In Their Words: Our August Sunlight Retreat For Survivors of Rape

I am overwhelmed with what I felt happened at our August 4-Day Sunlight Retreat for Survivors. I will let survivors tell their first hand accounts about the gifts you gave them. These women were of all different backgrounds and ages, from age 18-73. 

“Thank you for every one of us who came to this event from all over the country spanning multiple generations of women. There are not many spaces like this that exist in general because not many people see the need importance or need for these kinds of resources. That is why people came in from all over the country. We formed bonds and connections that will last forever along our journey of healing. Thank you so much and I will be forever grateful and I am inspired to build more community somehow and pay it forward.” - Remy

As to be expected, they were all nervous at check in. I began by asking my usual question, “how many of you almost didn’t come?”. 100% of the hands went up. We all looked around and laughed in relief. Love on a Leash warmly welcomed the women, as volunteers mingled with the group, offering water refills and desserts. Within a few moments, Team 3 collectively realized they would be safe and cared for.

“Instantly I felt surrounded by care and compassion. I felt safe and able to open up.” -Cloey

There was an instantaneous connection between us. We all still chat daily in our private Facebook Group. The online group works well because we focused on building the bonds first, and then are invested in each others' journeys of healing. Most importantly, we trust each other.

Dr. Shiva Ghaed is a critical component of the transformation, as one survivor said I learned what exposure therapy was for the first time and I have been in therapy for 15 years. Sunlight Retreats is not afraid to use the word ‘rape’ in their title. That is a sign somebody cares to recognize what we recognize, that we were victims of a crime called rape.” Her expertise, as well as her innate warmness, immediately allowed the team to open their hearts to receiving her message, to receiving the journey to growth. 

“This weekend has been game changing for me. It helped shift my thinking and get excited for the new path I am about to embark on.” - Emily 

“I am infinitely grateful for the retreat because it gave me the tools to face my life in a compassionate and graceful way.  I would watch life from the nosebleeds, rather than participate in the game. Now, I have the tools to truly love myself in a way I never could have imagined. This experience is something every survivor could benefit from. I am so grateful to be free from the shame and burden of trauma.” - Tasha

New Sunlight Additions This Year:

  • Nonprofit Status: We are now an official nonprofit! We are also listed in the PayPal Giving Fund and hope to step up our fundraising in order to add more retreats.

  • Magic Number 4: We added a 4th day, and doubled our numbers to 45 survivors. This seems to be the magic number. By day four, the retreat was still full of energy, and lasting bonds had been formed. While I was nervous that it might be too big, by the end we all knew each other by name and were able to fully support one another. When I checked in with the team, one said, 

“It is perfect, I am usually not very social, but here I am doing my rounds, checking in with everyone.”

 For those who had time before the flight, one survivor with a sailboat offered to take survivors on-board for a ride. Six of them went out together, and supported a fellow survivor’s exposure therapy as her attack happened on a boat.

  • Internet Presence: Out of all 45 Survivors, about half flew in after searching for an actual program to help online. 

“It was serendipitous that I came across Sunlight Retreats online. This was EVERYTHING I need: Safe space and community to find more ways to continue on my journey towards healing after feeling so isolated and scared for decades.” - Cheryl 

  • Housing: Two hotels stepped forward with discounted rates, the Rancho Bernardo Inn and the Holiday Inn Express. This helped us accept more survivors to the retreat and provide the gift of healing. 

  • Scholarships: Partial and full scholarships were offered to low-income survivors ($23K or less household income) who camped at the venue. Scholarships were not available for those staying at the hotels.

  • The Art of Expression: We also offered a new Expressive Arts session with Carey Kramer, and the survivors absolutely LOVED it. They even asked more time! Thus, we were up till 10pm, making our Vision Books, processing the long hard day of trauma work.

  • We welcome Trauma Informed Yoga and Grief Yoga master Monique Minahan, and the women were floored with being encouraged to take up space. 

Sunlight Retreats Pain Points:

  • Shuttles: Next year we will have to raise more funds to hire a shuttle service or have more volunteer drivers. Many survivors were uncomfortable with ridesharing, and after one shared that her assault happened in a Lyft. Tracy Mollo, Rachel Warstler Immon and Kendall Barnes stepped up to give rides, along with fellow survivors with cars who helped carpool. 

  • SEO and Social Media: Our website traffic doubled after I took a free community college SEO course while pregnant with Bo, but it could still benefit from experts. If you know someone willing to give our website and social media an audit, it would be a great way to help survivors find us. As of right now, we are stuck on pages 3 and 10 and 54 of Google depending on your keywords.

  • Venue Size: We will have to look at a larger venue to accommodate feeding 50 people 3x a day. We spent a lot of time just coordinating ice runs and catering delivery because our standard size fridge could only hold one meal at a time. A cooler bought off our Amazon Wishlist by Maureen Kirk helped a lot, but we realize that fresh and healthy food requires lots of storage. 4-day volunteer Carlie Ward spent $600 on 6+ grocery runs for fresh fruits and produce.

  • Weather: The heat in August is considerable! Major props to our amazing healing workers and Dr. Shiva who helped survivors process trauma all day long in the hot Escondido heat. We did have tents, which helped, but we might look at other months other than August where survivors could gather with minimal impact to children, school and work.

  • Volunteers Needed: We will need more mental health volunteers. This retreat had many severe cases, with more than half coping with childhood sexual abuse. My amazing long-term social worker volunteers Amy O’Donnel, Colleen Cobbs and newcomer Anne Julian, as well as service dog Sig were a hugely valued resource. They checked in with survivors if they needed some one on one help as the retreat progressed.

Time and Money: 

Right now, survivors have to wait up to a year after they contact us to participate in a retreat. Our financial goal is to raise at least $100K. This enables us to do at least 2 retreats a year, as well as 4 coed trauma workshops. In the coed workshops, we aim to have male survivors  feel safe and comfortable attending. One Team 3 Survivor who was planning on attending attempted suicide two months before the retreat. We hope to welcome her next year. While these retreats are not medical treatment, the majority or survivors say they are lifesaving and life changing. We need to ramp up more funding, part-time staff, and potential venues to make these retreats possible more than once a year. I have a great intern, Ashley Guzik, a senior at Point Loma Nazarene University, who has kept me in check. For those of you who know me well, organized Excel sheets are not my strong suit. She has and continues to save me countless times when I breeze by emails and forms. She wants to work for a women focused nonprofit and when she graduates in May, I want it to be the Sunlight Retreats Foundation.

“EVERYONE HERE-Every participant, guest, host, volunteer (2 legged or 4) has touched my life. I wrap my arms around you and share a hug of gratitude.”

So in short, after a very long report is we had 154 volunteers and donors, raised $5,400 by donors and survivors contributed $12,000 in copays. I want to be transparent about our pain points which was a great lesson I learned in the Mission Edge City Social Impact Accelerator Lab. We are all in this together, and I very much appreciate the brain trust we are building, coming together to find solutions. 

We are all  S u n l i g h t

Sign up for our interest list to attend an upcoming Sunlight Retreat (projected for Fall 2020 depending on donations) or trauma workshops or trauma informed programming.

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brittany Kirk