By Courtney Day, T-G Staff Writer and used with permission of the Ashland Times-Gazette
3/9/15 ASHLAND, Ohio - Through a new partnership between Ashland University's Enactus organization and Rape Crisis Domestic Violence Safe Haven, survivors of domestic and sexual abuse are learning job readiness skills and are being empowered to take back control of their lives.
With the help from a $1,500 women's empowerment grant from Wal-Mart, the AU students purchased computers, printers and flash drives for survivors to use as they learn from students about resume and cover letter creation, interview techniques and etiquette, budgeting skills, computer skills and self-defense.
Meanwhile, Safe Haven offers free day care for survivors' children and a free meal for the family.
"They are just really excited about the program," Safe Haven family advocate Cindy Kyser said. "We have one woman who never has been on the computer."
Kyser said the partnership with the university has helped her support group branch out from helping survivors cope with their pasts to helping them rebuild their lives and work toward better futures.
AU professor Kris Hovsepian is faculty adviser to Enactus, a group she said focuses on community outreach to help people improve their own quality of life.
She recalls having a seminar on campus many years ago and finding that no one attended - not because there wasn't a need in the community but because the people who may have benefited lacked the confidence to visit the college campus, thinking it was not a place for them.
In an effort to break down those barriers, Hovsepian's students now meet people where they are. In this case, they meet survivors at Safe Haven's support group Tuesday evenings.
The support group is made up of shelter residents and other survivors of rape and domestic violence. It happens to include only women, but Safe Haven does serve men as well.
While the women in the group are learning life and career skills, the most important thing they gain from interactions with the students is confidence, Safe Haven director Cindy Hudnut said.
"When individuals who have nothing or have lost everything see how people outside their norm care about them and want to help, it makes a huge difference," Hudnut said.
In March, Enactus students and fashion students will take the survivors to an upscale used clothing store to select business-appropriate clothing to purchase through the grant funding. Then the group will have an etiquette luncheon at the restaurant to gain confidence with that setting.
Senior and Enactus co-president Hayley Ramser said as a fashion minor, the idea of helping people find business clothing sparked her interest in the project.
"What I've learned in college so far I can pass on to these women and say, 'Here's what I've learned,'" sophomore Alyssa Bayne said.
Sophomore Lindsay Barth said it's rewarding to build bonds with the women as they become more comfortable with the students and the skills they are learning. "It's a really satisfying feeling knowing we are helping others," she said.
Hudnut said the students have been amazing to work with.
"They've been empathetic. They've been honest. They've been true to themselves," Hudnut said. "They're authentic, and that's huge."
Safe Haven is looking for more survivors who would like to join the group to meet other survivors and learn career readiness skills and self-defense. To learn more, call Safe Haven at 419-282-6097.