CL_POSTER_2013_webWhat happens in Vegas does not necessarily stay in Vegas. Especially not this coming weekend.

What happens in “Vegas” will go out to support the hundreds of people in crisis in the Telluride region who turn to the San Miguel Resource Center for support.

Experts define abuse as anything from a vague feeling something is wrong to outright violence. The San Miguel Resource Center is the Telluride region’s one-stop shop for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, serving roughly 200 unduplicated clients a year in a population base of about 6,000, spanning the area between southwestern Colorado’s San Miguel County and the western end of Montrose County.

It doesn’t matter where. It doesn’t matter who: interpersonal violence ignores cultural boundaries, race, even gender. Although women are more often victims than men, clients of the Resource Center include men (about 10 percent) and children. In fact, the number of children in crisis nearly doubled in 2012. The harsh fact is this: the twin horrors of sexual assault and domestic violence are equal opportunity offenders.

It could happen to you, a loved one or a friend. Not in my backyard is a myth perpetrated by the few naysayers.

This weekend, Saturday, February 2, the Resource Center hosts its 18th annual Chocolate Lovers’ Fling, its only major public fundraiser. The annual event, one of the biggest blow-outs of Telluride’s winter season, takes place  at the Telluride Conference Center, Mountain Village, a 7:30 p.m. – 11:30 p.m. The 2013 year’s theme is “Vegas Baby.”

The Resource Center is unashamed, flagrant even, about stacking the decks to rope everyone in. The fun and games includes a decadent chocolate buffet; DJ Harry; 50/50 cash raffle; silent auction lousy with goodies, including a one-week stay in Tuscany valued at $8500; revelers in themed costumes; and new this year, gaming tables for gambling.

The “Fling” is always a blast, but the point is not just a rollicking good time.

For the Resource Center, the point is to promote healthy, loving relationships first with yourself, then with a supportive partner. Ultimately the idea is to put itself out of business by ending abuse in the Telluride region once and for all.

What does it take to achieve that goal? What exactly does it take to effectively run a domestic violence and sexual assault Resource Center open 24/7, 365 days a year? Co-director Melanie Montoya’s answers to the question speak to the enormity of the task:

“Everyone who works at the San Miguel Resource Center must have legal expertise, including a working knowledge of current immigration law,” she explained. “We all must maintain strong working relations with everyone from judges and law enforcement officials to schools and social services, as well as donors. There is a need for basic medical knowledge, such as how trauma affects the brain, body and spirit.”

Beyond the hard facts, the Resource Center’s staff must also have certain very specific personal skills.

“Critical awareness is a priority. By that I mean understanding how gender, culture, media, family history and individual experiences all contribute to a person’s perspective,” said Melanie. “We must also be extremely focused and determined, truly believing where’s there’s a will there is always a way – and have the fortitude and tenacity to make those words count. Staff at a place like the Resource Center must also be very trustworthy, demonstrating an unwavering commitment to keeping people’s secrets. Good counseling skills and public speaking knowhow are givens.”

But that’s not all. Melanie emphasizes the need for staff to have a thorough knowledge of all accessible financial resources and willingness to “constantly and enthusiastically fundraise.”

Why such a strong emphasis on fundraising?

The bottom line on the bottom line is this: the many services the Resource Centers offers and the staff associated with providing those initiatives do not come free – though they are provided for free in English and Spanish to clients.

At the top of the list is community outreach in the form of prevention education.

“It is primarily Kara Johnson, our education specialist, but also Elly Johnson, our advocate manager, who work with every child grades K-12 in San Miguel County and the West End of Montrose County,” explained Melanie. “Kara also works with several preschools in the same service area. In 2012, we provided schools with 344 presentations, which translates to roughly 3500 student impressions on subjects ranging from “stranger danger” to bullying. Because Kara has been so effective, the demand for her services has increased. In 2013, I anticipate her doing around 400 presentations.”

The San Miguel Resource Center also does crisis intervention and offers advocacy (to help clients with court services, employers, housing, transportation) and professionally facilitated support groups such as Mujeres Hispanes, a monthly get-together specifically for Hispanic women.

To be able to deliver that menu and keep a 24/7 crisis hotline up and running requires more manpower than staff alone can deliver, so the Resource Center also trains “advocates.”

“We hold two training sessions per year in Telluride and one training session annually in the West End. We have approximately 100 trained, active advocates, all of whom must meet state regulations,” added Melanie.

And therein lies the rub.

Yes, the Resource Centers receives funding from local and state organizations, about 1/3 of its requirements. Another 1/3 comes from larger government grants specifically geared to organizations providing victim services, but the government funds are not discretionary. Government money of any sort comes with lots of red tape attached, generally targeting victims. Very little if any of those funds are about prevention.

Which is why the final 1/3 of the funds raised at the Chocolate Lovers’ Fling are so important.

Funds raised on Saturday night allow Kara Johnson to do her job. They make programs such as Phenomenal Women’s Week, a series of events around March 8, International Women’s Day targeting gender equality, possible.

Tickets to the “Fling” are $50 for a single; $90 for a couple. VIP tickets are $125. All tickets are available at Two Skirts or through sanmiguelresourcecenter.org

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