The impact of the #MeToo movement and the women openly speaking out was fresh on the minds of nearly 700 people at TESSA’s Sept. 15 Gala, “The Encore.”
It reverberated with TESSA’s staff and volunteers, who have been there for local victims of domestic and sexual violence for 41 years.
TESSA helped them find safety and build new lives.
Only in recent years have some of those victims felt empowered to speak out, overcoming permanent injuries and emotional damage as they became strong and self-sufficient.
Gala guests responded by donating $230,000 toward TESSA programs.
For the second year, TESSA’s glittering fundraising gala combined performance and visual art to tell real-life local stories.
On stage, actress Jewel Markwalder Magoon narrated the story of “Jenny” as Colorado Springs Conservatory students and mentors and Ormao Dance performers acted out “Jenny’s” abusive past.
First a wedding and reception for local high school sweethearts, where the bride heard “you’re mine now” from her groom.
His aggressive, possessive personality was good, “Jenny” thought, because he could always protect her, especially since she was from an abusive family.
“I thought, ‘He loves me so much and wants to be with me all the time.’”
“Jenny” knew he got jealous easily, and she was troubled that he drank so much. But when she threatened to leave, he attacked her and threatened to kill her. She was afraid for her small son. Taking cookie-jar money she had hidden away, she called a girlfriend and escaped.
On screen, the real Jenny Bealis-Schell said this was her story. Why didn’t she just leave him? “I didn’t love myself enough to leave. I didn’t know TESSA had a safehouse, a safe place for my scared boy. I didn’t know I could have been one of 40 to 50 domestic violence calls to the PD every day.”
Today, this safe and successful businesswoman knows her words can have an effect. “I refuse to be a part of the darkness any longer.” Her advice to anyone wanting to help a victim: “I’m here. I see you. I’m here for you.”
Joining the real Jenny on stage was her husband and business partner, Chris Schell. They reconnected years after he had spotted the girl with “that laugh, that smile.” Getting together after they graduated from Pikes Peak Community College, when her smile “melted my heart and I got to know the stories behind the smile,” they became a team. Now there are two sons and Design Rangers, an award-winning marketing/design agency. And Jenny is on the TESSA board. Soon after the gala, they took their typical team approach through a health scare when Chris had successful surgery.
Announced at “The Encore” was the decision for TESSA to acquire the programs of the Women’s Resource Agency, including job training, the women’s store and the teen program.
Photo gallery: gazette.com/life/around-town