Denim Day strengthens our community response to sexual violence

On Wednesday, April 24, Aurora caregivers supported Denim Day, a campaign to raise awareness and support survivors of sexual assault.

In some locations, caregivers were able to wear denim in exchange for a $5 donation to the Aurora Health Care Abuse Response Fund.  View a slideshow of activities at multiple Aurora locations in southeastern Wisconsin.

Aurora Health Care Foundation President Cristy Garcia-Thomas and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett

Aurora Health Care Foundation President Cristy Garcia-Thomas and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

Local leaders joined at Milwaukee City Hall for a press conference hosted by the City’s Commission on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.  This year’s “Persons of Influence” campaign featured local leaders wearing denim in support of the 2013 event.

Aurora Health Care is a champion for sexual assault survivors through the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) programs throughout our system, the Sexual Assault Treatment Center, and The Healing Center, where survivors receive free counseling, group therapy and bilingual advocacy.

The Healing Center provides services to more than 600 people annually, and the Sexual Assault Treatment Center has treated more than 1,200 people since 2010.

Through your gift to Denim Day, you can help The Healing Center and other Aurora Health Care services strengthen our community response to sexual violence.

Every gift can change a life. Consider yours today at


Spirited Souls- Britny’s Gift to The Healing Center

We’d like to recognize Britny for her generous donation to The Healing Center. Instead of birthday presents, she asked for money to help survivors heal. Britny raised $450 and we feel so grateful for her fundraising and caring heart!

The Healing Center provides counseling, group therapy and other support services. All of our services are free, as we believe that everyone, regardless of inability to pay, deserves the help they need. To learn more about our services, please visit our website

Honor the strength of survivors of sexual violence at the 4th Annual Hope Shining Gala

Stephanie coordinates volunteers, marketing efforts and operations for The Healing Center in Walker’s Point.

The Healing Center hosts its 4th annual Hope Shining Gala in honor survivors of sexual violence. The event will take place Thursday, December 6, 2012, at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, Bradley Pavilion (929 N. Water St. Milwaukee, WI) from 5:30-8:30 p.m.

Enjoy a silent auction, delicious food and drink, a wine/tea/coffee pull, live music by Frank Tarantino, emcee Kim Murphy, reporter from Fox 6 News and heartfelt words from survivors who wish to share their stories.

The 2012 recipients of Hope Shining Awards include Linda Davis and Sally Turner, founding mothers of The Healing Center and champions for survivors of sexual violence. Throughout the evening, The Healing Center will highlight the work and efforts of these honorees and the impact they have made in the community.

Maryann Clesceri, Executive Director of The Healing Center states, “We are honored to host this gala in recognition of all our strong survivors and hope to raise much needed funds to support the work we do in helping men and women heal from sexual abuse. All of our services are free, so we rely on our generous donors to continue counseling, group therapy and advocacy for those who are uninsured or underinsured.”

Tickets can be purchased online for $70 each at

For more information about this event, questions regarding sponsorship or general inquiries about The Healing Center, please contact Stephanie Shabangu at (414) 225-4247, or .

The Healing Center provides counseling, group therapy and other support services. All of our services are free, as we believe that everyone, regardless of inability to pay, deserves the help they need. To learn more about our services, please visit our website

Fighting for women’s wellness worldwide

Stephanie coordinates volunteers, marketing efforts and operations for The Healing Center in Walker’s Point.

Last week I watched this amazing film called Half the Sky, a documentary about turning oppression into opportunity for women around the world. This 4-hour special chronicled the lives of these women as they faced abuse and poverty head on and tackled complicated issues such as sex trafficking, gender-based violence, maternal mortality and lack of access to education.

I am in awe of the strength of those who face such brutal attacks, lifelong trauma and hardships at every turn. It was encouraging to see how leaders from the countries highlighted in the film (Kenya, Cambodia, Somaliland and beyond) fought for women’s rights and in many cases, continue to risk their own safety on a daily basis for those in need.

