BeLEAF Survivors: Shifting the Culture that Perpetuates Sexual Violence

Impact Partner Spotlight 

BeLEAF Survivors

July 13, 2021

Photo portraits of BeLeaf Survivors' nine staff members around the BeLeaf logo.BeLEAF Survivors seeks to provide a safe and compassionate environment to promote hope and healing after sexual assault by lifting, empowering, advocating and fighting for survivors and their allies and, therefore, the community as a whole. Additionally, through education, outreach and collaboration it works to shift the culture that perpetuates sexual violence.

BeLEAF Survivors offers the services of two programs: Sexual Assault Services (SAS) and Stop Child Abuse & Neglect (SCAN)

  • The Sexual Assault Services program of BeLEAF Survivors is deemed the “Sexual Assault Service Provider” for Racine County by the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault and as such is the only program in our county that is dedicated to the full continuum of needs of sexual assault victims. Services include a 24-hour crisis line, 24-hour hospital response, family advocacy at the Racine County Child Advocacy Center, personal and legal advocacy, counseling/therapy, support groups and community awareness/education. All of its services are available in English and Spanish and are provided free of charge.
  • The SCAN program of BeLEAF Survivors provides free lessons to preschoolers, kindergartners, second graders, fourth graders and sixth graders in Racine and Kenosha County schools. Students are taught to recognize abusive situations, to disclose abuse should it occur and to identify sources of support. Above all, SCAN wants children to know that abuse is never the fault of the child. SCAN's primary goals are to educate children to recognize abusive situations and to understand that such incidents need to be reported right away to trusted adults. SCAN makes a difference by empowering children to disclose abuse. Abused children need support and resources to mitigate these detrimental physical, cognitive and emotional effects of maltreatment.

What first drew you into the work of BeLEAF Survivors?

My name is Karen Fetherston, and I'm the executive director of BeLEAF Survivors. During my more than 20 year in the human services field, my mission has been to teach child abuse prevention through Racine’s Stop Child Abuse & Neglect (SCAN) program while working side-by-side with the Sexual Assault Services (SAS) program. I refer to SCAN and SAS as “sister programs” because they both got their start under the same parent agency, share overlapping missions as well as physical office space, and collaborate on initiatives pertaining to the prevention of sexual abuse and survivors’ healing. I’m thrilled to be in the position of guiding SAS and SCAN into their new home under our brand new, independent nonprofit: BeLEAF Survivors.

How has BeLEAF adapted over time—whether that’s in the last year due to the pandemic, or since its start as an organization?

BeLEAF Survivors launched as a brand new agency on July 1, 2021, but its SAS and SCAN programs have been serving Racine for decades. These programs were initially part of Lutheran Social Services, but when LSS reorganized in January of 2019, SAS and SCAN continued under the fiscal sponsorship of Focus on Community. Over the past year, these “sister programs” have joined to become an independent nonprofit. While the agency name and branding have changed, the services, staff and location will remain the same.

Can you share a story about a moment you saw your work leave a positive impact in someone’s life?

Paula Morrone first connected with SAS as a client and has gone on to serve the program in many ways. She was a member of the SAS/SCAN Advisory Committee, was awarded SAS’s 2016 Star of Courage community member award in appreciation of her support of the program and is now as a member of the BeLEAF Board of Directors. We see her often at SAS fundraisers, and she is a champion for program services in the community.

What is some of the impact BeLEAF has brought to the community in its lifespan?

While BeLEAF Survivors as an agency has only existed since July 1, 2021, its SAS and SCAN programs have been in Racine for decades. 

SAS has served sexual assault survivors and their support people in Racine County for over twenty years while also providing awareness and education about sexual assault as we work toward a more understanding and compassionate community, leading to better outcomes for survivors and more accountability for offenders. In 2020, SAS served 467 individuals through face-to-face and virtual services, such as therapy (1,038 sessions), hospital response (82 visits), personal or legal advocacy (386 sessions) and family advocacy at the Racine County Child Advocacy Center (109 appointments). In addition, SAS advocates answered 264 calls on the 24-hour crisis line.

SCAN lessons reduce the stigma of abuse. Throughout the years, hundreds of students have used SCAN visits as an opportunity to disclose abuse and open paths to healing. In a typical school year, SCAN presents more than 600 sessions to nearly 10,000 students in 64 preschool, elementary and middle schools across Racine County. After presentations, more than 90 percent of students can identify safe versus unsafe touches, understand that abuse should not be kept a secret and can identify sources of support. Also, more than 80 percent of sixth graders know strategies to handle inappropriate social media content.

How can the community support BeLEAF's work?

Like most nonprofits, although BeLEAF Survivors typically holds a large annual fundraiser, the pandemic has impacted our ability to do so. We decided it would be too difficult to gather a large group indoors this year and unfair to ask our traditionally generous small business partners, who are experiencing struggles of their own, for silent auction items. We thought about ways to replace our fundraiser with an event to support Racine's small businesses, and we formed a seed of an idea- a collaboration of restaurants and our nonprofit to bring funds and awareness to both.

What grew is the Small Plates Big Hearts event, a food crawl of downtown Racine restaurants. After purchasing a ticket, you can stroll downtown Racine on July 31, 1:30 to 4:30 p.m., and stop at our eight awesome partner restaurants to claim small portions of their specialty dishes. You can also stick around for live music at Saturday Sounds on the Square. Our partner restaurants are: 

  • Amos Los Tacos
  • Butcher & Barrel Gastropub
  • Dewey's Restaurant & Sports Bar
  • Divino Gelato Cafe Racine
  • The Maple Table
  • Social on Sixth
  • TaejaVu’s on Main
  • Toad Hall

Eight small portions for you, one giant help to your community. Whether you're hungry to support BeLEAF Survivors, hungry to help Racine's restaurants rebound or just plain hungry, join us for this tasty event!

Karen Fetherston is the executive director of BeLEAF Survivors.