Sisters Overcoming Abusive Relationships (SOAR) is an organization run by and for victims of all forms of domestic violence. To be a member of SOAR, one has to be a survivor of domestic violence. The purpose of SOAR is to empower victims of domestic violence through establishing a helping relationship built on collaboration, trust, and the sharing of power. Fostering this type of environment enables women to move from being a victim to a survivor of domestic violence. As Gamble (1995) explains, empowerment-focused practice helps develop the capacity of individuals to understand their environment, make choices, take responsibility for their choices, and influence their life situations through organization and advocacy.
Victims of domestic violence voluntarily come together from all geographical areas of RI, to rebuild their self-esteem and regain a sense of power over their life as well as to work with systems that service victims of domestic violence. These victims are members of SOAR who share their experience and expertise on this issue with the systems that offer services to them such as courts, shelters, hospitals, police, and other institutions. SOAR does this in order to guarantee that the needs of victims are being met. "When voluntary engagement with community systems enables individuals to make better use of community resources and to shape the character of those resources, these individuals have an increased sense of personal power" (Rappaport, Swift & Hess, 1984; Solomon, 1976, 1985; Staples, 1990). This personal power enables individuals to regain control of their lives.
SOAR will do this work through informing and educating victims of domestic violence so they can act on their own behalf and have a voice in the decisions that affect their lives. Staff working with SOAR members will focus on empowering victims through sharing information and skills building of various forms. One full-time staff person and a full time VISTA volunteer will be working with members. Currently, SOAR has 20 active members and plans to recruit 25 more within this next year. We expect that SOAR will reach approximately 400 victims of domestic violence through their speaking engagements. Members speak at high schools, colleges, community centers, churches, support groups, and at other community events. Members of SOAR are considered models of change for victims and symbols of hope for a renewed life.
It is expected that victims who are involved with SOAR will re-build their sense of dignity, self-respect and self-esteem. It is also expected that members will move toward the belief that they do have the control to regulate most of the events in their life and that they can assume personal responsibility for making that step towards change. It is also expected that the battered women's movement in Rhode Island will benefit from SOAR. Victims' personal experiences give them an invaluable perspective on what needs to be done to end domestic violence.
SOAR was started in 1989 by a group of survivors of domestic violence. SOAR is an organization supported by the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence (RICADV), a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending domestic violence in Rhode Island. The RICADV provides SOAR with in-kind support and fiscal sponsorship. Although SOAR is not a separate organization, they operate with a high degree of autonomy, conducting planning, and implementing strategies as if they were a distinct organization.
SOAR was founded by a group of women who were involved in a support group but wanted to move on from the inner healing work of the support group to address the root causes of domestic violence. In turn, they felt they could be a support system for current victims and share their experiences in order to exhibit that change and healing is possible. They also realized the importance of having a group run by survivors, ensuring that the voices of those affected were prominent in the battered women's movement. They formed with the mission to "promote, advocate, and work for the elimination of domestic violence and embody and give visibility to the voices of abused women." To be a member of SOAR, one has to be a survivor of domestic violence.
