5 Tips for a Restorative Staff Retreat

While I know that The Firecracker Foundation is a workplace full of purpose, inspiration, and healing, I am also aware that the potential for staff burnout is high. It is work that is demanding, taxing, and often doesn’t have a satisfying and clear end. Burnout can negatively impact the physical and mental health of our entire staff team.

A diverse group of women pose for a photo together in front of wine bar. They are all smiling and one of them is holding a crying baby.
The Firecracker Foundation staff team from left to right. Erica Dziedzic, Carolyn Abide, Me, Baby Otis, Jasmine Doss, and Ayanna Spencer. And yes, we have a staff baby.

As the Executive Director and someone who preaches about #militantselfcare, I want to be intentional about creating a healthy work environment for the people doing the important work of offering healing to children who have experience sexual trauma and their families. One of the strategies I employ to fight burnout is through staff retreats. I have hosted 2 so far, thanks to a self-care grant from Just Beginnings Collaborative.

Hi. Hello, Funders. If you want to transform the way you fund the work of a team that experiences a lot of vicarious trauma, I would recommend self-care funds. You will lower turnover and increase productivity for your funded organizations. This will improve the success of any project you’re funding. Everybody wins.

Here are 5 things you definitely want to include in your next staff retreat:

Cook Together. Before we left, we created a shopping list of what we planned to eat during the retreat. We considered allergies and aversions (like my deep hatred of olives). We planned for low maintenance meals that were easy to make together. We cooked some beautiful food together and then sat down to share it. Meals felt luxurious and intimate.

A white woman in a jean jacket shucks corn into a trash can. She is looking down and focused on the work. She is standing in a kitchen and shucked corn is in a pile on the counter in front of her.
Erica, the newest member of our team, stepped right up during mealtimes.

Put Rest on the Agenda. We napped. Yep. You heard me. We took naps. We read books. We gazed out at the lake. You can’t call it a retreat if no one gets to rest because your agenda is too full. I literally put REST on the agenda so that we wouldn’t forget and then we even rested some more!

Share Affirmations. Per a suggestion from Ayanna, our Peer Support Specialist, we all wrote a notecard of positive affirmations for each member of our team – including our selves. Happy tears and kind words were shared. It felt good to read such encouraging sweetness from colleagues and it felt good to write them to myself.

As a side note, I keep these notes in my office just in case I need a rainy day pick me up.

Share Unofficial bios. I asked everyone to write an unofficial bio to share with the team. They were each asked to read them and participate in asking each other questions about their bios. It was a wonderful exercise in building community and learning more about the people serving right alongside us. H/T to Joan Garry for this idea.

A Meaningful Project. Make sure you have at least one meaningful project that you can work on together. We worked on our values, principles and agreements as inspired by Mia Mingus and the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective. It was dreamy. We talked about how important it is that every move we make is in service of healing for our community and ourselves.

Your retreat should be customized to match the team you work with. These were not the only things we did but these were the things we benefited from and loved the most.

Pssst…if you want to see what else we did, check out my stories on Instagram here.

Oh and here’s a bonus item.

A person is holding a baby who is reaching out to another person who is touching the baby's hand. They are silhouettes in the open doorway of a barn marketplace. There are various shelves around them.
Carolyn, Otis, and Sarah share a moment at The Fox Barn Marketplace & Winery.

Provide Childcare. We brought Sarah (the nanny) along with us so Carolyn’s baby, Otis, could attend and be cared for when we were doing things that required all of our focus. Not just for the winery. :)

A check in with my staff on the road trip home found them feeling relaxed, full, held, and encouraged. I could’nt have asked for a better outcome.

This funding source will end at the end of this year but I fully intend to keep this line item in the budget.

I hope you have the chance to provide big and small moments of restoration for those in the trenches serving alongside you.

A brown woman stands in a bathroom mirror shaped like a window and snaps a selfie. She is wearing reflective sunglasses and a blue dress with white polka dots.
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In honor of all you do,

PS – Need more guidance? Check out this article by Joan Garry. She has some really great ideas!

Survivor-Led Training

For the past 4 years, I have had the benefit of belonging to the Just Beginnings Collaborative inaugural cohort with other survivors of color and/or other marginalized identities working to end child sexual abuse. It has been challenging and transformational.

A diverse group of people gather in front of a sign that says Possibility Map. They are all smiling and looking into the camera together.

Like all transformational things, it has been disruptive and it has reshaped who I am and how I approach my work.

