On November 25, 2022, Karen Martin received the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Medal as presented by Premier Tim Houston, based on her lifetime of work here at S.O.A.R.
Below is the text of the submission that was made to MLA Chris Palmer when she was nominated for the award. It is worth a read so that you know the dedication of Karen and other long term members to S.O.A.R.’s mission.
Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Medal
Ms. Karen Martin of South Greenwood is a founding member of and has been involved with Survivors of Abuse Recovering (S.O.A.R.) Society since its founding in Kentville in 1993. She was a single mom with two young children at the time working in Valley Mental Health Services in the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia as a Secretary and a Data Analyst. She became involved when two mental health professionals decided to do something about the lack of resources for survivors of childhood sexual abuse who were accessing clinical help but there was no ongoing support. She became a founding member of the volunteer organization S.O.A.R. which would provide peer support to survivors (female and male) of childhood sexual abuse. The supporters would themselves be survivors of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) with lived experience, thereby able to provide empathic support and know the journey to healing. Peer Supporters learned about the tools which would help in the healing journey. Karen herself a survivor became a Peer Supporter after taking the Peer Support training program. She has been a Peer Supporter now for these 29 years and has supported numerous survivors. Karen also furthered her knowledge and ability to support CSA survivors by taking the group facilitation course and the training course to train CSA survivors to be Peer Supporters. Therefore, she also volunteered as a group facilitator and trainer of Peer Supporters. To ensure the readiness of potential candidates, Karen helped develop a screening tool. Karen has volunteered in many capacities over the 29 years of her involvement with S.O.A.R. She has been a volunteer coordinator and has served on the Board as Chair, Secretary, Treasurer guiding the development of policies that ensured S.O.A.R. was accountable, reputable and ethical. She has been a fundraiser and secured grants to help build the capacity of S.O.A.R. to fulfil its purpose and further its reach within the province of N.S. Karen has helped develop training materials, revising them not only to keep them current, but to ensure that they followed adult learning principles. She ensured that they are rooted in respect and understanding and strengthened them to the point that they have become a resource for other organizations who train their members who work with survivors of sexual violence.
Karen, with all her various roles in S.O.A.R. has ensured that survivors of childhood sexual abuse have an ongoing support network they can access for support to sustain them in their recovery. Through her public speaking engagements, some examples are: presentation to the Canadian Federation of Mental Health Nurses and “Tools for Life” workshops, Karen has taken CSA out of the darkness of secrecy, silence and shame.
Karen has been involved in every aspect of S.O.A.R.’s creation and development and has led the organization to not only survive in spite of very limited funding but to grow and become a leader in training and in sustaining volunteers. Karen has had a wonderful positive impact on the survivors she has supported over the years. The mental health of CSA survivors is significantly improved with support from trained Peer Supporters. The fact that Karen trains adult CSA survivors to be Peer Supporters increases that effect by multiplying the benefits through each new adult CSA survivor who is supported. Indeed, each Peer Supporter benefits from the Peer Supporter training as they gain personal growth, healing and enhanced skills and grounding tools that they can use not only with their peer clients but also in their own lives with family and friends.
The community has also benefited with the sharing of training materials which other organizations have been modifying to suit their purposes. Karen was also instrumental in getting funding to hire a Peer Mentor who would support the Peer Supporters as it was recognized that Peer Supporters were at risk of burning out and leaving and it was vital to find a way to support them in their volunteer work. Peer Supporters can be triggered by the work they do with survivors. She was instrumental in designing the work of the Peer Mentor to train mentors from within the peer volunteers so that they would be able to take on the role of supporting Peer Supporters. In this way the work of S.O.A.R. would be sustained and the Peer Supporters would be best able to continue their on-the-groundwork. At present there are about 25 active Peer Supporters and about 30 adult CSA survivors being supported on a one-to-one basis. Over the twenty-nine years of S.O.A.R.’s existence, hundreds of CSA survivors have been helped by S.O.A.R.’s Peer Supporters as well as their families, friends and employers through the ripple effect of their healing. Given the prevalence of childhood sexual abuse (estimated to be one in three – four female and one in four – six males) there are many people who suffer from lifelong post traumatic injuries in the community. The presence of S.O.A.R. is an indication to the community that the issue will not be ignored, and that the quality of the support being offered is very important so that survivors, their families, friends and associates deserve to receive top notch support.
Karen’s volunteer contributions initially began by benefitting the survivors she has supported through the years. However, Karen learned that the lives of family members, friends and employers of those survivors have also improved as the survivors learned better coping strategies, did not experience as many triggers, and did not feel that they were alone with this awful secret. They are better able to regulate their own lives, thus able to contribute more fully to their roles at home, work and the community at large. Peer Supporting has a positive ripple effect, for example the benefits of Peer Supporting one individual reaches at least six others and those six others impact thirty-six others and so on, so that many lives are improved. Karen took a facilitator training course so she could become a Peer Supporter Trainer. The Peer Supporter training course itself is extensive (54 hours using an adult learning framework) and further enhances the lives of CSA survivor participants. Once they become Peer Supporters, the lessons learned from the training become a part of their everyday lives.
