Hardwick, News

AWARE Releases Diversity Statement, Hires New Social Change Advocate    

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HARDWICK – Hard conversations are part of Ashley Gravel’s job as co-director of AWARE, the Hardwick group helping survivors of domestic and sexual violence. That didn’t make the disapproval of one of her family members any less difficult.

The relative was upset her organization serves transgender people, the 38-year-old said.    

courtesy photo
Miranda Elkins and Ashley Gravel of Hardwick’s AWARE release an updated diversity statement six months into their positions as co-executive directors at the organization. 

     “The way that I approached him was nobody deserves violence, everybody deserves love, like it doesn’t matter who identifies as what, or who they love, or what the color of their skin is or any of it — nobody deserves violence,” said Gravel.

She said, conversations like that help define the motives behind two moves she and her co-director, Miranda Elkins, have put into motion since the pair began leading the organization in January.

On June 1, AWARE released an updated diversity statement and posted it to its Facebook page.

Next month a new hire is set to focus entirely on diversity, equity and social change.    

The statement was a page long and positioned the organization as working “toward building a community that fosters equity for all, regardless of race, creed, sexual orientation or any marginalized identity.”    

AWARE, like many other social service organizations in recent years, has undergone updates to trainings on inclusivity, diversity and equity, said Elkins. Those trainings are often required because AWARE receives two-thirds of its budget through government grants, she said.

Inclusivity has been a core value of the organization since she began working for them in September of 2021, Elkins said, but she and Gravel wanted to make a clear statement.

Elkins and Gravel became co-executive directors in January. Putting the statement into writing, said Elkins, was a way for AWARE to take a concrete step toward committing to diversity.

“We need to be inclusive and not just say that we’re inclusive, but actually be inclusive,” said Elkins.    

That sentiment carried into the creation of a new position at AWARE: the social change advocate.         

The advocate is meant “to broaden the reach of awareness, prevention, advocacy and support for all people of all genders, lifestyles, ethnicities, who have experienced domestic or dating violence and stalking and to pursue social change opportunities to promote a violence-free community,” according to the job description put out by AWARE.

Gravel said the advocate will serve on Hardwick’s Equity Committee and explore getting involved with the Hazen Union School’s gender and sexuality club, better known as HUGS.    

The two co-directors said having the role filled will make more time in their schedules for the work they’re best at – working cases. According to the group’s annual report for last year, Gravel and Elkins responded to 1,866 calls, emails, messages and in-person assistance requests and personally worked with nearly 340 individuals affected by domestic or sexual violence.    

Gravel said the position has been two years in the making and was previously filled by someone for about four months. The group is looking at grants to help fund the position.

The new hire plans to introduce themselves to the public in the near future, said Elkins and Gravel.

Going forward, Elkins said she hopes the diversity statement sparks dialogue about equity and inclusion in the community and that people know AWARE is “accessible to anybody and everybody.”

“I think bringing it out in the open and talking about it is one of the most important things to do, because especially surrounding what we do, things tend to be more hush-hush,” she said. “But these conversations need to be had.”

Lucia McCallum interns as the Hardwick Gazette's community resilience reporter with support from the Leahy Institute for Rural Partnerships. She works with editors at Community News Service, a University of Vermont journalism program.

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