The Sexual Assault Resource and Counseling Center (SARCC) of Lebanon County will soon be wrapping up its successful first LGBTQ+ support group.
The group is for anyone who identifies as part of the LGBTQ community to receive support and discuss a variety of issues concerning the community, including relationships, sex positivity, and healthy sexuality.
The first meeting was on Sept. 15 and the group will continue to meet every Tuesday from 4 to 5:30 p.m. until Nov. 3. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the group meets via Zoom video conference with a private link.
Participants are required to pre-register for the link in order to keep the group secure and prevent people from joining the group for the sake of promoting anti-LGBTQ or otherwise harmful messages.
“[Requiring registration] was really part of the whole safety thing that we were trying to do, but with that I think people find it comforting that only people who reach out and really were interested in participating have access to the group versus [having] the potential for somebody to join that might not have the same intentions,” said Chris Ware, one of the group’s facilitators.
Although the group is nearly finished, those who are interested in attending can email Ware at email@example.com for more information and/or to register for the group’s link.
This group was primarily planned and organized by Ware and Holly Savini, who are both SARCC sexual assault advocate/counselors. They started working full-time for the organization in 2017 and 2018, respectively, and are both passionate about sexual violence work and providing those types of services to the community of Lebanon.
“I think, really, [our work] just comes from this passion we have for wanting to serve all survivors, wanting to make sure that we are inclusive, wanting to make sure that we’re knowledgeable and educated and competent on these specific populations and the needs that they have, and really trying to connect people in the community,” said Ware.
Savini and Ware designed the group around two main focuses: psychoeducation and support. For the psychoeducational component, Savini and Ware provide the group with information about a particular subject and discuss how they can apply it in their lives. They also facilitate a setting for the group to connect with one another and seek out and/or provide support.
“I think that’s part of building community like knowing that this person cares for you and what you’re saying and you feel heard and listened to and I think that’s really what we hope to promote with the support side of things,” said Ware. “It is really interesting, I think, for us as facilitators to see that authentically happen in our groups [because] that’s always a sign that the group is safe and comfortable for people. “That’s such a really special thing.”
While SARCC has offered support groups in the past, some of which Ware and Savini have facilitated, this is the first one that is specifically for the LGBT+ community.
This particular group is stemming from the LGBTQ Drop-in Center that SARCC officially opened in early March. This center aims to provide LGBTQ-specific education and support for the Lebanon community.
While in the process of developing this center, SARCC conducted a community survey to see what the community’s needs and interests were that the organization could provide for. In this survey, many of the participants mentioned that they wanted to see support groups.
“Our goal and what [Ware] and I really wanted to do was to make sure that we had input from the community, and from the individuals who would be participating in the group,” said Savini.
Before it was established, there was not a place dedicated to the LGBTQ community that served Lebanon. The LGBTQ center of Central Pennsylvania used to serve Lebanon County, but the organization recently removed Lebanon from the communities it served due to resource reallocation.
“After we discovered that, we wanted to make sure that, in Lebanon, individuals who identify as LGBTQ had a place to go where they felt safe and comfortable and [could] connect with one another and we wanted to make SARCC that place,” said Savini. “There is a lot of intersectionality as to people who are affected by sexual violence, so people within the LGBTQ community are at a higher risk for experiencing sexual violence so we wanted to make sure that we were able to really work with this community and have the knowledge or to do so.”
The center’s official opening was very soon before the stay-at-home order began due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has presented some challenges, both for the support groups and the center as a whole.
“It’s been a little bit of an obstacle to navigate like, ‘how do we bring support groups to the community in an era where meeting with groups is a little bit challenging,’ so we’re doing everything via Zoom,” said Ware. “That’s definitely a learning curve but I think it’s an interesting thing for the future, too.
Despite their uncertainty at first, Savini and Ware were pleasantly surprised by the outcome of the Zoom-based support group.
“There was just some uncertainty around using telehealth with groups,” said Savini. “This was the first time for our agency so that always, of course, brings some anxiety when using a new platform, but I think that it exceeded our expectations.
“The response that we’ve received from people – the attendance, the support, the participation – has been really positive and more than we’d probably even imagined but definitely an exciting thing to bring to the community with affiliation with the agency,” said Ware.
After this group reaches completion, Ware and Savini hope to host many more support groups for the LGBTQ community.
“We are really excited to be able to offer this and we are going to continue to be able to offer services that will be LGBTQ-specific and specific to kind of the challenges that our community faces that are intersectional to sexual violence.”
SARCC is always in need of volunteers, whether for the new LGBTQ center, the SARCC hotline, or many of the other services the organization provides to the community. Those who are interested in volunteering can fill out an application form on the SARCC website.
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