Recently, several members of my cohort were invited by Kimber Nicoletti-Martinez, Director of the Multicultural Efforts to end Sexual Assault (MESA), to participate in a series of PreventConnect webinars on our collective work. I always try to clear my calendar for an opportunity to work with my cohort so I said, “YES.”

Here’s what happened:

First, I participated in a webinar called Changing the Culture of Schools, Churches, and Communities to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse where we discuss how shifting culture within the heart of organizations and communities can lead to great impacts on preventing child sexual abuse.

Participants included Linda Crockett, Samaritan Safe Church, Ahmad Greene-Hayes, Children of Combahee, and Meg Stone, IMPACT Boston.

Oh and here are my deets if you still need them – Tashmica Torok, The Firecracker Foundation.

Full disclosure.  There are technical difficulties at the beginning and they’re all my fault. Just fast forward past those and the whole thing is full of great things.

5 people of color stand with their arms around each others shoulders smiling at the camera.
Luz Marquez, Tarana Burke, Aishah Shahidah Simmons, me, and Ignacio Rivera

Adult Survivors as Movement Leaders: Lessons Learned from the Just Beginnings Collaborative where you can learn what it looks like to move toward a culture of healing and survivor-centered accountability by centering survivor leadership.

This webinar featured the illustrious Aishah Shahidah Simmons, #LoveWITHAccountability, Amita Swadhin, Mirror Memoirs, and Sonya Shah, The Ahimsa Collective.

Reflecting on our community’s experiences of MSU’s leadership and their unwillingness to listen to survivors on campus, I feel like this webinar might be the one you slide into their DMs.

9 people of color share a table. They're all smiling at the camera and the table is full of glasses and menus.
Celebrating our 2nd anniversary as a cohort together!

The final webinar was Mobilizing and Organizing Communities to End Child Sexual Abuse where you can hear more about community-centered approaches for mobilizing and organizing to end child sexual abuse.

Participants included Ignacio Rivera, The HEAL Project , Strong Oak Lefebvre, Visioning B.E.A.R. Circle Intertribal Coalition, and Suguet Lopez, Lideres Campesinas.

All of these webinars were kicked-off by our Interim Program Coordinator Eb Brown, Just Beginnings Collaborative who is also currently fundraising for the Black Love Convergence. Check it out!

We all have so much to learn so take some time to learn from some of the people I love and respect the most.

Best,

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What to do when you feel powerless.

Last month I was given the opportunity to spend 2 days with the Michigan Disability Rights Coalition (MDRC). Some of my favorite peoples work there and I love, not just their mission, but the way they move in the world.

The training was meant to be a conversation about how the staff at the MDRC could practice Militant Self-Care while shifting into work with the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) and experiencing an increase in the number of times they may encounter sexual violence while serving their clients.

Feelings of overwhelm and powerlessness are common when working on the front lines of any move to end violence because, frankly, there’s so much we simply cannot control. We often know the intimate ways that people are being harmed, their unique vulnerabilities, and how the system is not set up to protect them, heal them, or offer them justice. And, on top of it all, we don’t always have the power to change any of that.

In preparation for this workshop, I googled ‘what to do when you feel powerless.’

Seriously. I did. Google is my favorite consultant.

And guess what I found?

If the goal that is important to people is control, then in situations in which people do not have power, they should seek situations that give them more choices. In situations in which people have limited choices, they should seek power.

Initially, I had suggested that they create a parking lot in their office for gaps in services that they identify to help them decided where to shift their programs or their funding asks in the future. Sometimes a response plan can help us keep moving. Choices.

What we did next was the real game changer because it helped the team focus on where they did have power.

I facilitated an activity where we discussed all of the things they could control. It was beautiful. Maybe someday they’ll share it with you. I encouraged them to hang it up somewhere visible in a nice frame.

It included things like;

  • having control over the messages they share and boosting the signal of voices that are made invisible by ableism and white supremacy
  • not replicating the harm of systems of oppression in their work
  • pushing back on funding restrictions that are not in the best interest of their clients.

In the end, we all stood back, took a deep breath, and smiled. I told them,

Look at how you do this work. There are things you don’t have control over but never forget this list. Hang it up somewhere so that you can remember that you are powerful. Not everyone is doing the work like this and I think that’s so special.

Power. Let’s not shy away from using it for good where we have it. Power can manifest as a boot on someone’s neck or the hand that throws it off.

A group of 6 people that are intergenerational and racially diverse. There are 4 people in the back of the group. From left to right, a black woman smiles and is wearing a black sweater and grey patterned shirt, one white women wearing glasses and her dark brown hair in a bun smiles, another white woman smiles with her brown hair up in a bun, and a white older man in a button down shirt and jeans. In the front is an older woman with white hair and glasses. She's wearing a turquoise shirt and glasses. A brown skinned woman wears a flowered sun dress, jean jacket and gold jewelry with curly hair smiles.