Through Karen’s influence and leadership, a network of like-minded organizations SVPSN (Sexual Violence Peer Support Network) was created. The training materials were shared with organizations in the network such as the Women’s Centre and a help line (W.A.R.M.) who have borrowed and adapted the materials to suit their specific needs.
Karen recognized that the impact of CSA often coincided with addiction and substance abuse issues; therefore, she made sure that services for this group of people included information about S.O.A.R. by attending Addiction programs in the public and private sectors and by making sure S.O.A.R. materials were available to them. Consequently, S.O.A.R. receives referrals from these programs requesting Peer Support. Maintaining a positive and strong connection with the public Mental Health Services has also been an important activity that Karen has established and supported over the 29 years. Another example of Karen’s leadership and commitment to expanding S.O.A.R.’s reach is through engagement with Peer Support Nova Scotia (PSNS) created by the Nova Scotia Health Authority and presenting to them the work that S.O.A.R. does. A presentation is now planned to inform this organization of the Peer Mentor Program that is being designed under Karen’s guidance.
Under Karen’s leadership as chair of S.O.A.R.’s education committee, several education conferences (one international) were held not only for survivors of CSA but also for their families and support networks. Public education forums were held over the years to help reduce the stigma of childhood sexual abuse by bringing this issue to light thus removing the shame and guilt that secrecy of CSA creates.
S.O.A.R. started with a focus on females but with increasing demand from males for services, Karen helped guide and lead the way to include males. Since the past many years S.O.A.R. includes everyone and has expanded its services from the Annapolis Valley region to the entire province of Nova Scotia.
At a presentation at a national professional conference, Karen outlined S.O.A.R.’s mandate, programs, services and the need for organizations such as S.O.A.R. because of the high rate of sexual abuse being perpetrated on children and the lifelong negative impact on many of them.
Despite the fact that she is a single mother, held a fulltime job and volunteered with S.O.A.R., Karen’s commitment and dedication were exemplified in the many opportunities she created to help others suffering from the impacts of CSA. For example, Karen reached out to the public and private addiction services to inform them about S.O.A.R. and continues to meet with them regularly to facilitate referrals to S.O.A.R. and inform them of the impact of childhood sexual abuse on the use and abuse of substances. She has organized workshops and presented at several conferences and workshops. Karen has guided, led, worked and participated in every aspect of the S.O.A.R. organization. Her grant writing ability has enabled S.O.A.R. to get funding for projects that have greatly improved the reach of S.O.A.R. services (SVPSN and PSNS are examples) and the expansion of S.O.A.R. services. She has informed the politicians about S.O.A.R. and the Minister of Health and Wellness introduced S.O.A.R. to the legislative assembly. One of her visionary ideas was the development of a Peer Mentor program because she recognized that the work of peer supporting is heavy, emotional and often lonely. Consequently, some of S.O.A.R.’s Peer Supporters were leaving, and this was exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic as everyone was more isolated. Karen successfully wrote a grant proposal to create a Peer Mentor program which is now being trialed. CSA survivors while taking Peer Supporter training are being supported by a Peer Mentor. Already the benefits of a Peer Mentor program can be seen for the participants in the Peer Supporter training program and once they begin to support Peer Clients as the feedback so far has been extremely positive and all those who participated in the training stayed and did not leave as was often the case before. S.O.A.R. is the first and only organization in Nova Scotia to establish a Peer Mentor Program and has already been asked to share this with other organizations in the province.
Karen has had to deal with being a single mom with two young children at the beginning of her volunteer involvement with S.O.A.R. She has had to address her own sexual abuse as a child and move along in her journey of recovery. She has had to address her own self-care and speak up for herself. She has had to balance her commitment to S.O.A.R. and to herself. She has had to struggle to find funds to support and grow the organization. She has had to find willing, committed supporters of S.O.A.R. and advocate for needed services for adults who survived CSA. CSA is an issue that few want to recognize and address. Therefore, survivors with lived experience of CSA need to support each other and so many are still suffering from the lifelong damaging impacts. So finding volunteers who are able and ready to volunteer is challenging as most want to bury and forget it.
Karen is an inspiring leader and volunteer in her work to develop, expand and strengthen S.O.A.R. not only as an organization but also in the services S.O.A.R. provides. Karen became a role model for others by being willing to take on many roles within S.O.A.R. and demonstrating that with hard work, dedicated and committed efforts, an organization like S.O.A.R., created out of the darkness of the impact of lifelong trauma that so many adult survivors of CSA have experienced, could bring light to those very people that can be sustained. She has shown the desire to learn and to meet the challenges in life and within S.O.A.R.. Karen’s involvement with so many people throughout her work with S.O.A.R. has earned her a vast amount of respect, gratitude, and inspiration. She inspired others to take on new responsibilities and roles in S.O.A.R. and in their personal lives. She shared her knowledge of grant resources so the most likely sources of funds could be pursued. S.O.A.R. has always struggled to get any amount of decent funding and been hamstrung by the lack of funding. She has shared her knowledge of Peer Supporting with new trainees in the Peer Support training program. She shared her knowledge of S.O.A.R. with various community organizations. She shared her dream, to make S.O.A.R. the best that it can be and to support as many people with lived CSA experience as possible with the result that she has ensured that S.O.A.R. is gaining more sustainability.
Below are the 15 recipients of the awards, selected from 55 nominations.