Life changing moments can blindside you. One of my Defining-Moments happened in 1990.
I remember looking into the face of one of the girls who had come to our “support and education group for sexually abused kids.” (Catchy title, huh?) This 8-year old had just asked a question about why the perpetrator (we call them Tricksters now) had done something particularly horrifying to her. She wasn't the only wounded child to share deep hurts that night. As I looked into the eyes of each precious soul, I knew the deeper question they were asking. The deeper question had to do with their own healings, their courageous journeys, and was it really true that they could survive and be more than shells of the horrible things that had happened to them? And could they reclaim the things the Trickster had taken from them?
“Did you know that you are a HERO?” I said to each one of them, ever so gently.
I saw the briefest, gentlest flicker of hope in their eyes as they grasped that lightening bolt of strength that hit them as they switched gears from thinking of themselves as victims too far gone to ever heal, to replace them with the thought of being HEROES.
That was one of the Defining Moments of my life.
The next morning, Jeanne Alshouse, administrator extraordinaire, called me to suggest the name of the group...HEROES, Great and Small.
We had been searching for a name for several weeks. Most of them were dumb. We had held off on choosing a name until Jeanne said those perfect words...HEROES, Great and Small.
So HEROES we became.
Even though we, the original founders (Janet Baker, Jeanne Alshouse, Sandra Allen, and Tina Bartleson), had been meeting for a few months already, that particular night was the night that HEROES began for me. When our little group started, the HERO Team saw the hurt and the confusion in our “sexually abused kids,” because it was there. But as time passed we saw something else: the strength, laughter, purity, innocence, and bravery in these kids. We found courage in the most unlikely of places.
In the beginning, the group was going to meet for just a few weeks, but the children wanted to keep returning. Sandra, as usual, said really inspiring things to the kids. Jeanne wrote down the activities. Janet coordinated the families. Sandra did the funky chicken. Tina was the background leader expert and helped make Heroes possible. Shannon brought her bottomless pit of energy for everyone -- kids, leaders, and volunteers.
We held weekly hour-long groups in the evening and special summer activities for a long time. Families came -- sometimes for years. Other communities learned about us so they asked us to teach them how to lead Heroes groups in their own communities. (Heroes is now in Georgia, Alabama, and Texas) Our Program worked really well for a while. But gas got expensive, leaders got families and kids of their own. Before we knew it, the weekly group wasn't working as well as it used to for a lot of reasons. So we changed our way of doing things.
Heroes converted from a weekly meeting to a camp-style format that is now held on Saturdays known as HEROmania. We have found that this format works much better for the kids, their families, the leaders, and volunteers.
HEROmania is held on one Saturday monthly during the school year. A typical camp experience follows an agenda similar to this:
Arrival: Kids meet their partner for the day and share a snack while completing introductory artwork.
Circle Time: Introductions, HERO shout, HERO Pledge and rules; new children receive a HERO bear. (The bear is our mascot and a tangible reminder of the lessons learned during the day.)
Activity Time: Primary theme for the day; Past activities include “Being Rescued” (juvenile detectives as well as HEROES who are now adults came to speak to the children); “Boot Camp” (3 Army soldiers talked about courage and staying safe.) HEROES Hace All Kinds of Healing Fellings (recognizing the range of legitimate yet confusing feelings)
Memory Books: Children complete pages for that year's memory books which include a picture with their partner, what they learned that day, and a message from their partner.
Arts and crafts time Activity that builds on the theme and events from earlier in the day.
When I Look Into Your Eyes: Team members convey a relevant and encouraging message to their partnered child letting them know nothing that has happened can hold them back; they are promises of great things to come.
Final Circle Time: Time for kids and volunteers to share what they have learned, how they feel, or anything they want to say.
Our primary goals for the children are to provide:
A safe and nurturing atmosphere, to enable the children to share, learn and heal in a positive way, thus shifting from being a victim to becoming a survivor.
The Heroes group is led by a team of dedicated leaders. However, the work could not be done without the dedication of our volunteers.
The Heroes Team is a bunch of creative, upbeat, offbeat, playful, compassionate lovers of children. In 1990, the professional lives of several of us kept intersecting as we each took a different role in helping children and families who had been devastated by sexual abuse. That’s when it all began. Our strength is in our unity. Our message is hope. It almost feels like we accidentally crossed paths. Our professional credentials and experiences are strong and as varied as we are. We had no idea that our little group would launch a non-profit organization, that we'd be together for 2 decades and counting, and that we'd walk this journey with hundreds of kids and still be moving forward.
Janet Burch, a gracious Southern lady, had the dream that birthed HEROES. As beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside, Janet has a love for the littlest HEROES...the rascally, the better. Janet is the heart of HEROES. She finds great value in the people around her, loves her family and is a loyal friend. She secretly sings in a quartet with her sisters (for funerals, mind you) and has the biggest extended family with more cousins than anyone we know. Oh, and lots of grandchildren too. She wears the title, Mimi, as a badge of honor. Janet sparks an enthusiasm in this community that goes on and on.