Maybe your office could benefit from this exercise. How good would it feel to focus on what you do have control over and why the way you work is so powerful? Or maybe this could be a conversation about the way you want to be doing this work. Maybe you need to spend time together thinking about your values and the way they are or are not showing up in your organizational moves.

Call me, maybe.

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PS – While I have you here, check out the Disability Visibility Project here and while you’re there, get your Ableism is Trash coffee mug, tote or t-shirt. Winter is coming so I opted for the mug but you do you.

Teen-Led Program Training with GGE

I had the pleasure of visiting Girls for Gender Equity and facilitating a training on Teen-led Programming.

Girls for Gender Equity is in Brooklyn and as soon as I hit the door, the energy of the place lifted me. I was traveling soon after the death of a beloved family member and feeling a little frayed at all ends. I also fell on the sidewalk before I got there.

It was a 4-minute walk. Life happens to all of us, folx.

But as soon as I got there the team bandaged me up and the views from inside the office and outside the windows inspired me to rally. As you can see, they intentionally lift of women of color and it felt good to be in a space with powerful elder activists on the wall.

Their Executive Director Joann is everything. As important as this training was to their goals, she pulled me aside and assured me that everything could happen at the pace that I needed. They were ready to skip it all to make room for my grief. You don’t find that kind of community everywhere, people.

We moved into the training space listening to Janelle Monae and eating fresh fruit and quiche.

As I started to facilitate the training, it became very clear that Girls for Gender Equity is fully equipped with what they need to make the shifts in programming that they want to. Each staff member shared concerns from a space of first wanting to do no harm. They also shared openly times in the past where they felt ill-equipped to deal with a situation but managed to rise to the occasion.

This training was a skill share and the beginning of a collaborative relationship between The Firecracker Foundation and GGE.

One of the things they wanted me to bring to the table is a conversation about the kind of #militantselfcare required to sustain working with teen survivors of sexual violence. Not only are the team at GGE practicing lots of healthy self-care personally but they practice collectively.

Important: They have a DAILY DANCE PARTY.  If you want to dance with them, it happens at 3:45 p.m. every day. Synchronize your watches.

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I left the GGE team sending them best wishes as they step into their power and their well-honed insights as empathetic humans bringing their best to the movement.

Follow them on Instagram @ggenyc!

Bless,

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PS – Did you know that The Firecracker Foundation is hiring? We totally are! Click here for details and please share it with your family and friends.

PPS – Did you know that we are hosting a Healthy Sex(uality) Workshop on September, 29th?! Well. Now you do. Click here for more info.

Bullseye

It has been some time since I last used my blog space. Frankly, I’ve been exhausted. 

When I am not taking calls all day, I am going to meetings all day. When I am not going to meetings all day, I am responding to messages, texts, and emails all day. When I am not doing all of that, I am attempting to be a good mother, wife, daughter, friend – person. 

When I am not doing all of that, I am wondering how I am going to stay healthy, creative, informed, connected in my soul on this schedule. 

I am not a unicorn. That is to say, my problems are not that unique. I don’t feel like my struggles are special on their own. But I have to consider the position I have placed myself in. Within all of those interactions, one truth continues to rise to the top. I am here as an outspoken survivor of child sexual abuse.

My job has become a constant reminder of that fact. With every phone call, every meeting, every message, and every text – I am reminded of how I became this person. With every grant I write and every appeal I mail off, I am asking people to heal children that have sexual violence in common with me. Sometimes people say no or they say hurtful things without realizing it.

I do not regret where I am today. I do not regret the choices I have made to fight child sexual abuse and to heal what I can. But I do have to admit that when the going gets tough this shit is fucking hard.

Being the out survivor in the room often means that people will condescend to you about your obviously emotionally driven, hysterical response to the world. It means that they will decide that your opinion cannot be valid because you have emotions.

It sometimes means that I am triggered, emotional and hysterical. Which also means that sometimes I have to have conversations with my husband, my best friends, my therapist, my family and those I admire to talk myself out of being triggered so that I can respond with my full self. That full self-includes emotional righteous indignation, practical self-evaluation and even (barf) objectivity.

It is true that sometimes fellow survivors, those within the movement to end sexual violence or allies/bystanders will elevate my voice. They will boost my signal. They will use me and my story to make the point they have been trying to express in many different ways.

