Alchemy Strength and Conditioning holds rowathon to support DVIP, RVAP

Rowathon for RVAP and DVIP

Alchemy Strength and Conditioning — Sunday, Oct. 29 at 11 a.m.

Row for a cause! Alchemy hosts a rowathon this Sunday. — photo courtesy of Alchemy Strength and Conditioning.

This Sunday, Oct. 29, Alchemy Strength and Conditioning (2325 James St., Suite 6 and 7, Coralville) will be hosting a fundraiser for the Rape Victim Advocacy Program (RVAP) and the Domestic Violence Intervention Program (DVIP) — two Iowa City organizations whose budgets have been hit hard by state and federal funding cuts. After learning of the devastating defunding, Alchemy’s owners, Sarah Harkness and Ethon Burns, decided to take action and hold a fundraising rowathon with 100 percent of the proceeds being donated to RVAP and DVIP.

Teams of 5-10 supporters will row, relay-style, either a half or full marathon on a rowing machine in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Participants are encouraged to dress-up in their Halloween costume. No rowing experience is required and food will be provided. Participants are allowed to raise funds on their own, from friends and family, to maximize their contribution to the fundraiser.

For Harkness, a University of Iowa Sociology professor, defunding RVAP and DVIP constitutes a major loss for the Corridor community and, in particular, for University of Iowa students.

“Every single semester my colleagues and I teach multiple students who are affected by rape and other forms of assault. Every. Single. Semester. I, like my fellow professors, hear their stories in my office, see their struggle and help them through tears. This is a problem at universities across the country,” said Harkness.

Statistics provided by representatives of both RVAP and DVIP confirm Harkness’ unnerving observation. According to RVAP, approximately one in four women on campus will experience sexual assault. Men have a one in 16 chance of being assaulted while in college. For trans students, the number is significantly higher, with a one in four chance of being assaulted on campus which increases to a 1 in 2 chance of sexual assault over their lifetime. Domestic violence stats are equally nightmarish with one third of all women being subject to domestic violence over the course of their lifetime.

According to Harkness, organizations like RVAP and DVIP provide survivors access to a network of support and resources to help address the litany of complications arising from physical and sexual violence. In order to recover from their ordeal, survivors require “support, empathy and care,” which, Harkness said, are necessary to manage both the immediate and long-term consequences of assault, “as its echoes weave their way into everyday life.” Having seen firsthand the toll violence and rape have taken on her students, Harkness was appalled to learn of the state and federal budget cuts to RVAP/DVIP which have resulted in staff reductions and limited service.

For Adam Robinson, the director of RVAP, the impact of the state and federal cuts has had dire consequences for his office. During the summer of 2017, RVAP received word of a major fiscal shortfall that would have a direct impact on their budget. The results were catastrophic.

“This past July, RVAP received a funding cut of nearly $400K. As a result of this cut, we had to say goodbye to fifteen of our amazing colleagues. We are no longer able to provide roll-over support to six other victim service centers on our hotline, but thanks to our partnership with the Crisis Center of Johnson County we are able to maintain our 24-hour hotline support,” said Robinson.

Alta Medea-Peters, director of Community Engagement for DVIP, faced an impossible choice due to a 26 percent state funding cut and an additional 17 percent cut at the Federal level. In order to keep DVIP offices open in eight service counties, they were going to need to close all of their rural outreach offices. Fortunately for Medea-Peters, communities banded together and have provided her organization with a brief reprieve.

“Due to the support of these communities and in partnership with RVAP we have been able to maintain temporary office space in Mt. Pleasant, Keokuk and Burlington,” said Medea-Peters. “By having a safe and confidential space for office hours we are able to remove some of the barriers that prevent individuals from finding resources and safety.”

The impact RVAP and DVIP have on the communities they serve is surprisingly extensive. The two organizations partner together whenever possible to maximize their effect and reduce costs. Together they serve eight Iowa counties, offering a wide range of services. RVAP provides prevention education, counseling and therapy, support groups, medical, legal, academic and systems advocacy in addition to their 24-hour support line. DVIP’s services include a 24-hour hotline, 24-hour safe shelter and housing assistance, advocacy for victims working with law enforcement, medical and social services, counseling and support groups, children’s support services, mobile advocacy which brings DVIP to individuals in need, community education for businesses, municipalities, parenting groups and schools.

Medea-Peters see education as a key component in creating a safer community and raising awareness of the importance of RVAP/DVIP’s work. Rowathon is just one way area residents can get involved in making their communities stronger, safer places to live. Educating groups about domestic violence is crucial to ending domestic violence.

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“Inviting DVIP to come and speak to your group to provide education about domestic violence such as the warning signs, how to help a friend you are concerned about or how your business/church/youth group is possibly affected is an amazing way to keep the conversation going well after Domestic Violence Awareness Month is over. Our advocates know that the number one way that victims find our services is through word of mouth. Knowing how to provide someone you love, work with or know the proper resources to help them has the potential to save even more lives. The more we speak up and out on behalf of victim/survivors the more we will be able to collectively work to end gender based violence,” said Medea-Peters.

With so much ground to cover, on such small budgets, RVAP and DVIP rely heavily on volunteers and have built a growing family of like-minded individuals working to make a difference within their community. Creating a familial atmosphere is a shared bond between RVAP/DVIP and the folks Alchemy Strength. For Robinson, Harkness and Burns’ commitment to nurturing their gym family and bettering their community was emblematic of their dedication to furthering RVAP’s values.

“Upon meeting Sarah Harkness and learning about the passion that she and her partner Ethon have for creating a better community, the partnership was an obvious next step. As small business owners, Sarah and Ethon could easily focus on any number of important areas. Their commitment to making the world a safer and better place resonated loudly with us. We couldn’t be happier to partner with Alchemy, and are grateful for their desire to do good in our shared community. We hope that this event can become a twice a year, annual event — once in October during Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and once during April during Sexual Assault Activism Month,” said Robinson.

Making Rowathon into a biannual event is one of Harkness’ goals too. She agrees with Robinson about the importance of family and hopes the fun of the event will help grow the Alchemy community, raise awareness of RVAP’s and DVIP’s important work and bring in some needed money to help combat violence, in all its forms, in eastern Iowa communities. By looking at friends and neighbors as family, Harkness sees an obligation to help end suffering and promote wellbeing.

“Everyone at Alchemy is considered family. To think that any one of us … could be affected by rape or domestic violence and not have well-funded social services to turn to for professional support is heartbreaking. We want to use our resources to keep our community strong and healthy. We train for a purpose: betterment. Whether that be for ourselves, for our families, or for our community,” said Harkness.