In an effort to give Holding Our Own’s network members an opportunity to get to know each other just a little better, we will be spotlighting a couple of our members each month. We hope that this will help provide you with more opportunities to connect, collaborate and leverage your resources. Do you want to be next, or know of anyone you would like to see featured? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will set up an interview. We hope everyone will participate at some point.
Meet Chrys Ballerano!
Chrys is an active member of our community who received the Creative Force Award at the 2013 Fabulous Feminist Awards Bash. As the Sexual Assault and Mental Health Project Director at the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault since 1999, with additional duties as Library Coordinator and Community Educator, she has been witness to changes within both the organization and the movement as a whole:
When I first joined NYSCASA we had about 16 staff and we currently have less than 8, soon to be dropped to 7 with one person retiring in March. The gradual decrease in funding for positions has certainly impacted our capacity to initiate the level of programmatic support for Rape Crisis Programs and the general public that we aspire to delivering, especially in regards to a strong public policy presence at the Capitol, and in the media. I have noticed that we are not alone in this as many of our member programs and allied organizations are struggling as well with maintaining diversified services to survivors, collaborative programming, etc.
In some ways I’ve seen improvement on the state level and in some ways not. There seems to be money being allotted to address sex trafficking of minors for example, which is a good thing, but I don’t see the same level of focus on investigating and preventing the trafficking being done… There has always seemed to be a disconnect between the differing silos of funding in this state that prevent many well meaning survivor advocates, agency administrators and policy makers from working more effectively together. DOH funded primary prevention funds and NYS OCFS intervention prevention and DCJS VAW/SASP folks are not all knowing about one another’s work, tools and resources, and evolving effective collaborative strategies to strengthen their messages and projects.
An example I can name is that DCJS produced a film in 2010, called Child Sexual Predators: The Familiar Stranger (a confusing title perhaps, because the predators focused on are adults who prey on children) aimed at the adult public to understand about how adult sex offenders groom the community, the family and the child to hide their illegal behavior and get away with criminal sexual abuse for years. Although this film was well-done I learned this past year that most parent advocates working to prevent child abuse ( through the OCFS funding stream) knew nothing about this film or how they might promote it in their work with parents. And though NYSCASA shared this resource with member Rape Crisis Programs, these programs, funded by DOH , may not have shared the resource with local OCFS funded organizations that do parent support/ home visit/child abuse prevention work.
You wear many hats at NYSCASA! Can you elaborate on what you do there, and how you were able to create those positions or tie them together?
I was hired when Anne Liske was our Executive Director and Anne had started the SA/MH project in the mid 90’s to increase collaboration between Rape Crisis Programs, the survivors they worked with, and the mental health professionals in their communities, to better understand and raise awareness of the long-term effects of early sexual trauma and domestic violence. Too often in the past, and sadly, still today, adults are not screened for early trauma and are misdiagnosed with a mental illness or other label, that directs them on a trajectory that exacerbates their trauma, and makes recovery much more difficult. They were often hospitalized against their will and forced to undergo so called “treatment” that too often re-traumatized them to a degree that made trusting any system of care unlikely for their future. Fortunately, courageous survivors of this abusive system along with vigilant peer supporters and innovative therapists, worked to overcome systemic denial of this coercive , non trauma-informed manner of working with individuals, and we have more trauma-informed approaches being promoted. That said, there is still a huge amount of work to be done to bring this awareness to how people in general are treated and specifically how children are raised, from pre-natal care onward, in trauma-informed, culturally competent ways that foster whole human wellness and safe families and communities.
Years back ,I remember Anne and I trying to get NYSOMH And NYSOASAS to consider working with NYSCASA to enhance the SA/MH project because we saw such overlap between the issues of early trauma, addiction and mental health crisis and care. It took over ten years for the state to actually look at merging these kinds of services but here at NYSCASA we still get the same funding for the project as we got 15 years ago , certainly not keeping up with the demands on my time for trauma informed resources, training, and related information dissemination. Thankfully, I have at least been able to keep the project going through collaboration with the MHA in Ulster County whose CEO really understands that trauma is the underpinning of so much illness and challenges to family health. We’ve been working with the MHANYS locally in Albany to bring statewide trainings to all disciplines who want information about how to work effectively to recognize, understand , and respond to individuals who have experienced childhood trauma and to make programmatic changes to “remove the cat hairs” ( that is the re-traumatizing, hurtful practices) that may trigger a survivor to not want to access services from them or their agencies. Finally, after so many survivor advocates have been writing, singing and practicing these techniques for decades, there has been a wider acceptance by the medical establishment of many more tools that help in Post Traumatic Stress recovery. Gratefully, I’ve been able to incorporate some of my own self healing techniques such as drumming, writing, singing, yoga and meditation in the trainings my project provides and we’ve collaborated with others to bring in renowned teachers and trainers on a very limited budget over the years.