Sandra Allen, a free-spirited children's writer, is the voice of HEROES. She creates themes and activities for the HEROMania Camps and writes all things HEROES. Her world is filled with remarkable people: her husband, Glenn, 2 sons, and "brothers, sisters, sons and daughters of the heart." She spends happy days with her service dog, Isaiah, horses, dogs and a little herd of goats, yep, goats. Sandra grapples with an unruly sense of humor which doesn't always behave itself when it should. Her heart draws her into the world of wounded children where the message of Heroes was born: "Bad things can't stop the best things." And "Laughter is the best sound in the world."
Jeanne Alshouse, warm and compassionate, is the soul of HEROES. She is a wonderful blend of creativity, professionalism, calmness, laughter and tears. Jeanne is an administrator extraordinaire... a quiet leader who leads by serving. Jeanne makes things pretty, whether it's fonts for a book or craft tables for the kids. She's the Hero Shopper, the Bargain Hunter, the finder of unique crafts and the one who tracks down grants and foundations to help us. She's a clotheshorse with a unique sense of style. Since "retiring," Jeanne has become quite a traveler and is indulging her sense of adventure. Jeanne's experiences and wisdom help us untangle problems and set our course.
Tina Bartleson, loyal and courageous, organizes us and keeps us ever-moving forward. She is the anchor of HEROES. Tina is a diplomat by nature, but fierce if a child is threatened. She is a soft-spoken leader who can take monumental tasks and break them down into manageable "to do" lists. She can be serious, funny, all lady, total tomboy, and embraces life with her husband and 3 children. The Bartlesons have become avid campers in the past few years. Tina is the President of the Hero Board. She has the ability to spot potential problems without being negative. We count on her to protect us from doing things before we have seen the big picture.
Shannon Bond, our warrior, believes the children and they know it. Her enthusiasm and passion are contagious. Shannon is the protector, the strength of HEROES. She's the queen of drama and the mother of a wonderful puppet named Hermena Belle. Shannon and Hermena Belle have taught safety skills to hundreds of children. Along with bringing puppets to life, Shannon teaches, coaxes, cajoles, motivates and encourages people to believe in themselves and to face danger head-on and with a plan. Shannon has been co-creating activities with Sandra for the last several years. She is a natural advocate, fearless, bold and confident.
Ted Buckenham, the quiet mischief-maker and an award-winning photographer on the side, is always ready to play and be a goofball for the sake of the children. Ted is the techno wizard. We suspect that he is brilliant, but no one knows for sure. Ted is the message of Heroes. He kept Heroes afloat single-handedly through several years when Life hit the rest of us. We call him "Mr. Hero." Ted likes to say that he is our "token male," but that is a lie. He "owns" Heroes according to one of our kids. Ted loves gadgets, toys, stupid jokes and silly songs. Kids love partnering with Ted. He speaks their language. Even more so now that he is the father of 2 precocious children himself. Enough said about that, except that every activity he suggests seems to involve water.
Volunteers are what make Heroes possible. During the activities, they partner with a child--offering one-on-one support and encouragement that delivers the message we are instilling in the children.
Below are some of the chants, shouts, and books we use during HEROmania:
What is the name of this group? HEROES Great and Small!
Who are the HEROES? We are!
Who shows great courage? We do!
I am a child and I am a HERO.
I have been through tough times because of a Trickster.
I will hold my head high.
I am not to blame for what Tricksters do.
Even though it's hard to tell the things the Trickster did, I tell anyway,
Because I am brave even when I am scared.
I tell the truth.
Tricksters are no match for Rescuers.
I am everything that is PURE, RIGHT, NOBLE, and STRONG.
Nothing and no one can take these things away from me.
I am a promise of great things to come.
I will heal,
And I will stand by other HEROES who are healing.
I am a HERO!
Index finger: This is a safe place, and we are safe people!
Middle finger: I come out of tough times a HERO!
Ring finger: I have a precious story about precious me!
Little finger: Heroes have all kinds of healing feelings!
Thumb: Bad Things Can't Stop The Best Things!
Bad Things Can't Stop the Best Things: (The Story of a Hero) is a read-aloud story of hope and encouragement for children who have been sexually abused. In simple words and engaging pictures, Bad Things Can't Stop the Best Things recognizes the plight of children who are caught in abuse and celebrates the heroic courage of these children to heal. The healing words in this book, although written for a child's understanding, speak into the hearts of adult survivors also. To be cherished, valued, understood and believed are no small things.
Bad Things Can't Stop the Best Things speaks of HEROES (those that are abused, girls and boys), Tricksters (those who use lies and tricks to hurt a child) and Rescuers (those who sense danger and are standing by to help). HEROES are children of promise. The HERO MESSAGE is one of hope, strength, and restoration.
Click Here to purchase the book.