There is beauty in that. However, the crown jewel often resembles a bullseye placed right over your heart. The same broken, healing, injured heart you seem to be placing in full view of humanity is now a target. That heart is discussed, analyzed, criticized and dissected without your permission and regardless of whether you happen to be in the room. And if you are me, you are often in the room asking a wise counsel to help you discern which way to go. Still. It is painful.

Even when the response is positive or validating, you are still vulnerable. Even when you get what you’ve asked others for, you are still vulnerable. You are still standing in a crowded room naked with all of your scars in full view. There are people who will talk to you about your story at the grocery store, in the playground, at your office, and in the parking garage because they will know your face. They are kind and loving. They are supportive and they want you to know that you’ve moved them, helped them, shown them something about themselves.

And I am so, so grateful.

But I am now the person who often lies when I am on vacation when people ask me about what I do. I need people not to know me. I need them to think that I am a writer or a stay-at-home mom or that I work at a nonprofit that helps kids in the most nondescript way. I need to be able to breathe as something other than an adult survivor of child sexual abuse.

I don’t know what I am saying to you because this is not a request for you to not see me. It is not a request that you don’t tell me the things you’d like to say. It’s not even a post about how I don’t like those things. I want you to boost my signal if it will help us all end sexual violence or bring someone to a space of healing.

I think I’m just saying that I am tired. I’m saying that this is a lonely place. I’m saying that even with all of the privileges and militant self-care I practice, this is still the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life. There are not enough bubble baths, long walks, good plates of food to deny that I am still in a constant position of vulnerability. I have to be so gentle with myself while recognizing that I have work to do.

And I want you to know that I am an amazing gardener. I can fill a place with growing things. I can nurture a sunflower taller than me. I love spiders and their webs. LOVE THEM. I dry things and make magic in teacups. I tell bumblebees that they are safe with me.

I sing. Not often enough but I have a pretty good voice. I love the water but I don’t love to swim. I just want to be near it. I want to hear it and dip my toe in it when I get too hot. I love the things that come from the water. Waves, sea glass, bulbous seaweed and the smell of wind that spends its time dancing across lakes to find me at the shore. It tells me that I am near enough.

I am the silliest mother with the lamest jokes. I am responsible for the laughter, whimsy and downright irresponsible behavior in our home. I encourage bravery, responsibility, and accountability. My family thinks I can make you love your most hated food in my kitchen. 

This is a strange post filled with whiny words about the life I chose. I choose this. I will always choose this but damn. You guys, I am super tired.

And yes. I will accept cheese to accompany my whine. Thank you for the offering.

Honestly,

Tashmica

You Know What You’re Doing.

You may not know this about me but, I have a regular offering. I set aside one hour a month for anyone who wants my advice on building a nonprofit from scratch, community building and heart work.

I’ve been so well loved and supported in my vision. This is my best way of paying it forward.

I offer up my best advice while harnessing the kind of knowledge that comes from talking with individuals on fire for serving their community.

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Over hot cups of coffee I’ve heard nonprofit dreamers utter the same phrase;

“I have no idea what I’m doing.”

It bothers me. Not because it’s insincere. I understand. I’ve said those words myself. I’ve said them under my breath, in meetings and I’m certain, I’ve gone on record as the woman who had no idea what she was doing but chose to move forward anyway.

I was wrong. I should never say that. If you have a vision and you believe you have no idea what you’re doing, you’re wrong too.

Let’s reframe that statement.

Here’s a real time example. I need to create an employee handbook because, guess what? We’re hiring!

My inclination is to say, I have no idea what I’m doing. I could use my self-deprecating humor or I could tell you the vulnerable truth.

I know what kind of culture I want to create. I want policies that are led by my organization’s mission, compassion and justice. I know how I want my employees to feel when they step inside my office – safe, respected and accountable to the expectations of the community invested in the healing of children.

I need help aligning my goals with the laws of the land and managing the risk involved with hiring employees.

Do you see the shift? You can hold fast to your vision while recognizing the help you need to succeed. Here’s how:

1. Get clear on what you want to build or create.
2. Define what you’re not qualified to accomplish.
3. Ask for help.

You don’t need to know everything. The cure to your fear of failure is vulnerability. Ask for help.

Hear me. You know what you’re doing. You can’t do it alone. Spoiler alert: No one accomplishes anything alone.

Give yourself credit for your vision. At worst, you gave thoughtful consideration to how you could make the lives of others better. That’s amazing!

Sincerely,

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Tashmica

PS – If you’re interested in meeting up, email me at Tashmica Torok at gmail .com or hit me up with a DM on Twitter @TashmicaTorok.