Domestic Violence Awareness Month: Game Changer

Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class John Dillard knew he had to take a stand against violence after the issue hit a little too close to home.

Dillard's mother opened up to him a few years ago about a terrifying attack she experienced long before he was born. She was seven months pregnant with his older sister and was walking in a park when a stranger beat and raped her, almost killing her.

"It made me cope with things that victims go through," Dillard said. "It just made me want to do more for the community as far as taking action against domestic abuse."

When his older brother was discharged from the Navy for domestic violence against his ex-girlfriend, it only solidified Dillard's desire to do something about domestic abuse.

"No one wins in the situation," said Dillard, a religious program specialist at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island. "(My brother) lost his career, and she is scarred for life because of it."

Dillard started volunteering with Citizens Opposed to Domestic Abuse in May. He helps the nonprofit group organize events and promote its services whenever he can. He also volunteers for the organization's Megan Project, teaching teens about dating violence. CODA'S mission is to prevent domestic violence. The group offers legal aid, counseling and case management for residents of Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties who are in abusive situations.

When CODA was discussing what it would do for October in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Dillard suggested doing something more proactive than a prayer vigil. His suggestion was the genesis for the "Get in the Game" 3K walk Oct. 16 in downtown Beaufort. Representatives of local young men's groups such as the Men of Strength Club and the Technical College of the Lowcountry's PILAU (Promoting Integrity Leadership Academics and Cultural Understanding) program had already expressed an interest in volunteering with CODA and were at the planning meeting. Organizers thought the walk was the perfect opportunity to encourage even more males to get involved in domestic violence awareness, so the leaders of these groups spread the word to their members. CODA community educator and volunteer coordinator Martha Lawrence said she is thrilled to see Dillard and several other men in the community wanting to help spread the word about domestic abuse.

"This is not a women's issue," Lawrence said. "It's a community issue. It affects all aspects of our community -- our schools, our workplaces, our neighborhoods. ... We need the whole community to address it."

Jamie Fleming joins Dillard as one of the men in the community working to put an end to domestic violence. Fleming runs the Men of Strength Club at six local schools, encouraging young men to have healthy relationships and be respectful toward women. He also mentors boys through the nonprofit organization Living Out Ur Dreams. He and his girlfriend, LOUD executive director Mackenzie McGrew, created the after-school program that meets at the Boys & Girls Club Teen Center in Beaufort. The group aims to prevent violence and encourage academic achievement and holistic development through music production, audio recording and slam-style performance poetry.

Once a month LOUD invites the community to participate in "Poetry and Pancakes" to raise money for the club. This month's event will be dedicated to Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and money raised will go to CODA.

"There's not a lot of buzz about domestic violence awareness, or at least here in the Lowcountry," Fleming said. "We wanted to help highlight this issue and get people involved and raise awareness. I really appreciate the work that CODA is doing."