Today I am here to speak with Amanda Lin, an inspiring woman, who is on the Board of Directors as Treasurer for A Window Between Worlds (AWBW). AWBW is a fantastic non-profit organization that is dedicated to using art as a healing tool to empower and transform individuals and communities impacted by violence and trauma. The organization is one that has grown significantly over the years and with statics released by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) of one in four women experiencing domestic violence in their lifetime, and over 3 million children witnessing domestic violence in their homes, the organization is an incredibly important one.
Lin began her involvement with AWBW when she was an undergrad at UCLA, Lin says she became passionate about giving additional service to her community outside of campus. “I met Cathy Salser, the founder of AWBW and found myself volunteering at a House of Blues Gospel Brunch benefiting AWBW. After being at this event and then visiting the Venice studios and seeing the survivors’ artwork, I knew right away that the implementation of art workshops has benefited survivors in many ways especially the change in the children’s ability to cope and work through their issues of domestic violence (DV). Since 1991, AWBW has provided art as a healing and empowering tool for women and children living in domestic violence shelters to rebuild their lives and end the cycle of violence. Art offers a “window to a new world” in which violence; shame and silence are replaced by safety, healing and hope. AWBW has demonstrated to me that it occupies a unique role of using art as a healing tool to individuals and communities seeking to move from trauma to empowerment.”
I ask Lin who inspired her to begin her volunteer work when she was just at college, she tells me, “ I was the youngest of five children with wonderful parents who instilled in us the importance of being good human beings and respecting all people. Their philosophy made me want to help others who are not always able to help themselves.”
As well as her parents, Cathy Salser, Founder of AWBW is also a major source of inspiration to Lin. She explains, “Salser is a Karen Cooper Lifetime Achievement Award recipient from the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence. She has also been the volunteer Executive Director for the last 23 years. What began as one summer’s cross-country journey in 1991 to share the healing power of the arts has developed into a non-profit organization dedicated to using art to help end abuse. She had packed up her car full of art supplies and set out, going from shelter to shelter, hoping to share art in a way might make a difference. Cathy began by sharing art at different shelters in exchange for room and board. She trained other volunteers in how to empower women who didn’t know anything about art and together they developed workshops for collages, watercolors, clay, and all kinds of mediums. What she saw that first summer, and what’s made AWBW grow, is the confirmation that even a single art session can change someone’s life forever. Twenty-three years later, AWBW has now grown to serve over 131,000 women and children throughout the country in partnership with 300 shelters, outreach centers, and transitional homes.”
“Beginning with the first cross-country road trip, the principle of collaboration has been a tradition and an integral part of the model of AWBW among staff and shelter partners, the art facilitators, survivors, contributors, and others.” Lin explains. “AWBW is a very unique organization because just 16 staff results in over 80,000 art sessions – all thanks to collaboration. With each partner site, AWBW builds capacity through initial and ongoing training, one-on-one consultation, art supplies, and an online curriculum of 500+ workshops. AWBW empowers facilitators at each agency, so that art is integrated seamlessly into their curriculum of care to build safety, open communication, and support participants to take concrete steps toward a healthy and resilient future. Our national network of facilitators share their knowledge and inform the development of new workshops online, resulting in a high-quality, continually expanding and evolving curriculum by those working on the front-lines.”
The organization is not to be confused with art therapy, Lin explains but rather, “offer(s) a process of self-expression, self-exploration, and self-interpretation. There is no therapist or other authority responsible for interpretation or diagnosis. Each participant is in charge of his or her own creative exploration. This is emphasized in the structure of the group, from opening to closing. The result is a special environment of safety during which participants support and create a unique “window of time” to practice respecting themselves and their own creativity.” It enables the participants to begin taking charge of their own future, as Lin tells me, one participant said, “I feel each art group I go to is a step of progress of never getting back into a violent relationship.”
As a result of the success of AWBW, the organization is set to expand beyond women, children and domestic violence and AWBW have been asked to increase their sector to include “men, our returning combat veterans and their families, sexual assault survivors, the homeless, and others.” Lin says.
Speaking of AWBW’s future Lin says, “AWBW envisions a world where art is a catalyst in healing and releasing trauma, builds resilience and ignite social change to end not only domestic violence, but also child abuse, sexual assault and intimate partner violence. I hope that in this lifetime, the creative process of art will become the prevailing journey toward healing and transformation.” Lin has seen the huge level of success throughout her involvement with the organization. “Just with our art programs, the demand for more art to create safety, healing, and change is growing. AWBW has centered our work in the field of domestic violence, providing art interventions for women and their children. The agencies with which we partner recognize how effective the workshops are in healing trauma and building resilience, and strong results have created an even higher demand for the workshops in shelters and beyond. 35% of AWBW’s partners are already using the art programs outside of DV services. Today AWBW is being asked to share the healing art curriculum with new partners. We are actually at a very critical point in the organization’s history, where we are ready to explore new collaborations using art.”