Outside of the office, what are some of the things you keep busy with, and how were you able to network and get involved?
At heart I am a musician, a gardener, a health coach, a mother, yoga practitioner- instructor, relentless activist for radical social change, and a priestess in Earth Spirit community. What does this all mean? At the risk of being called an old hippy, even though I’m on the tail end of the boomer generation, I will say that I do believe in the power of love, and to quote two favorites: Tonier Cain: “Where there’s breath, there’s hope” and Che Guevarra: “At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality.” this about sums it up for me. Our planet, Earth needs our love. She is a living vibrant powerful force who constantly teaches us how to live if we listen through our bodies. All of my work is grounded in the body-both mine personally, and the Earth. I learn how to grow the food I crave, that nourishes the vital energy I need to think clearly and breathe deeply. My teaching as a health coach, trainer for NYSCASA and elsewhere, is about grounding ourselves through our intimate connection to the Earth and moving from a place of power from that connection- or home base. I love promoting farmer’s markets and CSAs and local music, poetry, art, playing in natural bodies of water in the summer and snowboarding in the winter. Hiking, biking, dancing and being around artists young and old who inspire new ideas in me. I recently received training as Restorative Justice Conference Facilitator and am eager to learn more about implementing this way of conflict resolution and restoring peace when harm has been done to an individual or group of people. I also attended the Peoples Music Network gathering in NYC the weekend before we all lost Pete Seeger. It was a joyful weekend of sharing resistance music among songwriters, singers, and musicians from many places who gather to sing truth to power and honor our humanity.
How do you define feminism?
In 1980 I took a wonderful class with Sandra Emmachild at Suffolk Community College on LI called, The Philosophy of Human Liberation. When I asked Sandra why she didn’t call it the Philosphy of Feminism, she replied that this was a small compromise to get the course approved by the department, one of the only Women’s Studies Departments in the US at that time and possibly the first of its kind in a community college. I’ve always remembered this smart choice of my instructor. And I’ve come to recognize how all genders are negatively impacted by sexism, racism, homophobia, classism, xenophobia, and so many intersecting isms and fears. When I was temporarily disabled around that same time in Community College, I gained a glimpse of what it must be like for people with mobility and other “disabilities” such as my grandmother experienced. She lived with grand mal epilepsy most her adult life and was confined to a wheel chair for her last 20 due to chronic hip breaks from over medication and osteoporosis. We have so many barriers to connection in our society. Especially in our older cities like this capital. And to me, feminism is about removing barriers to our full humanity- our access to the full spectrum of human emotions, experiences, and gifts that being human affords us. Life is certainly challenging enough for most of us without needing additional barriers to succeed and flourish and give back to our tribe. For me true feminism is about opening the gates of possibilities for all people, honoring the wisdom and lived experiences of the elders who came before us and led a way out of no way (Harriet Tubman, Margaret Sanger, Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela, to name a few). I abhor much of what our society holds up as standards of care and control. My own experience being misdiagnosed as young adult, taught me early to mistrust the medical model and I still find it necessary to resist the constant barrage of messages that tell me to live in fear of my breasts, my sexuality, my vulnerability as a woman. Recently being diagnosed with DCIS, I am alone in my decision to reject the standard of care being offered me because to me it is simply not health promoting, but fear based, and toxic. I see the same thing happening in micro and macro examples everywhere I look. Fortunately, through IIN ( the Institute for Integrative Nutrition) I’ve found a wider community of people who practice similar life habits and priorities and believe in the power of the body to heal, much like our Earth regenerates trees over time following a precious forest being clear-cut, as painfully slow and perilous this process may be, life does return, over time. Susan Griffin’s writings on Woman and Nature were a huge influence on me as was Malcolm X’s autobiographical, both of which I read as a teen. Since the 80’s I’ve taken many cues from the Reclaiming community and writings by Alice Walker, Starhawk, and many others who see the connection between women’s plight, humanity’s demise and the destruction of Earth’s diversified life forms. Some would still have us try and control nature through GMOs and the like instead of learning from the diversity of life on this planet. The Colonial US government destroyed millions of our greatest teachers- indigenous peoples who knew and revered the land, plants and animals of this country. Knew the medicines and ways to live in harmony with the water and the weather. They arrogantly stole what was desired and attempted to kill the rest. This legacy continues in our corporate capitalism that is constantly needing to expand, even swallowing whole, its most unique progeny. Feminism to me reject this wanton greed, slows down the process, and asks questions of who is benefiting from this practice? Who is losing? And where is the power imbalance. That is why it is rare to see a true feminist elected to powerful positions anywhere. We ask too many questions and are relentless in pursuing the truth. An occasional exception gets in and shakes things up a bit and gives me hope that our youth will inherit a beautiful planet somehow.
