CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Bright orange rocking chairs dotting Charleston and South Charleston sidewalks are sure to draw the eyes of passers-by, and that's exactly what officials at the Charleston YWCA are hoping for this weekend.
"It gets attention," said Kyla Nichols, program director for the YWCA's Shanklin Senior Enrichment Center. "We're hoping the rockers will grab attention and get people to read the signs, because elder abuse is not largely talked about, and it's a growing problem."
The YWCA is placing rocking chairs in high-traffic areas over the weekend to promote awareness for elder abuse, Nichols said. The Shanklin Center, opened in 2004, is an eight-bed facility that offers long-term residency to female victims of elder abuse who have become homeless as a result and is the only facility of its kind in the state.
Nichols and Erin Turner, director of retail for the YWCA, painted five chairs donated to the YWCA's 2nd Seating furniture store a persimmon shade of orange, the organization's signature color, last Tuesday. Each chair will have a sign that highlights elder abuse and offers information on how to seek help for victims, and will be placed outside partnering locations that include Stray Dog Antiques, Lester Raines Honda in South Charleston, the Bridge Road Bistro and 2nd Seating.
Turner, who oversees 2nd Seating and the YWCA's Past & Present gently-used clothing store, said the project is geared toward spotlighting awareness in time for World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on Sunday and throughout the month of June, which is Elder Abuse Awareness Month. The proceeds from 2nd Seating's sales benefit the Shanklin Center, and many of the center's residents work in 2nd Seating to help support the store.
"We'd done it before with one chair, but wanted to do it on a larger scale because it's an easy visual to see and to associate with the elderly," Turner said. "We want to get as much out there as possible to raise awareness. The reason to emphasize it is really that when you think of abuse, you think of women and children, but there are other populations that are also abused, but we don't think about them as often, and so we're not thinking about protecting them."
Nichols said that while every story is unique, most sufferers of elder abuse are victimized by their own children or close family members, and often suffer physical, emotional and financial abuse.
"This could be your mother or your grandmother, or it could be you someday," she said. "We, as members of our community, need to work collectively to protect this vulnerable population and bring awareness."
Of the total number of Adult Protective Services cases tried in 2010, 68 percent involved elderly victims. Women make up 67 percent of elder abuse victims, and there were 5,961,568 recorded cases of abuse in the U.S. in 2010 — about 10 percent of the elderly population, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse and the Bureau of Justice.
For Nichols, awareness means hope for many victims of elder abuse who may have limited resources, mobility or connections, or may have difficulty understanding or admitting their situation.
"Check on your elderly neighbors, check on your elderly family members, and be aware. Is there a change in their behavior? Have they become isolated from friends or family members, or stopped going to church? Maybe you've noticed it financially; maybe their finances aren't what they were," Nichols said. "Their behavior is different, they're withdrawn — give them support, ask, and be there for them."
The Shanklin Center offers subsidized costs, so that regardless of residents' income, they contribute one-third of it to utilities, maintenance and supportive services for the center. The center also provides advocacy, case management and support services, as well as group activities and social gatherings. The YWCA also operates three one-bedroom Empowerment Homes for Women, which house chronically homeless disabled women. Both the Shanklin Center and Empowerment Homes are at capacity.
For more information on the YWCA, visit www.ywcacharleston.org.
Information from: The Charleston Gazette, http://www.wvgazette.com