October 01, 2012
Mary Kay: Learn-Play-Heal
by Karyn Reagan
Mary Kay Inc. and the Mary Kay Foundation offer children of domestic violence victims a unique opportunity to rise above their circumstances and find healing.
From the beginning, Mary Kay Ash’s heart was to positively impact the lives of women, removing barriers to their success. She wanted to provide an opportunity for them to have a thriving career without compromising their family time and their faith. On Sept. 13, 1963, Mary Kay Ash launched a cosmetics company exactly one month after her husband lost his battle with cancer. She had $5,000, nine friends and a son committed to helping her start her new endeavor. Mary Kay Inc. is now a $3 billion-per-year company, operating in more than 35 countries with a salesforce of more than 2.4 million women who have their own Mary Kay businesses.
In the past 49 years, Mary Kay Inc. has given millions of dollars to various organizations and causes to help those in need, according to Crayton Webb, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility. In 1996, the Mary Kay Foundation was established as a conduit of funds in support of researching cancers that affected women. In 2000, the Foundation expanded its mission to provide funding for programs that prevented violence against women and raised awareness about domestic violence. While the Foundation draws attention to two causes, Mary Kay Inc. focuses solely on ending domestic violence against women. The motivation for making this cause their focus was the fact that disturbing stories of domestic abuse against consultants and customers started to make their way to the leadership at Mary Kay.
A Heartfelt Response
The desire of Mary Kay Ash was to provide hope to women who lacked opportunity, self-esteem and financial support, and domestic violence is the antithesis of that philosophy. Webb explains that the leadership of the company responded to the stories they were hearing at an epidemic level by adopting the issue as their philanthropic focus in 2000. “The Mary Kay Foundation’s signature program is its annual shelter grant program,” Webb says. “Every year since 2000, the Foundation has given 150 $20,000 grants—a total of $3 million—to domestic violence shelters across the United States.” The grants are used to provide much needed shelter for abuse victims, to educate local communities about domestic violence and provide further services needed by the victims.
As part of its initiative to create awareness about domestic violence, Mary Kay Inc. has conducted an annual Mary Kay Truth About Abuse Survey for the past few years. The recent 2012 findings reveal alarming trends in reaction to the economy’s decline since 2008, including:
- 78 percent of domestic violence shelters nationwide—nearly eight out of 10—report an increase in women seeking assistance from abuse.
- 74 percent of survivors stayed with an abusive partner longer because of financial issues.
- 58 percent of shelters reported that the abuse is more violent now than before 2008.
- 87 percent of domestic violence shelters—nearly nine out of 10—expect their overall situation during the next 12 months will be worse than now, or the same as now, due to the economy.
- 95 percent reported that survivors needed to stay in shelters for longer durations of time.
The report is careful to point out that though the economy does not cause domestic violence, financial strain can increase the severity and frequency of the abuse. And the findings also indicate that children and young women are being affected in staggering numbers by the increase in abuse:
- Of shelters that were forced to reduce services, 47 percent decreased childcare efforts, which meant that they were not able to help one in four children.
- 86 percent of shelters witnessed negative social effects on children such as bullying or withdrawal.
- 62 percent reported that young women (ages 12-24) are requesting help in greater numbers.
While the need for domestic violence assistance has been rising, the survey also finds that domestic violence service providers throughout the United States have experienced significant cuts in funding from all sources. Governmental organizations have decreased funding, as have individual donors, foundations and corporations. As a result of the funding reductions, 43 percent of shelters had to decrease services offered.
Shelter our Sisters in New Jersey was one of the first recipients of a Mary Kay Nature Explore Classroom in 2009.
Children in Sacramento, Calif., enjoy the Mary Kay Nature Explore Classroom built at WEAVE Inc.
The Mary Kay Nature Explore Classroom is customized for each location depending on the shelter’s needs and available space.
Making an Impact on the Hearts of Children
In 2009, Webb and his team were approached by the Arbor Day Foundation with an idea—would Mary Kay Inc. and The Mary Kay Foundation be interested in partnering with them to provide Nature Explore Classrooms at domestic abuse shelters? “They had discovered science that proved that children who have witnessed or been victims of domestic abuse respond positively to learning and playing in nature,” Webb says. “When we realized these classrooms were not mere playgrounds, but outdoor centers created where the power of nature can help children learn, play and heal from abuse—and there was nothing else like them in the world—we were thrilled to partner with Arbor Day as sponsors of the classrooms.”
Webb and his team responded by opening not one but five Nature Explore Classrooms in the first year. “The second year we opened four, the third year we opened another four, for a current total of 17 classrooms, and we are looking at completing four more in 2013,” Webb says. “Right now we are reviewing over 100 applications from shelters all over the country desiring a Nature Explore Classroom on their property.” That is quite a change from the response the first year, when most shelter directors seemed unsure of giving up precious space for an outdoor classroom. But the results have spoken for themselves and shelters are clamoring for an effective way to help the children of the parents using their services.
