A safe space for healing

  • Silverthorne Theater Company Director Lucinda Kidder CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • CONTRIBUTED IMAGE  CONTRIBUTED IMAGE

  • One of the performer’s/writer’s desks CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Time To Tell Founder Donna Jenson CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Organizer, mental health consultant and therapist Jackie Humphreys CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • CONTRIBUTED IMAGE  CONTRIBUTED IMAGE

  • Organizers say that writing, which is an integral part of the showcase, can be helpful for those healing from abuse. CONTRIBUTED IMAGE

  • An upcoming showcase will take place will include about 40 participants sharing experiences with abuse. CONTRIBUTED IMAGE

  • Donna Jenson CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Jackie Humphreys CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Donna Jenson said Time To Tell uses the image of a tree because trees tend to be an escape, a place of refuge, for some children, especially those who have been abused. CONTRIBUTED IMAGE

  • A typewriter with a piece written by a survivor that hasn’t been removed yet. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 1/14/2021 9:30:06 AM

Victims of childhood sexual abuse sometimes spend years — maybe a lifetime — suffering in silence, ashamed or too afraid to say anything. But some have decided its “time to tell.”

The founder of Time to Tell, Donna Jenson, an author, coach, playwright and incest survivor, created the nonprofit to address and heal the pain of child abuse. Time To Tell has joined with Silverthorne Theater Company to create a virtual community event, “Survivors’ Voices: Works of Resilience Written and Read by Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse,” which will be held Jan. 22, 23 and 24.

Therapist Jackie Humphrey and Jenson, along with Lucinda Kidder, director of Silverthorne Theater, are offering survivors an opportunity to share original writing regarding their experiences of childhood sexual abuse in hope that it could help them heal in a creative, community-supported, survivor-led environment.

Jenson said the project received a grant from Art Angels, a funding organization associated with the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts. The women put out a call to survivors at first locally, then nationally and globally. The response was overwhelming. The project was meant to encourage and support youth, adults, people of all genders, Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) and LGBTQI, elders and people with disabilities.

“We wanted everyone to feel like they could be a part of this,” Jenson said. 

Last fall and again last weekend, the women held workshops led by Kidder that helped the survivors learn how to express themselves, write and share their work within a smaller supportive group of other childhood sexual abuse survivors, and how to become more comfortable telling their individual stories.

“People are going to see a huge amount of courage in these showcases,” Kidder said. “As the idea evolved, the performative aspect grew. We found ways to maximize their ability to tell their stories.”

Kidder said many of the people who will be performing/reading throughout the weekend have never read out loud before. She said they don’t have formal training in acting or speaking, but did take the workshops. 

“A fair number of people read at the workshops, so they got some good practice,” she said. “The material we’re working with is very sensitive. This is each of their stories. They are the characters. They’re sharing their own experiences.”

Kidder said she counts herself blessed because she never experienced abuse. 

“I do have a very close friend who is a survivor, though,” she said. “As I listen to their stories, I understand more. I understand that they are very courageous, resilient. They are everyone’s voice. It’s almost poetic.”

In addition to writing and reading the writings to each other, along with instruction in trauma-informed mindfulness practices, participants worked with the performance-related aspects of the event with Kidder and other Silverthorne professionals.

Jenson, a survivor herself who wrote the one-woman play, “What She Knows: One Woman’s Way Through Incest to Joy,” said survivors have to find a way to make their lives worth living. She has performed her play at correctional facilities, colleges, police departments, conferences for mental health professionals and for sexual assault advocates, communities and people in need of healing. 

She leads Time To Tell What We Know writing and mindfulness workshops for those who have survived sexual violence, as well as survivors working in the field of sexual exploitation. She is a leadership trainer and organizer who built grassroots women’s centers in New York City during the 1970s and 1980s and maintains a leadership development practice. Her book, “Healing My Life from Incest to Joy,” is a memoir of the choices she made and experiences she had that helped her heal from her childhood trauma. It was released by Levellers Press in 2017. 

Humphreys will be present at all of the showcases over the performance weekend. She co-leads Time To Tell What We Know workshops with Jenson and has more than 20 years of experience in the field of child trauma, including 10 years as a victim advocate and coordinator of the Child Abuse Unit for a district attorney’s office. She served on the clinical team at a Children’s Advocacy Center for more than six years, providing treatment to children and families impacted by trauma. She is now the mental health consultant to that agency. 