If you have the chance to see this film, I highly recommend it! There is also a great website for learning more about those involved and the important issues:

The Healing Center provides counseling, group therapy and other support services. All of our services are free, as we believe that everyone, regardless of inability to pay, deserves the help they need. To learn more about our services, please visit our website

Reaching out in times of tragedy

On Sunday, August 5th, the peaceful Sikh community underwent a brutal attack at the temple in Oak Creek. This act of terrorism may have affected us directly or touched the life of a close friend or co-worker. Regardless of our connection to the tragedy, we can all come together and support the victims and their families.

Stephanie coordinates volunteers, marketing efforts and operations for The Healing Center in Walker’s Point.

The local media has provided some ideas for reaching out to those in need. In addition to responding in times of crisis, it’s important for us all to practice acceptance and take time to help and learn about others who may be different from ourselves on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, Milwaukee’s issues of segregation have forced great divides between the people of this city. By working to embrace all the unique cultures and religions around us, we can begin to mend the gaps that continue to keep us apart, and together, build stronger communities.

For more information on how to help those involved, check out these ideas from the Huffington Post below:

Help Cover Funeral Costs

Amardeep Kaleka, the son of Satwant Singh, the president of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, created an online fundraiser “We Are Sikhs” to help cover funeral costs for victims. Singh died along with five other members in the shooting Sunday. None of the money will go to the Kaleka family, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

Donations accepted here.

Support Victims
An Indiegogo fund will benefit the temple shooting victims, their families and injured police offer Lt. Brian Murphy. Donors’ contributions will be held in an escrow account until August 30, at which time the fundraiser’s organizers will allocate the funds to those in need, Fox News reports. According to the Indiegogo site: “It will take some time before the precise needs of the Milwaukee Sangat are enumerated. We plan to work closely with the local Sikh community and doctors to determine the best way to distribute funds.”
Donations accepted here.

Contribute to a Memorial Fund
The Sikh Temple of Wisconsin has set up a victims fund, where people can send donations via mail to Victims Memorial Fund c/o Sikh Temple, 7512 S. Howell Ave., Oak Creek, WI 53154.

Support advocates
Sikhs for Justice, a national human rights organization, vowed to make a $10,000 award to Lt. Brian Murphy, who was injured in the shooting. “Our government must take urgent steps to educate the country about the Sikh population and help put an end to these horrific and deadly acts of violence. Our organization, Sikhs for Justice, is proudly pledging a $10,000 award to Lieutenant Brian Murphy, the officer wounded in the incident.”
Support their work here.

The Healing Center provides counseling, group therapy and other support services. All of our services are free, as we believe that everyone, regardless of inability to pay, deserves the help they need. To learn more about our services, please visit our website

Could EMDR therapy be right for you?

In discussing post-traumatic stress disorder in my last post, I’m excited to include this interview with counselor Brooke Phelps. She offers an in-depth look at eye movement desensitization and reprocessing and how it may help those who experience trauma.

Brooke Phelps is a licensed therapist at Midwest Center for Human Services.

1. What is EMDR?

EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) is a form of therapy used to alleviate symptoms that occur after traumatic and disturbing experiences.

EMDR works to heal the mind much the same way a body works to heal a wound by giving the brain a chance to process disturbing memories and information and remove painful blocks. Once blocks are removed, the mind begins the healing process and actually transforms previously held negative beliefs, emotions, and sensations to more adaptive ones. The transformation process is a psychological as well as physiological one.

While EMDR was originally developed for use in trauma clients, it has been very effective for use in more everyday issues that people suffer from, such as low self-esteem or other concerns that people decide to engage in therapy for.

The general process of EMDR begins with the therapist and client discussing what issues they would like to work on and taking a history of the client’s life, experiences, as well as determining what memories and situations will be targeted in the treatment plan. This is also a time to assess whether or not a client is ready for EMDR and what skills need may need to be developed or enhanced for self-soothing and/or coping for the future when disturbing memories and emotions are brought up.

The actual processing phase involves the therapist having the client bring up the targeted memory along with a negative belief about themselves and any emotions or body sensations. While the client focuses on the image, emotions, and sensations, the therapist uses bilateral stimulation (such as waving fingers, taps, or tones) and the client is instructed to just notice anything that comes to them. With each set of stimulation, the client is encouraged to just notice and the therapist will help guide or assist the client if distressed or whenever necessary.

