Growing remembrance

Lives affected by domestic violence to be honored with Tribute Garden


What was once a plot of grass will soon be a flourishing garden dedicated to remembering and honoring victims and survivors of domestic violence.

The Erie County Commission on the Status of Women (ECCSW), which helps women take control of their lives, is working to create the Tribute Garden at Isle View Park in Tonawanda, New York. The Garden will be a memorial to lives impacted by domestic violence and will serve as a place for the general public to learn about domestic violence.

Construction is set to begin on Sept. 8 and the ECCSW will dedicate the donor tribute walls – the first phase of construction – at the fifth annual Break the Cycle Bike-A-Thon Sept. 27. Sawrie Becker, executive director of ECCSW, said they are hoping to have the garden complete by September 2015.

“Domestic violence is about power and control,” Becker said. “I’m committed to this topic because I feel very strongly about helping women and young girls take control over their own lives.”

The ECCSW created the Break the Cycle Bike-A-Thon to bring attention to domestic violence. Over the past three years, ECCSW raised nearly $7,000 from the bike-a-thon to help with the construction of the garden. About $25,000 of county funds went into the project.

“We hope that this wall will be the light against the darkness surrounding this topic and that the victims’ lives will be remembered with love, dignity and respect,” Becker said.

The Tribute Garden will have two main walls. The donor wall will have the names of the corporate and individual donors who donated money for the garden, and the tribute wall will have messages and inspirational quotes dedicated to the victims of domestic violence. It’s $300 to engrave a brick and $200 to engrave a stone.

In New York State, 44 percent of female homicide victims were killed by their partner, according to the Erie County Coalition Against Family Violence’s website.

One out of every four girls and one out of every nine boys are victims of domestic violence, according to Becker.

“Realizing that in less than a year there will be something permanent to honor these people is very motivating and empowering,” said Minahil Khan, who interned for the group in the summer of 2013.

The junior political science and communication major helped organize the annual bike-a-thon to get sponsorships for the Tribute Garden.

“Seeing the direct impact on people the day of the bike-a-thon and hearing the survivors’ stories was an important experience,” Khan said. “You’re giving people a platform to speak and hoping that others will step up and share their voice.”

At a young age, Khan was interested in law school and wanted to work on women’s issues.

Now, as the student representative of the UB Council, hopes to work with the other council members to bring awareness of domestic violence and sexual assault prevention to campus.

After her summer with the group, Khan reached out to Daniel Loebell, a senior Asian studies major with a minor in global gender studies, to get him involved with ECCSW. Loebell, who has a strong interest in gender activism, chose to intern for ECCSW this summer as a way to further pursue his passion.

“It’s [domestic violence] not just a woman’s issue, it’s everyone’s issue,” Loebell said. “It affects people in a long-term, traumatic way.”

As an intern with ECCSW, Loebell helped write grant applications and plan the construction for the garden. Scott Lawn Yard, a certified women-owned business enterprise in New York, won the contract to build the garden.

“When I learned about the projects being implemented in Erie County, it’s helped me gain a different perspective, especially coming from a privileged lifestyle myself,” Loebell said.

This year, the fifth annual Bike-a-Thon will be held Sept. 27 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. It will include a poetry reading by a survivor of domestic violence and performances by the Buffalo Chips and the Royal Pitches.

ECCSW is expecting between 250 and 300 people to participate in the Bike-A-Thon. The price for children to participate is $8, adults are $15 and families of four are $30. Participants can register on the Tribute Garden website.

Khan urges students to educate themselves on domestic violence and how prevalent it is in the community.

“The earlier we start talking about domestic violence with teenagers, the closer we are to breaking the cycle,” Becker said.

ECCSW hopes their Bike-A-Thon, Tribute Garden and fundraising will help to further promote that education.