Building a Cultural Bridge in Lancaster
Several weeks ago, I started a part-time volunteer job at Safe Communities. I wrote about the restorative experience here on this blog of being a participant at the retreat led by Linda Crockett and Mark Harris in the spring. I was already in awe of Linda and her leadership skills, and at the retreat I realized what a lantern-bearer she is. I felt a pull in the direction of adding my efforts to hers to advocate for those who are looking for support in changing or leaving an abusive situation, and to support survivors in their quest to thrive. This was one of the reasons for moving here, as I outlined in this earlier post.
Linda and I had talked earlier about the significant opposition that those who report child sexual abuse face within the Plain Communities. Since I left my Amish family and community when I was twenty to escape from abuse, I’ve find myself being an interpreter of the very culture I left. I thought why not use what I know to help Safe Communities with the work they’re doing within Plain Communities.
Weeks after we moved here, Mark Harris, Director at Safe Communities called me with the news of Linda’s significant illness. Being the vibrant person she is, it was a shock to hear what a brush with death she had. She has made a remarkable recovery, and everyone is grateful that she is still helping to guide the ship of Safe Communities. However, she is stepping down in her role as Executive Director. I’m helping out during this transition.
It is astounding to see the huge impact such a small organization is having in Lancaster County, not only among the Plain communities, but among other groups as well. The projects they take on are designed to make systemic changes. One example is their Pennsylvania Dutch Interpreter Project. Linda recently wrote about this:
The opportunity to develop this project came when I spoke at a PA Court conference in November of 2022 about Amish culture and the justice system, emphasizing that language barriers too often blocked young children from access to justice. Court officials contacted us post-conference, saying it was a great source of frustration that despite efforts, they did not have any native PA Dutch speakers in a state with the largest Amish population in the nation. All their outreach had failed, and the few Amish women who took the certification examination did not pass. Given the exam is written at a two-year college degree level and most Amish woman only have an 8th grade education, this was not surprising. They asked for the help of Safe Communities. This is a systemic cultural change with potential benefit to abused Amish children and their mothers, so we agreed.
Leveraging our relationships with Amish communities, we held an introductory workshop at a historic one-room school to introduce the program, attended by about 25 Amish. From that pool, we recruited a group of people to apply for certification in 2023. We worked with The Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts to simplify the process and get waivers for requirements such as photo identification, which Amish generally do not possess. We set up study circles in Amish homes for applicants to improve their English proficiency, become familiar with the basics of the justice system, practice interpretation, and prepare for the test, developing the curriculum as we progressed through 40 hours of classes, with Safe Communities staff and some volunteers teaching. History was made when ten Amish applicants passed the examination on October 18.
In September, I had the privilege of attending one of the Study Groups led by Mark. I was awed by the courage of the participants to take on this challenge, knowing that at least some of them were facing opposition within their communities. Part of the class included participants reading passages from my memoir, Liberating Lomie, and having them interpreted into their native language. This gave the publishing of my book a whole new meaning. It was an honor to have it used in this way.
I am making connections within the Amish community with those who have been inspired by Linda’s leadership to stand up and resist how abuse is handled in their congregations. Knowing how much courage it takes for Amish women to speak up, this is incredible. Linda has been accused of helping women find their voices. I’d say she is doing her job. I will gladly be accused of being her accomplice.
When I left my community forty-some years ago, I didn’t think I’d ever look back. However as I get older, I find myself circling back around to my roots. There are some good aspects of living in an Amish community. There is a sense of belonging that comes from being surrounded by people who you’ve known all your life, and to know your place in the community. It is comforting to have the centuries-old traditions carry you from the cradle to the grave. However, this tight-knit society can also be stifling, especially in abusive situation. What I see happening here in Lancaster, is that there are now women advocating from within for abused children. Normally anyone who dares to stand up to their leaders are on their way out of the community, but some in this community are saying, “We don’t want to leave, we want you to do better.” I want to hold hands with these Amish women in sisterhood and support them in their quest to seek justice from within. It is a worthy goal to build this bridge between my two cultures in the New Year.
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