Member Spotlight: SARCC
08/12/2015 09:22 AM
Hanging on the wall in the children’s playroom is a wide array of artwork. One piece of paper features the black and white outline of a person with Band-Aids stuck across the body at various angles. The top of the paper reads, “People Aren’t Allowed to Touch Me Here…” The children’s playroom is where the Sexual Assault Resource and Counseling Center (SARCC) sees between 200 and 250 children per year; the average age of the adolescent clients is nine. Being in the playroom and utilizing different forms of art help the children to open up and express their thoughts and emotions to the counselors.
“Art plays an important role in healing,” Jenny Murphy-Shifflet, the president and CEO of SARCC, said standing in front of the “Path to Well-Being.”
The “Path to Well-Being” is a wall mural located in SARCC’s office at 615 Cumberland Street in Lebanon. SARCC is located on the second floor, and they co-own the building with Lebanon Family Health Services which is located on the first floor. The mural in SARCC’s office depicts a dark forest at the far left end, with a dark sky and gnarled tree. Then, as the mural moves to the right, the sky brightens, a garden grows, and a rainbow and orange sun appear on the horizon. The mural is decorated with the handprints of some of SARCC’s clients.
“We asked our clients to put their handprints at a spot on the mural to represent where they felt they were on their journey,” Murphy-Shifflet explained. “Then we noticed that people started to leave messages for one another, like on a message board.”
Another project which allows victims to express themselves is the Clothesline Project, which consists of T-shirts decorated by survivors of sexual abuse and victims’ loved ones displayed for public education. Originally started in Massachusetts in 1990, the project gets its name from women who used to communicate their abuse to one another while hanging their laundry out on the clothesline. Each colored shirt represents a different type of abuse.
From 1983 through 1985, local volunteers working in conjunction with the Harrisburg Rape Crisis Center helped and served victims of sexual violence in Lebanon County. Because the number of individuals in need of aid was so high, SARCC was formed in 1985 and was deemed by the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR) as the sole provider of sexual assault services in Lebanon County. In 2009, SARCC also became the sole provider for Schuylkill County. Today, SARCC continues to follow its mission statement and “engages all individuals, families, and communities in healing, advocating and educating for the elimination of sexual violence” by being the “voice through which all sexual violence is healed and eliminated.”
“SARCC is unique in that it is a stand-alone program,” Murphy-
Shifflet explained. “We are one of 50 programs in PA. Many other programs merged, but we decided that we could better follow our mission of serving sexual assault victims by staying separate.”
Murphy-Shifflet is the only executive director that SARCC has had since its inception. A board of approximately 11-12 individuals likewise helps her to govern the organization. Around 15 employees comprise the SARCC staff, split between both the Lebanon and the Schuylkill offices.
Many people in the local community may initially believe that sexual violence is not prevalent in this place we all call home. However, just because something goes unseen and unheard, does not make it nonexistent. When faced with the statistics, the truth about sexual violence is both staggering and inescapable.
From 2013-2014, the SARCC offices in Lebanon and Schuylkill Counties handled a combined total of 2,136 victim-related calls through their hotline. They worked with 996 clients, offering 3,712 hours of counseling and case management. The offices see between 500-800 new clients every year. Murphy-Shifflet stated that the Lebanon office has already seen approximately 500 individuals in 2015.
Since she started with SARCC in 1988, Murphy-Shifflet said that she has noticed differences in the types of victimization their counselors see.
“In the 80s, we were just beginning to talk about child abuse and date rape,” Murphy-Shifflet stated. “Then in the 90s we were starting to do work with male victims and the military. Now, we’re working with clients with mental health and cognitive issues. Half of our staff in Lebanon is also bilingual.”
SARCC offers a number of services to support victims of sexual violence. SARCC provides free and confidential crisis counseling and intervention 24 hours a day. They have a 24-hour hotline manned by state certified volunteers. Volunteers are also always on call to accompany sexual assault victims to the hospital, to the police station, or to court cases to provide counseling and emotional support.
SARCC likewise offers prevention education programs to schools and to the public. From 2013-2014, SARCC presented 1,349 prevention programs to 31,646 students and adults in Lebanon and Schuylkill Counties. SARCC also provides aid to victims through prison support groups.
“I think that one of our strengths is our ability to reach out to underserved populations,” Murphy-Shifflet said, “like the LGBT community. We also do a lot of advocacy. We work with local law enforcement, district attorneys, and mental health providers to help clients and sexual violence survivors get through ‘the system.’”
SARCC relies on community involvement and community partnerships to help in its dual mission of changing the societal norm of acknowledging what constitutes as sexual violence, and providing a place for survivors to go to feel safe and receive support. SARCC recently collaborated with other local community members and organizations to open the Children’s Resource Center in August of 2014 on Cornwall Road. Counselors from SARCC are on hand at the resource center two days per week. The organization also partnered with Lebanon Valley College, Leigh Carbon Community College, and Penn State Schuylkill for the Live the Green Dot Bystander Program which advocates violence prevention. SARCC collaborates with the Lebanon Valley Family YMCA to offer a Healthy Relationship Camp in the summer to discuss bullying and teach children how to be respectful to one another.
“What we want to do is change the norm of any level of violence,” Murphy-Shifflet explained. “That doesn’t mean that you have to wear a superwoman’s cape. It just means doing something, even a phone call. Not everyone can do everything, but everyone can do something.”
There is no cost for SARCC’s clients to use the organization’s services. Clients are referred to SARCC through human services organizations, through word-of-mouth, or simply through self-referral. According to Murphy-Shifflet, an end to sexual violence can only come about when the community’s understanding about what sexual violence is changes, when individuals acknowledge that it can be a family member or trusted friend that commits acts of sexual violence or that men can be victims of sexual violence as well.
On August 14, SARCC will host the 3rd Annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event. SARCC is looking for corporate teams of men and women to sign up and take a stand against gender violence. The event will begin at 5 p.m. at 9th and Cumberland Streets. Over 90 men participated in last year’s walk which raised over $5,500.
In the 2013-2014 fiscal year, SARCC also received a number of both local and national awards. They were named Non-Profit of the Year in both Lebanon and Schuylkill Counties. Vice President Joe Biden recognized them in the 20th anniversary report of the Violence Against Women Act. SARCC was also awarded a Justice Assistance Grant of $240,000 through a very competitive, statewide grant process. The organization established an agency endowment fund, and in 2015 was awarded the Governor’s Victim Service Pathfinders Award.
Anyone interested in learning more about SARCC’s services and programs, signing up for an upcoming event, or learning about how to volunteer at or make a donation to SARCC, can contact them at the Lebanon office at 717-270-6972 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional information is also available at www.sarcclebanon.org.