0 Friday, January 28, 2011

Staff member becomes heart of Threads of Compassion in OKC

by Thessali Teague

Women struggling with past sexual abuse in Oklahoma City will have something to keep them warm and give them hope this winter – hand knitted or crocheted scarves. Threads of Compassion, a national non-profit organization designed to empower sexually assaulted women, distributes scarves to survivors when they enter the hospital for emergency treatment.

Jessica Estes, housing coordinator at Oklahoma Christian University, discovered the organization while researching different groups dealing with the issue of sexual abuse. She contacted the Rape Crisis Center in Oklahoma City and found a chapter in the metro area does not exist. Estes took the initiative to establish a branch locally and become the coordinator.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Estes said. “I wondered if it would just be me or if other people would want to get involved, but it worked. I just saw a need I was able to fill.”

Estes said in the state of Oklahoma, acts of sexual assault are committed every two minutes. Estes, a victim herself, understood what it was like to have that experience affect her life, and she could identify with other women who have gone through the same thing. She was able to pull herself up, identify a crucial need and take a stand. She is now doing something about it, pushing forward with strength and positivity.

“I had some good support when it happened; friends and others at church prayed for my healing,” Estes said. “I also went through some individual and group counseling. For me, it was a matter of deciding that I’m not going to let this change me for the worse. This event has already had a negative impact, and I just am not going to let it change me.”

Estes and other volunteers meet the first Sunday of every month at Memorial Road Church of Christ’s Potter’s Room to knit or crochet the scarves together. The women make scarves because they’re so simple, yet so effective. Even a beginning knitter can pick up the hobby quickly and can soon begin producing something capable of providing comfort to someone else in need. The idea behind Threads of Compassion is that one act of kindness can bestow assurance and love on even a complete stranger.

“It’s something tangible to hold onto,” Estes said. “If the person chooses to wear it, it’s a symbol of ‘I’m not alone.’”

This message is printed on cards given out with the scarves.

Distribution is a chain procedure. The group donates the scarves to the Rape Crisis Center in Oklahoma City, which passes them on to advocates for the YWCA, who then take the scarves to hospitals. Any woman who has been sexually assaulted and has reported it and gone to the hospital receives a scarf.

Karla Doctor, a worker at the YWCA, oversees the process and works closely with the volunteers distributing the scarves.

“Many clients have teared up,” Doctor said. “The thought that someone else cares brings them comfort. Some hold it or hug it like a teddy bear. This is an amazing program that puts the message across that the victims are not alone.”

The scarves are practical and act as a link among women with common pasts. Most of the women who volunteer their time to make scarves are also victims who have not only provided support for other women but have also gained for themselves a support group through relationships with other volunteers.

The volunteers have a place to open up and share their stories, as well as to minister to each other. For some of them, Threads of Compassion has been their only chance to do so. For others, joining the group becomes a way to get involved in something meaningful and develop relationships.

Tina Ware, professor of Spanish, has been friends with Estes for many years and wanted to get involved in Threads of Compassion in any way she could. Estes spent extra time meeting with her every week to teach her how to knit scarves.

“It took extra work to teach me because I am left-handed, and she had to essentially teach me backwards, but Jessica was patient,” Ware said. “Threads [of Compassion] has been a blessing for me. I’ve got a new hobby that allows me to help people.”

Threads of Compassion received attention from the Oklahoma City press and has accumulated a solid group of volunteers. Estes is still looking for more women to get involved and is excited about how much progress she’s made since the program’s kickoff this year.

“I don’t see an end because sexual assault continues to happen, so there will always be a need,” Estes said.

Those interested in knitting for a cause can contact Estes at jessica.estes@oc.edu or visit http://www.threadsokc.org. Estes stressed that anyone can help – those who know how to knit as well as those who do not.

Xiao Han

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