so moving,” said Torok. Her original intention for the event was for it to be “fleeting and powerful, which it was.” But there were many who wanted to read the stories more than once.
Last year's event began with ten survivors and by the end of the 24-hours, allies had begun to make their own statements of support.
To set the stage for this event, Torok will host a Google Hangout on Oct. 18 at 4 p.m. Those 18-years and up can participate and get prompts and guidelines from Torok.
The Firecracker Foundation is a non-profit which strives to help sexual trauma and abuse survivors heal through a multi-faceted program. The foundation serves the Tri-County Region and has helped twenty survivors to date. Torok founded the foundation in 2013 and serves as its executive director. A former roller derby participant, Torok used her roller derby name "Firecracker" for the foundation's name. She has lived in the Greater Lansing Area for 14 years.
Her vision for the organization was for young people who had experienced sexual trauma to have a safe place to tell, to be, and to heal. She wanted to provide for them what she never had, what she wished she could have had.
From the age of six until she was eight, Torok was sexually abused by her father. She didn't tell anyone until she was nine, after her father's death. A longtime writer, she has chronicled the ups, downs, twists and turns of her journey on her namesake blog, Tashmica Torok.
After starting the Firecracker Foundation it didn't take long for the spark to spread.
Since its inception, the Foundation has provided individual mental health therapy, caretaker support groups, trauma sensitive yoga therapy programs and events to create community and a safe place for these survivors to begin their healing journey. January of this year saw the Firecracker Foundation partner with St. Vincent Catholic Charities to help provide mental health therapy to a limited number of child survivors of sexual trauma. The Capital Regional Community Foundation helped make the yoga program possible; the program existed before the grant from the Capital Region Community Foundation, but they support it and the demonstrations that are held in the area.
According to the American Psychological Association, sexual trauma is defined as “unwanted sexual activity, with perpetrators using force, making threats or taking advantage of victims not able to give consent.” Childhelp says that a report of child abuse is made every ten seconds. Of those reports, 20.7% are sexual abuse cases. The CDC lists risks for survivors of sexual trauma left untreated including physical, psychological, social and health risk behaviors. A few of these are depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders and self-mutilation.
In November, The Firecracker Foundation will hold the third annual Soulfire event, where the 2016 gallery of survivors will be revealed. The gallery consists of portraits of each survivor and tells a portion of their story. Those portraits are then compiled into a calendar for the following year. The photographs are taken by Jena McShane, a local photographer who has worked with Torok on this project since it began. Each survivor receives the services of Heather Jarous, a local hairstylist and make-up artist.
For the 2015 calendar, the theme was solidarity. Each photo featured a survivor and the person in their life that stayed present, and believed them, when they told their story. That year at the event, Torok was honored by the USANetwork as one of ten winners of the 2014 “Characters Unite” Awards. According to USANetwork, this award recognizes community members for their efforts to combat hate, intolerance and discrimination and for promoting greater tolerance, respect and acceptance in its place.
For 2016, the focus is power. Torok cites her own healing as well as her connection and conversations with other survivors as inspiration for the themes.
“I thought that the theme of power would provide images of the traditional definition of strength, like a wrenching back of what was taken. I was surprised to find the gentleness there” Torok said. "Power meant forgiveness, releasing rage and accepting love, protecting ourselves, fighting for others, and teaching. It wasn't violent or defiant."
It’s a difficult process for survivors to come forward to share their experiences and trauma. Sometimes, the survivors don’t have the support of their families. “There’s so much loss of power in the experience of being a victim,” Torok said. Having the support can make all the difference.
One parent of a survivor and recipient of the foundation’s programs is grateful for the program, “Having a child that was sexually assaulted was devastating to our entire family.”
“A friend of mine told me about The Firecracker Foundation and their yoga therapy. I immediately looked into it, and researched yoga therapy for sexual abuse survivors. I thought it could be my daughter's missing link.
“I signed her up, and she loved it. She felt very safe to do whatever she wanted. The techniques she learned helped her slow her mind down, and put her thoughts elsewhere. She could focus on other things. She felt more at peace. She uses these techniques now in her daily life, and we see a difference. She also met other survivors her age, so she knew she wasn't alone. They knew they could have a place together where there was safety and trust.
“Our community is a better place having an organization like this. I didn't know much about yoga or its benefits before, but now I know what it's done for her, and I am grateful.”
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