Beth Hassett, Executive Director of WEAVE Inc., a safe house in Sacramento County, Calif., tells her experience with being a recipient of a Mary Kay-sponsored Nature Explore Classroom. “The first time the children at the shelter entered the classroom, they were so excited,” she says. “Mary Kay and the Arbor Day Foundation were able to transform an unused and meaningless piece of property into a place where kids can heal.” She goes on to explain that the classroom provides a place where the kids can relax and just be kids. “Sometimes children who have lived in homes where there is abuse arrive at our safe house too upset to respond to therapy,” she says. “Our therapist provides trauma-focused cognitive behavior therapy and has found that the Nature Explore Classroom provides a perfect environment for the children to calm down and respond to the therapy.” The healing can then begin.
When asked to describe the classroom at WEAVE Inc., Hassett explains it as a series of outdoor rooms connected by pathways. Each room has a purpose and corresponding curriculum. There is a building space, the floor of which is made of tree cookies—tree trunks sliced into circles—with additional tree cookies for stacking and building. Another space is dubbed the nature art area, complete with flagstone flooring and a table for drawing. Of course, no outdoor learning space would be complete without a gardening area, and this one contains raised beds for planting and growing. There is also an area for simply playing in the sand. Platforms and sawed logs make up the climbing and crawling area, and the music and movement space is decked out with a stage for fashion shows and music performances. The messy materials area provides hours of fun for children in its deep woodchips, tree stumps, a carved log and more tree cookies. There is also a gathering place for conversations and counseling sessions. And in all the areas, numerous scavenger hunts have taken place in the two years the classroom has been in existence.
The Power of a Safe Place
Many of the Mary Kay Nature Explore Classrooms feature sitting areas for children and moms.
“The biggest surprise regarding the classroom has been the different kinds of people who have benefited from it,” Hassett says. “Child Advocates and therapists have used the classroom with success, as well as the teacher at our on-site school and the mothers of the children staying at our safe house.” She explains that the classroom has a calming effect on the children and the mothers alike. “Sometimes a mom just needs a peaceful place to be alone, and this outdoor space provides that oasis in the midst of her storm,” Hassett says. “Many abused women don’t feel safe anywhere in the world, and a calm outdoor space is not normally available to them.”
Circle of Hope in Cornelia, Ga., is another women’s shelter that received a Nature Explore Classroom. Suzanne Dow, Executive Director, says, “Children are the innocent victims of domestic violence. Many of the children we meet in our shelter are experiencing the same emotions of their mother; feelings of fear, isolation from family and friends, anger, chaos and uncertainty. The Nature Explore Classroom provides our children with a space to just be kids again. It is a space that allows them to be creative and free and creates an environment that will help them heal from the trauma they have endured. We are so thankful to the Mary Kay Foundation for making this space possible for the children we serve.”
The Family Place in Dallas was the first beneficiary of Mary Kay’s partnership with the Arbor Day Foundation. Executive Director Paige Flink explains that through its funding of the Nature Classroom at The Family Place, the Mary Kay Foundation has created an environment both for learning and for healing. Children who have witnessed violence often see the world as a terrible place, a place where harm will come to them. Exploring nature and learning about the beauty of the environment will help children understand that living things have value and that there is much to be gained in taking care of the earth.
In Hackensack, N.J., Michelle Andryshak with Shelter Our Sisters says that the Nature Classroom serves as a fun, intimate, safe place for kids to be typical, curious children. It serves as their outdoor home where they can cope with aggression and fears as they rake, dig a hole, create castles in a sandbox and begin to heal from their personal, emotional and physical abuse. Children learn to be gentle by caring for plants and acquire valuable knowledge about healthy eating while growing vegetables. Their social skills improve when building a fantasy city with others as a team. They also have an opportunity to express themselves through music, movement and creative nature art. And they conquer fears while trying to do something for the first time.
At another first-year recipient of a Nature Explore Classroom, Karen Kuchar of Family Shelter Service in Chicago explains that domestic violence is a devastating cycle, but through the Nature Explore Classroom women and children can regain peace and security. “In our county alone, there are over 600 police calls a month and we know that many—some say only one in 10—violent incidents don’t get reported to the police. We see our work here as restoring women and children to a life that is safe and has unlimited possibilities,” Kuchar says.
“Thanks to Mary Kay Inc., we now have a new way to offer that restoration and support through the Nature Explore Classroom. It provides a peaceful and beautiful setting for both respite and exploration and offers our clients an opportunity to restore a connection to nature. Most important, it can restore the lost wonder, freedom and spirit of adventure of childhood to children who have experienced much pain and trauma in their young years. We are very grateful for this gift, and look forward to exploring the potential for hope and healing through the classroom for many years.”
Through sponsorship of Nature Explore Classrooms across the nation, the goal of the Mary Kay leadership is to help break the cycle of domestic violence by providing a place of healing for the children of victims. “Our desire is to carry on the legacy left by Mary Kay Ash of positively impacting the lives of others,” Webb says. “In this case we desire to offer hope to the most innocent victims by offering a simple, fun, peaceful place where they can experience normal childhood activities, learn valuable skills and find healing.”