By Jennifer L. Warren
BALMVILLE – Not a sound could be heard inside of the Powelton Country Club’s Dining room as each of the 37 women’s names was read and guests fully felt the potency of the somber moment.
Since 2004, in Sullivan and Orange Counties, that number of female lives has been senselessly taken at the hands of their male intimate partners. The riveting statistic followed the reading of a poem, paying tribute to all women who have had to face the harrowing struggles and challenges connected to domestic abuse. It’s the very reason Safe Homes of Orange County was formed 36 years ago, and has since evolved its namesake into Fearless! Despite the title change, the mission remains steadfast: “Building an informal, just, accountable society, so all people can experience supportive and safe relationships, free of abuse, exploitation, and oppression through education, prevention and advocacy.”
Sunday, a major fundraiser, Celebration of Hope Brunch, recognized that commitment to all the hard work Fearless! has held steadfast to for over 30 years, along with four special, amazing women who have helped spread the critical message of safe-healthy relationships, while eliminating intimate partner violence, teen dating violence and human trafficking in the community, took place. It’s direly important work that none involved with take lightly.
“When it comes to organizations like Fearless!, we need to realize these issues could happen to anyone at any time,” said Crystal Johnson, a Board Member for Fearless! “People oftentimes don’t want to believe it’s happening when it does, but that’s where we help by offering so many needed programs and services that people can use to get that help.”
One of those pivotal people of assistance over the years has been Maddie Miller, Orange County Department of Probation Deputy Director since 2021 and the recipient of the 2022 Family Justice Award. Working for Orange County for over 30 years, Miller began her career in social services, then moved on to probation for the next 17 years, working with Adjudication PINS (People in Need of Supervision) as well as juvenile delinquents. Her work has landed her a critical role as a liason with Fearless!, helping in any and all ways she is able.
“It’s been such an honor to work with people who care so much,” said Miller upon accepting her award. “Just to be a teeny, tiny piece of the amazing work they do each day means so much.”
Also honored was Kara Sprague, a Pine Bush science teacher, who took it upon herself to help educate teenagers as well as fellow staff members on safe relationships and domestic violence. Her grassroots work has led to the creation of YESS students, ambassadors- now empowered- who are helping to spread the word among their peers. The recipient of the 2022 Hope Award, Sprague thanked Fearless! for its timely, priceless presence with assisting one of her students-involved in a verbally abuse relationship- get the help she needed right before the Pandemic hit.
Deborah Worden, the 2022 Mildred Warren Good-Neighbor Award recipient, was recognized for her contributions to Sullivan County in her role as Executive Director of the 501(c)(3) non-profit independent living community, Action Toward Independence. Making a marked difference in the lives of people and families impacted by domestic violence, the agency serves people with disabilities throughout the Hudson Valley. An active volunteer in such places as the fire department, rape crisis hotline and residential substance abuse program, Worden’s positive, powerful impact on her community is felt by many.
“I’m a survivor of domestic violence, so this award means so much to me,” said an emotional Warden. “It’s especially meaningful to have my daughter here with me.”
The final honoree, Inaudy Gil, Executive Director of the Orange County Human Rights Commission, received the 2022 Jane Chertock Legacy Award. Gil has been a tireless advocate for over 20 years relentlessly aiming to eliminate racism, sexism, oppression, homophobia and gender inequality in her community.
“This is a coming home for me, as Safe Homes is where I learned how to help so many,” said a visibly touched Gil as she thanked an entourage of people in her life, many present.
“Thank you so much for allowing me to rock the boat; this award is for all the brave, strong women who know everything it takes to get through the day.” Pausing, Gil added, “They are the warriors, the survivors.”
Also speaking throughout the event was the Executive Director of Fearless!, Kellyann Kostyal-Larrier, who reminded all present how the arduous work and fight continues.
“Fearless! has no intention of sitting down, fighting for all victims,” affirmed Kostyal-Larrier. “Too many lives are at risk; all of it is preventable, and each of us has the power to do something about it.”