The membership of SOAR is survivors of domestic violence from throughout the state of Rhode Island. Anyone who is a survivor of domestic abuse is eligible to be a member of SOAR. The majority of members are low-income or working class, and many members are single mothers with children. The ages of members vary, although most members are between the ages of 30-50 years old. The race/ethnic composition of SOAR constituents is mostly white, Hispanic, and African-American although SOAR's commitment is to bring in leaders and members from Asian communities. SOAR has many members with disabilities, often from the hands of their abusers. SOAR is a statewide group and has strong geographical diversity, with four local chapters. Members represent the four geographical areas of Northern RI, Central RI, Southern RI, and the Newport and Bristol area. Qualifications of Members, Staff and Volunteers
The membership of SOAR runs the organization, therefore they are very involved. We believe that members' control over the operation of SOAR is very important in the internal empowerment of victims. Members do this work on a volunteer basis and are responsible for carrying out the plans. SOAR belongs to the members and they will do the work that needs to be done and will continue to develop the organization into a strong powerful force and voice for survivors and victims of domestic violence. They, in deed, are the ones most qualified to run this organization. SOAR currently has one part-time paid staff person (16 hours per week) and a student intern program which recruits students from Rhode Island College to also work with members. A staff member from the RICADV spends 10% of her time overseeing the operation of SOAR and facilitating their meetings. She has an extensive history in organizing, advocacy, and coalition work experience. The part-time staff person, who is also a member of SOAR, has extensive history working as an advocate for victims and holds a BSW from Roger Williams University. Her major responsibilities as a member and advocate include:
Although staff play an important role in organizing the efforts of SOAR, this is truly the members' organization. Members of SOAR benefit from being in SOAR because it empowers them. Equally important, SOAR helps victims of domestic abuse empower themselves through directly providing educational, supportive, and informational services as well as being a model of change for victims. Who knows better how to move beyond abuse than those who have experienced abuse and changed their lives? SOAR brings to the table voices of those who have lived and suffered from domestic violence. Their personal experience from living with domestic violence, living in shelters, dealing with services for victims, dealing with the court system, dealing with the police, and dealing with the hospitals and other support systems gives them an invaluable perspective on what needs to be done to help victims change their current situation and end the abuse in their life. SOAR members are the vital component of this organization.
There are many approaches to ending this horrendous violence against women and their families. SOAR has chosen to inform and educate the women themselves so they can become empowered; empowered to speak for themselves and empowered to choose what issues they want to address. Empowerment happens at two levels:
Two; Victims are empowered through:
SOAR has a very close working relationship with the six domestic violence agencies throughout the state and the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence. SOAR has worked with the member agencies in the past by speaking and reaching out to victims in support groups, offering the victims perspective during development of agency programs, and speaking at agency special events. SOAR members have worked with the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence on policy and advocacy issues and have offered personal testimony to change public policy as it relates to domestic violence.
SOAR has also worked with Rhode Island Legal Services in the development of the information pamphlet "A Guide to Family Court". This booklet helps victims through the family court process by informing them of the laws on custody and visitation and their rights as a victim of domestic violence.
SOAR has also worked with the Rhode Island Department of Health in the development of Rhode Island's Statewide Surveillance System for Tracking Incidents of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. This tracking system was used to evaluate the effectiveness of prevention interventions for both victims and perpetrators.3. Plan of Operation SOAR's Overall Goal is : TO Empower Victims of Domestic Violence
Objective 1: Helping victims gain or regain self-dignity, self-esteem, and control of their life as well as to provide a vehicle for victims to work collectively to end domestic violence
Promote SOAR through informational materials and media in order to do outreach to victims Activities and timetable:
Currently, a staff person of the RICADV oversees the operations of SOAR. SOAR's intentions are to hire a full-time coordinator/advocate through VOCA funding in order to supervise current staff and student interns who will be working with SOAR members. This person will also attend and support SOAR leaders at meetings as well as facilitate and organize trainings for both advocates and SOAR members. The coordinator/advocate will also organize and facilitate the triannual retreats which are held for yearly strategic planning.
The coordinator/advocate will also be responsible for supervising the advocate and student interns. Supervision for staff and interns is scheduled for two hours per week and also on an as needed basis. The coordinator is also responsible for overseeing and collecting the statistical data on service delivery. Fiscal management will be overseen by our fiscal sponsor; the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Criteria for success of the project:
In keeping with the organizational value of member-leadership, members evaluate staff on a monthly basis during statewide meetings. A qualitative method is used where survivors assess staff and the organization as a whole. SOAR members provide feedback to staff regarding recent trainings, reproduction of informational materials, and staff performance. If improvement in any area is needed, members work with advocates on problem solving and solutions are implemented in the future. Currently, organizational evaluation occurs at the two planning retreats as staff and volunteers review the work-to-date and adjust plans accordingly. SOAR is considering working with a third-party evaluator to assess the organization's work and capacity.
Members have also included personal statements regarding their experience with SOAR and how being part of SOAR has made an impact in their life. This is in the section labeled "Victims' Satisfaction".