“AWBW’s programs have become so successful that they now network of 988 leaders across the country, in doing so these leaders-- who integrate weekly art sessions enables the acceptance and adoption of AWBW curriculum on such an increased and wide scale.”
Perhaps the success is best described in the moving stories of its participants. I ask Lin to explain the most inspiring stories she has encountered, “At a AWBW board retreat years ago, our Program Director Olivia Piacenza shared a moving story about one of the first children participants in the AWBW programs. Three-year-old RJ said, “Did you know that my dad hit me and it hurt? I don’t like my dad and I don’t want him to hurt me anymore. I learned in Windows that it was okay for me to tell you that.” RJ spoke these words to one of the then-newest Children’s Leaders at Angel Step Too. The leader described that right after this conversation, which happened at naptime, RJ rolled over and slept well for the first time since he had arrived at the shelter. RJ’s mother expressed that AWBW gave her a son a voice; he knows what he wants and can express his feelings without fear. The story about RJ was very moving to me and serves to this day as a poignant reminder how powerful the art programs can be in children’s lives.”
Another story Lin experienced firsthand, “We had a woman by the name of Silvia Rico come forward eighteen years after first finding AWBW. She shared the critical window of change art had opened in her heart and how she is now fulfilling her dream of giving back, using art to transform the lives of other DV survivors. Silvia had experienced years of physical and verbal abuse by her husband, the father of her children. In 1994, she entered a domestic violence shelter, Chicana Service Action Center, where she was exposed to the AWBW program. It was the first time she used art to express the feelings she had inside. Initially, she was confused about what the art meant. That night, she found refuge in the art. The AWBW program helped her get her most profound feelings out. She remembered when creating art, her pictures were all wet. She cried a lot when she made them. Her abuser swore that he had changed, so she went back to him. She returned with hope, only to go back to more suffering. But thanks to her art, she was no longer the same. His comments affected her less, and she was sure that she didn’t trigger or provoke his blows. When she took her children and left the abusive relationship, she knew it was the art that had allowed her to let go of her past. It made her decide how she wants to live her life and create a better future for herself and her children. Now as a Women’s Leader at California Mental Health Connection, she is proud to teach what she have personally proven to heal and cure, to help other victims of DV through art. Silvia is one of thousands of AWBW participants who are using art as the center of change in their lives, families, and community.”
With success stories like this it’s no wonder that the organization has grown from just two members when it was founded in 1991 to now having a staff of sixteen. They serve 296 sites and 988 women and children’s leaders providing 80,760 sessions each year.
Lin says, “We have programs in 28 states, including over 50 in Los Angeles. Many opportunities are coming forward because of the strong results the programs produce. The demand for AWBW programs is growing. Domestic violence isn’t an isolated issue and after performing a survey of our key leaders we found strong interest in serving new sectors that have crossover with DV survivors. Specific groups we are exploring partnerships with are in these new sectors: trauma-informed care, veterans and their families, sexual assault survivors, perpetrators, LGBTQ community, gangs, the homeless, teens, and men.”
“In order to explore these opportunities, AWBW is looking at a two-year capacity building period beginning July 1st, 2014 and ending June 30, 2016. We are discussing possible collaborations with Joyful Heart Foundation (evaluating impact of alternative modalities), Habitat for Humanity (adaptation of our program to serve veterans and their families), and Association of Batterers’ Intervention Program (intervening with the perpetrators of DV).”
Speaking of other future goals for AWBW Lin says, “I hope that AWBW’s core programs are going to be a central strategy for addressing trauma. I envision AWBW being able host an annual conference with curated exhibitions to initiate dialogue, explore best practices, and foster new collaboration to leverage art as a cultural force for social change.”
I witnessed the overwhelming response to the organization at a gala event held at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills a few months ago, which Lin was event co-chair for. The Peninsula kindly lent the space to the organization for the evening and local artists donated their work and several celebrities attended the event to offer their support.
The outcome of the gala surpassed their expectations as Lin explains, “This year’s special evening at The Peninsula in Beverly Hills included wine and liquor tastings, hors d’oeuvres, and dessert. We had asked 62 established Los Angeles and Orange County-based artists to contribute a piece of art to be displayed anonymously and purchased at a fixed price at our Artworks for Healing event. It usually takes many months, actually the better half of a year if not all year-round to pull it all together. We have an amazing event committee and staff to have created our most successful benefit yet. We raised over $97,000 in support of AWBW’s expansion to serve new populations, and received a surprise donation of $50,000, which altogether helped us exceed our fundraising goal of $135,000 by $12,000. More than the dollars raised, it served as goodwill and has allowed us to deepen our relationships with individual, corporate, and foundation supporters who were our special guests at the gala. We are so grateful for everyone’s support which means the world to us.”
For more information on AWBW please visit:
Photo credit: A Window Between Worlds.