These days, Humphreys has a private practice providing individual and group therapy for all ages where she incorporates yoga and mindfulness practices into her treatment to address the physiological aspects of trauma. She has led more than 100 trainings, locally and nationally, on many aspects of child trauma, including secondary traumatic stress. 

“My passion and commitment to healing and preventing child abuse is rooted in my own recovery from incest,” she said. “I’m a therapist in a private practice. I have a lot of clients with trauma histories. A lot of children who have just recently disclosed their trauma.”

Humphreys said she has worked with Jenson in some capacity over the past 25 years and is now a mental health consultant for Time To Tell.

“We’ve been very focused on the silence around sexual abuse,” she said. “So many people have difficulty feeling comfortable and finding venues for their voices to be heard.”

She said she had just been to Great Falls Word Festival in Turners Falls when the idea came that survivors needed something similar.

“Writing, for many survivors, is huge,” she said. “Many use that as a tool to heal, but they never really get to share it.”

Humphreys said she has also known Kidder for years and appreciates the socially conscious work Silverthorne Theater is known for, so it was a great fit.

“We wanted to bring in an ally for survivors and Lucinda was it,” she said. “It has been quite a year. The response to this effort was so heartening. I just hope after this people start to feel more comfortable talking about it. I hope at the very least people will start to feel they can talk about it within their families or small circles of friends.”

She said childhood sexual abuse has been “rampant” since the beginning of human existence, but the pandemic has made it even worse.

“This year we’re building the structure, the foundation of the event,” she said. “We hope to build even more in the years to come.”

Kidder, who retired in November 2019 as the small professional theater’s director of many years, returned to serve on its board and, when those taking over after she left resigned, she returned as its leader. Silverthorne partners with local and regional organizations to assist with making it possible for all voices to be heard.

A space for healing

Audiences of the five showcases over the weekend will have a chance to ask questions of the readers. The organizers hope those listening will have a “deeper understanding” of survivors’ experiences when all is said and done.

“It not only provides a space for people to learn more, but a place for survivors to tell their stories,” Jenson said. “Many times, stories are kept quiet, hidden, just like the abuse.”

Humphreys said childhood sexual abuse is “such a taboo subject.”

“We wanted to do a showcase, so we contacted survivors and asked if they would tell their stories over Zoom,” she said. “Originally, we had planned on doing the showcases in person, but then the pandemic hit. We had been planning this well before that happened.”

Originally, it was planned exclusively for survivors living in the Pioneer Valley. But when the pandemic hit, organizers opened it up to people everywhere. Survivors will join the event from as far away as England and Canada and from all over the United States.

“I think using Zoom for the first one — we hope to make this an annual event — is actually safer for survivors, at least for the first time,” Humphreys said. “They’re in person on a screen, but from the safety of their own homes.”

Jenson said the showcase will showcase not only survivors’ resilience, but their journeys and their healing. Kidder, Humphreys, Jenson and Irene “Strong Oak” Lefebvre read and curated the blind submissions. Close to 40 survivors will perform/read over the weekend.

There will be four showcases held free of charge Friday, Jan. 22, at 7 p.m.; Saturday, Jan. 23, at 3 and 7 p.m.; and Sunday, Jan. 24, at 7 p.m. Each showcase will consists of performances/readings by at least nine survivors. After each showcase, there will be a “positive, supportive dialogue” for audience members to ask questions and give feedback to readers, and readers will be encouraged to share their experience of the performance/reading. Survivors will answer questions directly or defer to Jenson, Humphreys or Kidder.

Each showcase will be recorded and made available to those who can’t be in attendance. It will be accessible through a private YouTube channel and on the Time To Tell website. Those who wish to attend the free virtual event must register and they will be given a link to their showcase. There is limited space for each showcase — Kidder said she believes the first two showcases are already at capacity — so people should sign up as soon as possible.

Humphreys said the event was inspired by “the courageous and eloquent, yet often silenced voice” of a survivor poet she knows.

For more information or to register for one of the showcases, visit bit.ly/3sdPIid.

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591 or afritz@recorder.com.




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