The client will also identify a positive belief in the beginning that they would like to hold about themselves and both negative and positive beliefs will be rated and assessed at the beginning and end of each session.

The end result is to replace the original, negative belief with the positive one along with emotions and sensations. While the procedure may seem to be simplistic and straightforward, the actual process looks different for each person and the length also varies.

2. Why did you choose to learn this type of therapy?

I decided to become trained in EMDR while completing my externship hours for licensure. During this time I was working with survivors of sexual trauma and was well aware of the effects that trauma has on a person’s mind, body, and spirit.

Healing from trauma is often a long and painful process, but one very much worth doing. I was eager to learn anything I could to help my client’s have some relief from their pain. Several other counselors at The Healing Center had been trained in EMDR and shared their positive experiences with me. Wanting to add more tools to my own toolbox, I decided to pursue specialized training.

The end result was more than I was expecting. While I gained knowledge in the protocols and procedures of EMDR, I learned that it is more than just a technique, but also a form of psychotherapy. EMDR helped me to see my clients and conceptualize them in a more thorough way, whether or not I am engaged in an active EMDR session.

In addition, I found that I became more connected to my clients and therapy progressed regardless of whether we were using EMDR.

3. What do you think EMDR does for survivors of trauma that regular talk therapy does not?

EMDR has been proven to reduce the amount of therapy needed when compared to traditional talk therapies as it it speeds up the processing time. This is a clear benefit as well as the fact that EMDR allows a client to transform their previously held beliefs and emotions in a more natural way that is driven primarily from the the client rather than therapist.

Athough, it is important to note that EMDR is not a quick fix nor can it or should it replace traditional talk therapy. EMDR should only be used after a solid therapeutic relationship has been formed and only if the client is ready.

Sometimes, it is necessary to spend time talking and resourcing before the reprocessing of target memories begins. While this is all a part of EMDR, the reprocessing should never be hurried as that can harm the process more than help.

4. Is it advised that children participate in EMDR therapy or only adults?

EMDR has been used with children and can serve as a very effective form of therapy; some therapists believe that as children tend to be more imaginative and are more easily able to change patterns as trauma and phobias have had less time to take hold.

I believe it would be a good idea to consult a therapist for EMDR who is also experienced in working with children. As with any therapist, it is a good idea to interview several therapists and ensure that you have a good connection with them.

5. Do you offer EMDR in your current practice at Midwest Center for Human Services in Milwaukee? If so, do you have openings if someone was interested in contacting you for services?

Stephanie coordinates volunteers, marketing efforts and operations for The Healing Center in Walker’s Point.

Yes. I am always willing to discuss EMDR as a possibility with any current or potential client.  I must stress that EMDR differs with each person and is not a one size fits all technique. When done at the right time, it can be an incredibly powerful form of therapy.

I have been honored to work with and observe the empowering transformation that clients have made with the help of EMDR and to witness the relief of suffering and pain is a reward like no other. I am currently accepting new clients and would be happy to hear from anyone who is interested in therapy and EMDR.

Interested in learning more about EMDR? Contact Brooke Phelps at the Midwest Center for Human Services at 1-414- or

The Healing Center provides counseling, group therapy and other support services. All of our services are free, as we believe that everyone, regardless of inability to pay, deserves the help they need. To learn more about our services, please visit our website

What happens when spirits are shattered by violence?

Post-traumatic stress disorder can disrupt mind, body and spirit long after the violence that caused it.  

 “These days I live in three worlds: my dreams, and the experiences of my new life, which trigger memories from the past” (Ishmael Beah, former child soldier from Sierra Leone).

Most of us have heard of PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder and know it is often associated with soldiers who return from war or survivors of physical or sexual abuse. Have you ever wondered how it actually affects someone?

This is often a very popular topic discussed at The Healing Center, as we work with survivors of sexual violence. I decided to do a bit of research on the topic and this is what I learned:

When someone experiences something incredibly traumatic, the information processing system of the brain can become interrupted.

According to a New York Times interview of Dr. Francine Shapiro, sometimes “…an event is so disturbing that the [information  processing] system is unable to perform…natural functions.” She goes on to explain that these traumatic memories, along with the psychological and physical aspects and negative reactions of what happened are stored. These memories and feelings can come to the surface once again through current situations and alter the person’s present reality.

