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This past weekend, we held our 3rd annual Speak Up Cincinnati event. This event is extremely special to me because it always marks a year for us. The first Speak Up was our very first event ever, so every year when we get have another one, it’s like we are stepping into our new year with this event. It’s a chance for us to sit back for just a moment and see what did the past year, and then plan what we want to do in the upcoming year. It is literally a birthday for AVFTI. And we have had fundraisers that were more successful at raising money. We have events where we are better able to reach more people. And we even have events where we are more warmly received…not to say that we weren’t warmly received at Speak Up…we definitely were. But there are some events where you can actually feel the sense of relief a person has when they find out we exist. But that’s not this event. But even if there are stronger fundraisers, warmer receptions, and larger audiences elsewhere, this is my favorite event we do.

raffleSaturday night while I was at the event, I took a step back for just a moment and looked around. I saw hundreds of baked goods being sold. I heard the faintest representation of the band playing downstairs while I was watching another band setting up upstairs. I glanced over and saw that there were people talking at the AVFTI booth to two of our fantastic volunteers, and right across from them I saw my friend Ryan selling more raffle tickets than I even knew we had with us to people who were hoping to win some of the amazing prizes that were so generously donated to us for this raffle. I looked on the wall across from me and I saw dozens of paintings and drawings that were given to us for the event, under the idea that they could ‘show us their voice’. And they did. And they were beautiful. Then I scanned the crowd and I noticed loads of people talking. Sitting. Laughing. All in their own crowds, but all there at that one event. Together. And even if they just came to see a band, they were all here for the same reason. Some of them I knew, but many more I didn’t. This is when it all hit me…even though this organization that was an idea that spawned in my head, it is now so much larger than I am. I knew that it was, but it’s even bigger than I realized. There were simply so many cogs and gears that went into making this amazing event happen, I need to point out some of the key players.

First of all, to the 4 people with whom I now share a humble office in Springdale. Thank you. Thank you so much for seeing this vision with me, for agreeing to take it on, and for just caring so much about it. It’s fairly common knowledge to people that know us that I am the only AVFTI board member that has had a direct experience with sexual abuse. That means that the four of you who have agreed to give up the early hours of every sunday as well as most of your weekend evenings to help pursue this either love me enough or care about the issue enough to pursue it heavily. Maybe it’s both. It doesn’t matter to me which it is, because your actions are what are important, and you have shown your dedication through them. I am extremely sarcastic, and usually my form of joking is picking someone apart, making fun of them, and breathing out a slew of insults at them, all while reminding them that I am joking. If I do give a compliment, it often has a jovial disclaimer at the end of it that they’d better hold onto it because it will be at least another year before I say something positive about them. If we are being honest, and I am, I couldn’t fit all the compliments I have for you all inside of a year. If this organization were to end today, I can’t tell you how filled my heart is just because you all have stepped out on this journey with me. But it won’t end today, because I know I have good hands crafting it with me. And because now we are far too invested and stubborn to stop. Probably ever. So to Pinky, Eric, Callie and Mark – thank you. I love you all very much, and I can’t think of four people that I’d rather be working on this mission with. (Now hold onto that compliment…it’s going to be another year before you hear one again. Ha.)

86I also want to thank the 86 Club. From the beginning of our idea, you guys have been our cheerleaders, our friends, and our mentors. I admire you all so much for what you do in the community, and I am so honored to partner with you the times that we do. Thank you for everything that you have done not only for us, but for the Cincinnati area and music scene. You all are some of the greatest people I have ever met.

mikeWe have a volunteer that had told us about a friend of hers who is a motivational speaker named Mike Pistorino. Mike is a victim of childhood sexual assault and now tells his story to anyone who will listen and reminds them that it doesn’t have to stop them from being happy. He hadn’t ever met us and had barely talked to us, yet he agreed to drive four hours down from down from Cleveland, Ohio to our event and emcee for us. He told his story in a brutally honest yet charismatic way. His charming demeanor, sense of humor, and New York attitude added an element to our event that we haven’t yet had. So thank you, Mike, for all you do. And seriously…thank you for coming down to our event. We can’t thank you enough.

Honestly, I could write for hours about all the people who made this work. I haven’t even mentioned the bands or donors yet. So I will. But not in this blog. It’s already long enough, and it’s nearing time for me to leave. But this is a good start. I will most certainly give a thanks to all of the bands, local businesses, and everyone else who made this event what it was.

My body is tired from all of the work we have done in the past few months, which had to be done in the free time between jobs, families, and life. But my heart is rejuvenated and ecstatic. Thank you. We tell people all the time that they aren’t alone. Thank you for helping me to remember that too.

UPDATE: I did in fact write the next thank you blog where I tried to include as many other people as I could. It’s here, if you care to read it.

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  1. Healing in Telling | Mike Pistorino

    […] Saturday, I had the pleasure of sharing my story and serving as the emcee at A Voice for Innocent’s Speak Up Cincinnati fundraising event.  It was awesome to be part of a community of survivors and those who care about […]