A Good Partnership: PASSAGES and Clarion University

– Marlene Austin

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Marlene Austin

PASSAGES, Inc. has a long, rich history with Clarion University. Founded in 1980 as the Rape Crisis Center, it was the idea of two roommates: Mary Ann (Roseman) Kernich and Teri (Drayer) Rhodes. At that time, Mary Ann was the only female on the 11 member security staff at Clarion University (then Clarion State College). Teri was a communication operator at Clarion County 911. Both had seen too many sexual assault cases where people had nowhere to go for help after being assaulted.

Together, Mary Ann, Teri, and Julie Copen (a former student and a sexual assault survivor) coordinated a County Awareness Seminar to educate the Clarion community about the prevalence of sexual violence in the area. Using supplies donated by Rhodes and Kernich’s parents’ businesses, they posted fliers all around the Clarion community and campus. More than 90 people attended and heard startling stories and statistics, as well as myths about sexual abuse (and the facts that undercut those myths). Our founders were convinced more than ever that a rape crisis center was needed. With assistance from Karen Dupree at Clarion University’s Foundation office, they sought $500 in funding. From this, the Clarion County Rape Crisis Center was born.

Harvey Hall was the first home of the Rape Crisis Center. The office was even smaller than the three-member staff: they converted a small storage closet into “office space,”with just a small desk and a phone. Julie Copen served as the first Executive Director earning only $57 a year.

In 1983, the Rape Crisis Center expanded its services to include Jefferson County. In 1995, the Rape Crisis Center changed its name to the acronym PASSAGES, Inc., for Prevention and Service for Sexual Assault through Guidance, Empowerment, and Support. In 1998, PASSAGES, Inc.’s service area grew to include Clearfield County, as well. This once small agency now covers a three-county area stretching 2,420 square miles, and a population of over 167,000 people.

PASSAGES, Inc.’s mission is to advocate for the rights and needs of survivors of sexual violence, while working to eliminate all forms of sexual violence by educating community members and promoting social change. We provide 24-hour free and confidential services for children and adults whose lives have been affected by sexual abuse and sexual assault. The services we provide are supportive empowerment counseling (both individual and group); medical accompaniment/advocacy; legal accompaniment/advocacy; assistance obtaining sexual violence protection orders; prevention/education programming for schools and community groups; in-service trainings; information; and referrals.

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Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, 2014

PASSAGES, Inc. has had a wonderful relationship with Clarion University throughout the years. We have had countless students who have become our Direct Service volunteers, as well as serving as interns. Some volunteers and interns have then become fabulous employees at PASSAGES, Inc. We have also had a handful of our employees who have later moved on to do this work at the state and even federal levels. We are very much connected with the on-campus V-Day organization on campus whose goal is to raise more awareness of the issues surrounding violence and to help end this epidemic. The V-Day group does amazing work around campus and helps our agency in many ways.

PASSAGES, Inc. has been helped by Clarion University students, but our association also helps them grow. Nikki Bailey and Shelbi-lynn Moonley (2015), for example, said about their work on a PASSAGES, Inc. event:

Walk A Mile In Her Shoes has taught us professional skills such as responsibility, leadership, delegation, accountability, organization, and so on. However, this has taught us much more on a personal level. After a recent report of a sexual assault on our own campus, many women at Clarion University felt somewhat unsafe. Walk A Mile has allowed us to channel that uneasiness into an active approach towards ending the violence. In our small community, we have been able to take a stand by joining men and women together in the fight against sexual violence. As a result, we are becoming advocates, and protesting something that once made us fearful. (para. 5)

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Kathleen McIntyre (r), with one of the directors of the 2015 production of MMRP, which raises money for PASSAGES.

Kathleen McIntyre, a board member at PASSAGES, Inc. and a member of the History department and director of the Women and Gender Studies program, concurs: “I believe that partnering with community agencies helps faculty, staff, and especially students realize one of the most important goals of a college education: to become good citizens who have a stake in the communities where they live.”

Our connection does not end with the students. We have had and continue to have numerous faculty and staff members who dedicate a great deal of time as members of our Board of Directors. We are thankful for our connection with Clarion University and will always consider them as part of our PASSAGES, Inc. family.

Our board members also perceive benefits from their work with us. Kathleen McIntyre, for example, says:

I see my work as something that keeps me grounded and cognizant of what is most important to me. Observing first-hand what PASSAGES staff members do with meager resources, makes me realize what is truly essential in life. Prior to pursuing a PhD in Latin American history, I worked for two years as a Spanish-speaking case worker at a Domestic Violence shelter in New York. Being a social worker was the hardest job I ever had, but knowing that the outer community stood with you, made each day a little less draining.

We need your help and support, though, as this year’s state budget problems made it impossible for us to fundraise. We had to lay off workers and cut back workers’ hours. Others worked without pay.

2016 PASSAGES FundraiserWe would like to invite the campus community to our 6th Annual Comedy for a Cause Fundraiser coming up on Saturday, September 10th at the Park Inn by Radisson in Clarion. The cost is a $30 donation. This cost includes a lasagna dinner, dessert, and refreshments. Doors open at 6:00. Dinner will be served at 6:30 pm, and the show begins at 8:00 pm. Three great comedians from the Pittsburgh Area will perform. They have been featured on Tru-TV, Comedy Central, and Showtime at the Apollo. There will be a huge basket raffle, and 50/50 tickets for tons of prizes. You must be 21 years old. Business table sponsors are also available.

For more information or tickets, please call (814)226-7273. To purchase tickets on-line: http://slapsticksprod.laughstub.com/event.cfm?id=455258&cart

We look forward to seeing you there. We look forward, also, to continuing and building on our history with Clarion University.


Marlene Austin has been the Executive Director at PASSAGES, Inc. since June 2014. She began her career 20 years ago, in 1996, as a Prevention Educator, and later became the Prevention Education Coordinator. In 2008, Marlene was presented with the Outstanding Citizen Award at Clarion University for her dedication and commitment to social equity and her years of prevention work with university students. Marlene began teaching in the elementary school classroom, but feels very fortunate to have been able to educate children and adults at all levels about sexual violence awareness and prevention.

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