Stephanie coordinates volunteers, marketing efforts and operations for The Healing Center in Walker’s Point.

PTSD can affect some people more than others, depending on “…genetics, the intensity of the experience, length of exposure and earlier life experiences.” Dr. Shapiro also explained that people who have had positive life experiences may be more resilient than others. On the other hand, negative experiences with friends or parents at an early age can lessen someone’s self-worth, making them more susceptible to PTSD when a traumatic event does occur.

One kind of therapy that works with those who suffer from PTSD is called EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. This type of psychotherapy helps people develop positive coping mechanisms to deal with traumatic events from the past.

Stay tuned for next week as I delve deeper into this process and interview a counselor who practices this type of therapy!

The Healing Center provides counseling, group therapy and other support services. All of our services are free, as we believe that everyone, regardless of inability to pay, deserves the help they need. To learn more about our services, please visit our website

Today is the Day: Denim Day!

For months now, The Healing Center and Aurora Health Care have sold stickers that display the popular slogan “Ask me why I’m wearing jeans,” and we’ve worked hard to spread the word about the importance of wearing denim on April 25th.

We celebrate Denim Day in honor of a woman who was forcibly raped by her driving instructor. The woman pressed charges, but the case was dismissed because the chief judge decided that, “…because the victim wore very, very tight jeans, she had to help him remove them, and by removing the jeans, it was no longer rape, but consensual sex.”

Aurora Health Care has 1000’s of employees and many of them have agreed to participate in this truly special day. Imagine what could happen if everyone in the City of Milwaukee was allowed to wear jeans to work on just this 1 Wednesday of the year. The message could then spread to other cities and across the country. What kind of empowerment would this generate if we ALL wore jeans on Denim Day?

Education and awareness are very powerful tools in the fight against sexual violence. Everyone who purchases a sticker, wears jeans proudly and speaks out on Denim Day plays an integral role in helping to keep themselves and others safe.

Every 2 minutes in the United States, someone is sexually assaulted.* Statistics show that this vicious epidemic affects everyone’s life, regardless of one’s demographic. Together we can broaden our understanding, support survivors and inspire change.

Please join me in the fight to end sexual violence.


Plant Power!

Sometimes it takes big life events or decisions to impact spiritual wellness, like converting to a different religion or making a behavior change. Other times, a simple step is all it takes to help you spirit soar! I often look for these easy tricks, things that require little effort, but make a big difference all the same. I came upon one such step last week—placing a plant (or two!) indoors. Now, I’ve always known that introducing greenery inside is a good thing, but, why exactly? I guess I always attributed this idea to the fact that plants bring life to a room, adding a real, aesthetically pleasing attribute to the space around me. What I didn’t know though, is that they can have a huge impact on mind, body and spirit!

Plants keep us healthy!

Placing plants indoors greatly improves air quality and helps remove chemicals such as carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air. Researchers found that school and job performance decreases when CO2 increases. In fact, studies show that plants can remove about 75% of indoor air pollution! They also decrease dust levels, which lessens respiratory problems like asthma.

Plants make us happy!

Placing plants in your home or office increase a person’s optimism and wellbeing. They can also help us feel calm and de-stress throughout the day. Various studies on the effects of indoor plants reveal people’s anxiety decreasing and recovering faster after an illness.

Plants help us stay grounded!

After suffering a traumatic or troubling situation, it’s common to find ourselves drifting off, and sometimes reliving that event. Feeling the texture of a leaf or watering a plant can help us come back to the present.

Patrick Schmitt: How he’s using his new found strength to reach out to others

I feel so grateful that Patrick took the time to interview with me recently. Take a look at what we discussed!

 1. Tell me about September 1st, 2006. How did your life change?

On September 1, 2006, I was in a motorcycle accident that changed my life forever.  I left home that Friday morning a very active, energetic 22-year-old, living life to its fullest. I returned home from the hospital, 75 days later a c5-6 quadriplegic.

2. Who was the most significant person to you while you recovered in the hospital after your accident?

There wasn’t just ONE person. For sure my mom and dad were there the most, and my sister, but aunts, uncles and a few friends were there a lot. One of my uncles came almost every night and would stay until I fell asleep because I was scared [of] being alone. I was so out of it with the drugs they had me on so it was nice to have someone I knew with me.