What, to you, is the importance of community and local action? And how do you think we can better achieve it?
Community and local action that is based on our relationships with one another and what motivates us to stand together to make change is the only way that our lives ever feel in balance with the natural world. We are not meant to be solitary creatures. Our development from birth relies on our connection to our mothers and loving caretakers. To me one of the most important aspects of community is to support this bond between children and their adult caregivers and to support the adult caregivers in being their best for the children in their lives. Without it, we have disrupted attachment between kids and parents/ caregivers and the cycle of distress, addiction, repressed emotion, violence (self inflicted or outward directed) begins. It really is pretty simple to me that the way we as a society try to control the birth experience for women s a microcosm of how we are with every aspect of life. Always controlling people and limiting their capacity rather than inviting them to be curious about that very capacity and expanding it. Imagine how different the world would be if we empowered women to give birth as they imagine in their wildest imagination is possible, instead of filling them with fear of pain, deformity, and death. Likewise, instead of expecting people to distrust and compete with one another, when we come together to truly support one another in love and trust for the highest good, we are capable of amazing results in a short period of time. There are so many tools that are available to us help us in this process. Books like’s Starhawks, The Empowerment Manual come to mind as one that would be a handy tool for our next Occupy movement to consider (lol) or any other group working toward a huge mission. As part of the local anti-fracking movement locally I’ve commited myself to civil disobedience if the governor permits hyrdo-fracking and there are hundreds if not thousands who share this commitment. I believe that we’d honor as democratic process as we could possibly manage given the stress that such actions can involve and think that the more prepared we are for non violent resistance, the more successful we’ll be in achieving our objectives. At the State of the State address last month, I attempted to bring my djembe with me to play as I did last year for several hours on the concourse. But the state police disallowed me and most other musicians from bringing in our instruments. I suspect this is because the government feared that our message would be louder than the governors and overwhelm the attending audience moving in the concourse, but it felt very fascist to me, and sad to say, was no great surprise. It did however feel good to stand in support of the Mohawk drummers who managed to somehow bring a Mother Drum into the Concourse and be surrounded with dozens of us singing and dancing in more traditional step.
We see more and more fascist signs since the 80s and without local action to resist it, and call it what it is, we’ll see more of it in the future. And I’m not saying it doesn’t already impact my decision about where and how I commit civil disobedience. I think much more about it now than before when I got arrested at the Fed Bldg in post 9/11 , 2001 protesting the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. When I was faced with a choice of disregarding the State troopers at the Concourse and bringing my drum inside, I chose to not get arrested at that time. We have to be strategic about how we expend our limited resources and time against the corporate capitalist military system of government. Working in solidarity with one another instead of lone wolf acts of heroism is more important than ever. It helps us to link the ever connected issues of Earth health and all human rights most effectively. And it’s a constant work in progress.
Any other thoughts on feminism & action in Albany?
I’m inspired by what I see being led by the Women’s Buidling, Holding Our Own and groups like Grand Street Community Arts, Radix Collective and Sanctuary for Independent Media. Albany would not be a desirable place for me to keep living in without these groups, now that my daughter has shifted her home base to the Bay Area. We have a lot of work to do and I wish I had more hours to donate to it as surely our new Mayor is seeking more community input than the previous administration. I’d love to see us expand our composting program and educate people on the dangers of pesticide and herbicide use on their pets and kids and for the protection of our groundwater. I’d like our dump to be transformed into a Transfer Station, like other small cities have developed.
It’s exciting to see the HWFC growing in membership. I’ve been a member for 25 years. I’d like to see it expand its community involvement of the arts in the store. I’d love to see more organic community gardens and beekeeping and engaging inner city youth and elders in these projects. Mentoring of youngsters by elders can be reciprocal as elders can be mentored in IT tools. We need to stop warehousing people out of some sense of convenient safety and keep our hearts open to the community of diverse life around us. It’s a good time to be living in Albany NY. I look forward to more exciting changes to come!
To learn more about Chrys and her work as a health coach, be sure to visit chrys-ballerano.healthcoach.integrativenutrition.com/