Story by CATHERINE HOSMAN
Photos by JULIE NABOURS and MICHAEL MILLER and courtesy of AWARE Central Texas
When AWARE Central Texas celebrates Christmas on the Farm next month, it will be an affordable family-friendly event for the entire community.
Kids of all ages will enjoy face painting, hay rides, hay mazes, stick horse races and more. Santa and Mrs. Claus will be on hand all day and so will the Grinch, who tries to steal Christmas.
“It’s really cool,” said Harriet Brodie, director of development for AWARE Central Texas. “There really is something for everybody with more than 40 activities for the kids. Santa and Mrs. Claus stay with us all day long.”
This is the 10th year for Christmas on the Farm, and underlying all of these festivities is another message, a message of awareness and understanding about family violence and child abuse.
“Family violence is a silent crime that crosses all socioeconomic layers of society, races and faiths,” said Executive Director Misty Biddick.
“The message of AWARE is for child abuse and family violence prevention,” said Belton Police Chief Gene Ellis. “It’s a mission that is needed, and anytime you can create a fun environment to bring people together to open lines of communication, the best way to get out that word is through fun events like Christmas on the Farm.”
Kiseña Anderson and her two daughters have gone every single year, “and loved it.” Now they go as volunteers.
“It’s more work than play,” said Anderson, a survivor of domestic abuse. “I’m a big advocate of women and don’t ever want to see anyone in that type of situation. I got out and eventually it made me a stronger person because I survived it.”
Biddick was named executive director in January. She holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Texas A&M University-Central Texas and an MS in applied criminology from Lamar University. She was a 22-year-old on active duty with the U.S. Army stationed at Fort Irwin, California, and working with the Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers program when a young woman walked into her office to sign up as a volunteer at a local family violence shelter in Barstow, California, a 40-minute drive from base. It piqued Biddick’s interest and she decided to volunteer.
“We saw a combination of women who didn’t know how to write a check, women whose husbands took away their wives drivers licenses and wouldn’t let them drive, and men being abused by women as well, and so ashamed to step forward, afraid of ridicule,” she said.
That experience influenced her direction when she was discharged from the Army. While working on her bachelor degree in criminal justice at Texas A&M University-Central Texas, she took a job as the Coryell County crime victims’ coordinator. She left that position to work as an officer with Bell County Adult Probation.
“As a first-time probation officer I was well versed in family violence and child abuse,” she said.
She developed a working relationship with offenders, supervising those on probation by monitoring their activity in the community instead of them serving prison time. She also worked closely working rehab with community members or the criminal justice system.
Now she teaches at the Bell County Police Academy, on the campus of Central Texas College in Killeen, working with cadets to teach them the art of interaction with victims of crime. “At the end of the day home is supposed to be a safe place. You go home. Be safe. For many people it’s not the case.”
An ounce of prevention
Several years ago the Belton Police Department partnered with AWARE Central Texas to create a Family Violence Unit. In 2016, the Family Violence Unit of Bell County served 5,204 people in Bell, Coryell, and Milam counties.
Anticipating a problem before it happens, rather than trying to fix it afterward, is the mission of AWARE Central Texas, “to prevent child abuse and domestic violence through education, training, and mentoring of high risk populations. AWARE is dedicated to working with community agencies.”
Family violence is an equal opportunity crime, and in some areas, such as Bell County, Biddick said they see an increase in calls during the holiday season.
“This can be due to financial stressors of the holidays, increased expectations that individuals have during the holidays, it can be attributed to a lot of things,” she said. “The bottom line is family violence is an issue of power and control of the perpetrator.
Another goal of AWARE Central Texas is to break the cycle of abuse.
“We provide parenting classes and anger management classes,” Biddick said. “We work with offenders at the probation department to make it easily accessible to the offender. We want the offender to receive help to make it safe for the victim.”
“The goal is to provide resource information to individuals quickly after being a victim of family violence” said Ellis. “We team with AWARE to make contacts for the victim and become an advocate for them. The victim is facing a crisis while the significant other is probably in jail, begging for forgiveness. An advocate will be there and go through the process with the victim emotionally and with the legal process that will happen.
“Victims will go back and the violence will escalate and be fatal in some relationships,” Ellis continued. “Intervention that leads to the prevention of further family violence is important.”
Biddick said family violence happens over time.
“It begins in small ways with control and power before escalating into physical violence, financial violence, intimidations or embarrassment in front of other people. In a new relationship everything is great at first, and then a cycle begins. ‘Who were you talking to on the phone?’ You are forbidden to talk with friends. By the time an abuser hits someone for the first time their self esteem is already undone. The victim doesn’t want to believe that someone they love would do that.”
There are happy outcomes and Biddick said her favorite part is seeing someone they helped exit an abusive relationship.
“They’ll contact me later. Their kids are back in school, they’ve settled in, they have gone back to school part-time, and getting stronger every day. They were able to break away. Or I run into people at stores and they tell me their child is graduating high school, and they have found full-time work. It makes you want to get up and go back to work the next day.”
IF YOU GO
Christmas on the Farm
Dec. 3, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Bell County Expo Center
301 W Loop 121, Belton
Admission 50 cents for an individual, $2 for a family; activity ticket prices are 50 cents each; concessions separate.
HOW TO GET HELP
AWARE Central Texas is a nonprofit organization with an annual budget of $600,000, funded through the generosity of individuals, business and grants. Christmas on the Farm raises, on average, $30,000 annually toward that amount. For more information on programs and classes visit www.awarecentraltexas.org.
If you or anyone you know is experiencing family violence, call their hotline at 254-813-0968. The line is available 24 hours a day and is anonymous.