3. I really enjoyed reading the story you wrote on your website: It sounds like you’ve been through so much, but are using that experience to help others. Tell me about what you’re up to now.

Well it’s been a LONG, SLOW journey the last few years. I’ve had numerous health set backs that just come along with being in a chair, but they have all helped me get to where I am today. Since my accident, I am no longer able to do the physical job I was doing, so it has forced me to go back to school. I’m in my second year at Concordia University going for a degree in Business Management. This is HUGE, because I never have been the type of person that likes school! After High School I just wanted to work and make money, school was never going to be in my future, or so I thought.  Also like you mentioned, I have started a web site with some of my very close friends. It’s a site you can go on and read other people’s stories about how they have overcome or dealt with some of life’s hardest situations. We really want the site to be motivating and inspirational to other people that are facing hard situations, and show them that life does get better!

  •  *Patrick would love to hear your stories about a time you realized that “tomorrow’s not a promise.” Please email him at:

4. Do you think you are a different person today (mentally and emotionally) because of the accident?

Absolutely, I think I’m a different person. People who know me will probably say I haven’t changed much, but I think I have! I don’t think 6 years ago, before my accident, I would have thought about trying to help other people cope with situations. Not because I didn’t care, you just see so many things from a different point of view when something like this happens to you. Mentally, I have always been a “hard head!” This has made me mentally strong, but I think driven is a better word. I think I have always been the type of person though that had the attitude “tell me I can’t do something, and I’ll prove you wrong.” Another great site I found years ago for inspiration is: Emotionally I have my good and bad days. I think anyone who has gone through something like this knows how hard it can be at times. You just need to sit back for a second and look at all the positives. I mean you’re still here breathing first off! Then look around at all the great people that support you. That usually helps ME, and reminds me it could have been worse.

5. Tell me about Tomorrow’s Not a Promise. What is your mission with this business?

At Tomorrow’s Not a Promise (TNP) we would like to think of it as a reminder of how fast your life can change, for the BETTER. We want TNP to be something you look to, to be inspired, motivated, and driven to make every situation of every day in life a positive! Face it, we have all had an experience that has affected the way we live our lives in one way or another. Whether it be losing a loved one to something tragic, overcoming a serious condition, or a simple event that you experienced, we ALL have encountered these events in some way. TNP has taken on the mission to share these stories of our life’s events. We share the stories of people who have had an event affect them and how our motto of “TOMORROW’S NOT A PROMISE” may hit home for that individual.  We will share their feelings, and discover how they have overcome their situation. We will get involved in these stories to help you to see that you are not alone.  TNP will provide a connection to help cope, conquer, inspire and motivate you to overcome any hurdle in life.

6. If you could describe your outlook on life in just one word, what would it be?


7. This blog is about spiritual wellness, which can include everything from religion to meditation, healthy living to positive life choices. What do you include in your life that allows for spiritual wellness?

Well I admit I’m not the most “religious” person there is, but I do pray and thank God every night for that day and the people I have in my life.

8. Whom do you most admire?

There is not just 1 person I admire. I admire lots and lots of people! My family as a whole is one, because they are some of the hardest working, caring people I know. I admire anyone who has been successful in life no matter his or her situation. The people I admire the most are every single lost solider or wounded warrior that comes home from overseas. I don’t know how you can’t admire what they do for us.

9. Do you have any long term goals for yourself right now?

My long-term goal is just to try and be as successful in life as I can be. Not in the sense of financial wealth, all though it would be nice, but just to live a good life. I want to inspire/motivate as many people as I can to do something no matter their situation. I also want able bodied people to be educated on the fact that just because I’m in a wheelchair does not mean I have mental issues. I’m as normal as the guy standing next to me, just a little shorter and not as fast!

10. If you could meet anyone, who would it be?

Travis Pastrana –

11. Patrick, thank you so much for doing this interview. You are truly an inspiration and I really see you doing great things in the future! One last question: In your personal story you wrote about on the website, you talked about your pursuit of the whitetail buck. Any luck yet?

Sore subject after this season… NEXT YEAR!