AROUND TOWN: TESSA's 40-year anniversary helping domestic violence victims raises $225,000

A ruby anniversary crowd of 750 helped TESSA turn 40 at The Broadmoor, raising $225,000 toward its domestic-violence-prevention mission.

By Linda Navarro Updated: October 14, 2017 at 9:42 am • Published: October 11, 2017

A Ruby Anniversary Gala crowd of 750 helped TESSA turn 40 at The Broadmoor, raising $225,000 toward its domestic-violence-prevention mission.

The celebratory group was driven to tears by first-person stories representing thousands of women who survived domestic violence. One, a graduate of a top local high school, was thrilled when she was the choice of the handsome jock, little knowing how he would terrorize her. Another, from a well-known local family, barely survived her boyfriend's attempt to kill her. Many stories recounted how the women had been told, and had believed, they were to blame.

On the screen, to a poignant Conservatory violin and cello rendition of "Candle in the Wind," flashed the names and ages, from babies to older women, "In Memoriam."

Domestic violence and sexual assault remain a part of life, said TESSA Executive Director SherryLynn Boyles, with 35 calls daily to law enforcement and 10,000 victims each year. That's where TESSA comes in. "When I see what I see I just can't turn my back," said the director.

The Sept. 30 evening reached back across the 40 years. From Wanda Reaves and the Virginia Neal Blue Center in 1975, the organization had been developed to meet the needs of those facing spousal assault. Reaves said she contacted "The Oracle Bill Hybl" and District Attorney Bob Russel to start the Battered Women's Services referral line and safehouse in 1977.

Today, said Boyles, TESSA, which has a safehouse and multi-faceted program, works to help victims become safe and independent. The newest programs include helping them find housing and attorneys.

Art and music accompanied the theme of the anniversary gala. Guests walked into the ballroom through gauzy cheesecloth art panels by De Lane Bredvik showing the phases of violence: A magical aspen forest for the happy "Honeymoon" relationship; looming, shadowy8-foot figures for "Tension + Blame;" and the beautiful flowers leading into an "Explosion." As the artist said, "On the surface, everything is pretty and rosy. But pull back the curtain."

Acting out the victims' stories were former executive director Pat Ellis, Shawna Marshall, Anne Faye Hunter and Suzanne Lucas. Conservatory music and choral groups led the way through the stories and the evening.

It was all part of what Boyles credited as the community effort and represented in the cheesecloth flag table centerpieces of "Galdrastafir," mythological Icelandic symbols offering protection, representing a community of protectors.

As longtime supporter Craig Carnick said, "TESSA is a life raft in the storm."

Toward that end, Holly Hernandez Vergunst, in the name of her father, William, a Kentucky attorney who had "fought passionately for those who were troubled and downtrodden, who needed lifting in the legal system," offered a $50,000 matching pledge. She shared her father's poem in the gala program:

Men must transcend their sick vanity

And have reverence for all humanity.

They must truly respect every female.

They must faithfully do it without fail.

They must truly and deeply understand

That they can not make an unfair demand.

They must profoundly and clearly know

That it is only reverence they do show.

In their mind they must surely learn

That a woman can any overture spurn.

They must accord women every right,

Or know there will be a just fight.

Women must enjoy every possible role.

If not, our nation destroys its soul.

                            ....Poem by William Hernandez

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