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Pikes Peak region domestic violence activist organization marking 40 years

September 29, 2017 Updated: September 29, 2017 at 7:57 pm
photo - (Photo: TESSA Facebook page)
(Photo: TESSA Facebook page) 

The domestic violence activism community celebrates a significant milestone Saturday night, as TESSA turns 40 years old.

The organization, which provides confidential services specifically for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in El Paso and Teller counties, is hosting its 40th Ruby Anniversary Gala at The Broadmoor to honor its past, present and future.

"We saw this as an opportunity to both recognize those who have made TESSA possible and as an opportunity to look at our future and put forward a vision of the community coming together around domestic violence and sexual assault," TESSA's executive director SherryLynn Boyles said.

During the gala, TESSA will honor 40 of the organization's "champions" over the last four decades, including the organization's founder, Wanda Reeves, and William Hybl, the CEO of the El Pomar Foundation who gave TESSA its seed money in 1976.

"Safety for victims, advocacy, counseling and education are vitally important and El Pomar's Trustees have been proud to continue to assist TESSA with their efforts for the past 40 years," Hybl said.

TESSA's fundamental mission is to support people struggling with intimate partner violence - including domestic and sexual assault. Its mission extends beyond the individual to the entire community by addressing how Colorado Springs as a whole thinks about the issue.

"If we can change the way we as a city think about intimate partner violence, we can make it less permissible and allow more people to live in peaceful relationships," said Cari Davis, the former executive director of TESSA.

Since its founding, TESSA has expanded to six offices across two counties, launched a program to help pay for victims' legal assistance costs and created a housing project to host victims that need to escape their abusers.

"People who have been involved since the beginning say it's beyond whatever they could have imagined," Boyles said.

TESSA's work is not done, though, as its two-day Champions for Change Summit in July highlighted. Boyles is hoping TESSA's new strategies, which they will formally unveil in the beginning of October, will help the organization rise above "high hurdles."

Colorado Springs has a higher rate of domestic violence than the state and national average, Boyles said. Colorado Springs police respond to up to 40 calls of domestic abuse daily, and TESSA helps about 10,000 victims in El Paso and Teller counties each year.

Boyles could not point to a single factor that has led to this figure. She said that although stress does not create abusers, it can make them more dangerous. In Colorado Springs, those stressors can be a product of poverty or military service, among other sources.

Boyles also noted that TESSA's budget was a third to half of that of other similarly-sized cities.

Across the country, one of the biggest barriers in eliminating domestic violence is how normal and commonplace it has become.

"I like to say that it's the air we breathe the water we drink," Davis said. "When something is so normalized, the biggest barrier is to get people to see it and understand what we are doing individually and institutionally to change that."

TESSA anticipates over 700 people at Saturday's gala. The organization has already exceeded what it usually raises in its Pasta in the Park fundraisers.

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