On the last Wednesday in January, I had the opportunity to sit in on a SNAP Support Group meeting in Northern Virginia. The meeting is run by Becky Ianni, the SNAP State Coordinator for Virginia.
The group meets at a location not far off of I-495. On any other night it should have been easy to find the location. The weather, which had been cold and rainy all day made travel a little sloppy. Before heading to the meeting, I took advantage of an opportunity to have dinner with my son, a college student at a nearby university, but dinner went a little longer than we anticipated. I was traveling on unfamiliar roads which conspired with the weather to delay my arrival. I finally had to call Becky and get directions. Her husband answered her phone and was able to guide me in to the meeting location’s parking lot.
I was greeted at the door and led to the small room where the Support Group was meeting. They had already started about 20 minutes before I arrived. I hate being late. I initially felt like I was an interloper, sneaking in after they had started their discussion for the evening. There were 9 people seated around the table. They were looking at me with a mix of curiosity and apprehension, I was an unknown in the room. I had emailed Becky a few days earlier to let her know I was going to be in northern Virginia for business and that I was going to try to attend. She was expecting me.
Becky made me feel welcome and, when there was a natural break in the conversation, she asked me to introduce myself the group. I told them a little about me and my story. As this was my initial meeting, I was hoping to listen and learn the protocol and etiquette of the group by watching. I listened intently as people around the table discussed personal recollections of their “perps”, support for a member who was meeting soon with the board at his church and upcoming SNAP events, including the 2009 SNAP Conference in Washington, DC scheduled for August. There was enthusiasm for the conference because it will be held in their backyard. There was even a very funny anecdote told by one of the gentleman present about his adventures at President Obama’s inauguration a week earlier. That story alone was worth the trip.
What struck me about the people in the room was that they were genuine and honest about what was happening in their lives and how they are coping with what happened years earlier. They discussed additional difficulties encountered while trying gain acceptance, seek help and work with their respective churches for either assistance or meaningful change. What was most surprising to me was the level of faith that still existed in most of these people. They were shaken by their experiences, but for many, prayer and faith were still cornerstones of their lives. There was nothing artificial about anyone in the room. No pretense was made, no competition for who had the most vile story. They were not sullen or withdrawn. These were people focusing on supporting each other and trying to find a way to make children and adults safe while rooting out the predators that may still hide behind their clerical garb and those who continue to protect and support these predators.
The immediate sense I felt after a few minutes in the room was that I was not the only one to experience the betrayal I went through as an adolescent. Somehow it is comforting to know that there are other people who have similarly tragic experiences and that you are not alone in dealing with the issues that challenge you on a daily basis. While I have corresponded with other victims via email, phone and through this blog, this was the first time I had the privilege to sit in a room with people who share a common bond. There was genuine comfort in that.
The meeting broke up at around 8:30 and the group made their way into the cold air, sidebar conversations between some of the people lingered in the parking lot. It would be a 4 hour drive home for me to southern Virginia. But the time spent at the meeting was worth the late night trek south.
If you are a victim of sexual abuse and you have the opportunity to attend a SNAP Support Group Meeting in your area, I encourage you to do so. There is strength in numbers. If you can attend the SNAP Conference in Washington in August, I highly encourage you to do so as well. I am not a representative for SNAP, but I feel that the only way we can get traction and get the Bishops to listen is if we all speak together with a loud clear voice and a strong message. I have already registered for the conference. I am looking forward to meeting people with whom I have been corresponding or following in their blogs on-line. It will be nice to put faces and voices to names on websites and emails. I am also looking to meet up some of Father Gibson’s other victims. I am aware of at least one who lives in the D.C. area. There is much to discuss.
If my work travel schedule allows, I will try to attend more of the meetings in Northern Virginia. Becky mentioned that she is trying to get a group going in Richmond, that would put a monthly meeting within a reasonable drive of my home. If you are living in the Richmond or Central Virginia area please consider contacting Becky to let her know you are interested in joining a group in that area. In the meantime I will continue to blog and hope to connect to other people who want to expose the the truth and make a difference.
If you came to this blog looking for information on Father Gibson please leave a comment or send me an email. I will respect your privacy.