WEIRTON - The bright colors of the T-shirts suspended from a clothesline strung in front of Mary H. Weir Public Library are at odds with the heartfelt messages scrawled on them with markers.
"... The pain has followed me for years, but I've gotten the strength I needed for all this I endured as a victim. Now, as a survivor, I'm stronger than I ever IMAGINED!"
"... Life is what you make it. I'm making it great. Thanks for making me stronger. You can't hurt me now."
VICTIMS SPEAK OUT — T-shirts decorated by victims of abuse and violence hang on a clothesline on the lawn of Mary H. Weir Public Library in Weirton to draw awareness to Child Abuse Awareness Month. A Child’s Place CASA and Comfort House sponsored the exhibit, part of their Clothesline Project. -- Linda Harris
"... I can finally smile. No more tears. No more pain. No more secrets. I will no longer let you control me."
"... Broken down, thrown around are problems I've faced, but I grew up, pushed them aside and moved on. Now I live life with no regrets."
"As the leaves fall, a family torn apart by destruction is brought together by faith, happiness, love."
It's all part of the Clothesline Project, a joint effort by Comfort House CAC and A Child's Place CASA Ltd. to give victims of violence and abuse a forum to tell their stories. The color of the shirt hanging on the line is a clue to the type of abuse the victim experienced - white, representing someone who lost their life because of violence; yellow, representing battered or assaulted women; red, representing rape victims; orange, victims of sexual assault; purple, representing women attacked because of their sexual orientation; and blue or green, representing victims of child abuse.
"Some of the messages on the shirts are very heart wrenching, gut-wrenching," said Rhonda Stubbs, CASA executive director. "Violence does happen in our community, and we need to recognize that it does happen and that it's important to help people. It comes in all shapes and sizes. We had very young children creating shirts and putting them on the clothesline; we had women and men of all ages. We need to be aware of the violence that goes on in our community and reach out to people."
Some two dozen shirts are currently displayed, and there's room for more. "We wanted to make sure anybody would feel comfortable adding shirts to it," she said. "They don't have to be associated with one of our programs to have experience with violence; we care about those people, too."
Stubbs said the Clothesline Project was started in Cape Cod, Mass., back in 1990 to raise awareness about violence against women and became a worldwide call to action not long after. She said they borrowed the idea, with a few tweaks, to draw attention to April as national Child Abuse Awareness Month.
She said those who participate "could have talked about their experience with violence or how to rise above their violent experience."
"They could pick whatever they wanted to express, no rules whatsoever," she said. "Some ... wrote poems, expressed compelling thoughts about what has happened to them, things they don't appreciate."
CASA's annual "Light of Hope" ceremony, meanwhile, will be Monday on the Wellsburg Town Square, with the group lighting a candle for every child they've served since 2000. Stubbs said there will be a lot of candles.
"We're now well over 450 candles," she said."Last year alone we added 80 new kids to our caseload," he said. "It was really a rough year. Last year we had, I think, 330 when we did our Light of Hope. This year, we figure on doing 450."
CASA supplies court-appointed special advocates and conducts recruiting, screening, train and supervision of the community residents who advocate on behalf of abused and neglected children, she added. "It's a national organization, but my program specifically serves Brooke and Hancock. We're currently serving 107 children in Brooke and Hancock counties."
Stubbs also will be teaching a class about CASA, West Virginia and Ohio law in the field and child protective services from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at Eastern Gateway Community College. Space is still available.
(Harris can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)