EndCAN Co-Founder &
Episode 30: Living Through Compassion
In this episode, Starts with Youth’s Dayna Goren interviews EndCAN’s co-founder and Executive Director Lori Poland. Lori explains how her personal experiences with child abuse led to her career in the field, as well as her hopes for other survivors.
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Transcript of the Louder than Silence Podcast Episode #30 – Living Through Compassion
Transcribed by Adam Soisson
[Inspirational theme music plays.]
>> Lori: Thank you for joining us. In this podcast, we are real people, talking about real things. Child abuse and neglect: a topic that is all too often left in the shadows of silence, leaving survivors alone, fearful, and oftentimes without a voice. We’re having conversations to become Louder Than Silence. It is here, where we will invite you to join us and be the change needed to end child abuse and neglect.
>> Lori: This podcast is brought to you by our dear friends at The Conference Experience. The folks at The Conference Experience have really helped us out at EndCAN here for the last year and a half. They do incredible work, especially during COVID. They’ve really stepped up to the plate and helped us out so if you’re needing any audiovisual, production, or even support and help with running an event, please give The Conference Experience a call. Their number is 720 323-3273 or you can check them out at theconferenceexperience.com
>> Dayna: So the first question I have for you is can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your experience with childhood abuse and trauma?
>> Lori: Yeah well you know I had both personal experience and professional experience. My personal experience is at the age of three I was playing in my front yard. Granted this was 1983 so kids played outside all the time back then. Most children over the age of six got on their bikes at sunrise and didn’t come back until all the moms started screaming from the front porch that it was time for dinner. That was my way of living even after my experience but I was only three years old so I did not do that but it was my Dad’s birthday, he took the day off work. He was painting our house, we had just finished lunch. My brother and I batted our eyes at him and asked him for a second popsicle so he went inside and got another one as soon as my mom left to go back to work. While he was inside, just in those quick couple minutes, a car drove up and had the passenger door open and asked if I liked candy and like any sugar loving three year old I said yes and we negotiated and he told me if I went with him he’d give me candy and I jumped in the car as quick as that. Moments later, my dad came outside and he got in his car and took off after us but by the time he got to the end of our street he didn’t even know which way I’d gone and it was 12:35 in the afternoon. My abductor took me up to the mountains, he severely abused me physically, sexually, the whole nine yards then he put me in the pit of an outhouse toilet, like in the bathroom. It was a 15 foot hole and he put me down there with the intention of me not living. I lived for four days down there. Birdwatchers – the outhouse I was in was an abandoned, old, icky one so four days later, this couple was driving by and the wife had to go to the bathroom. Eventually they stopped and heard me crying so I was reunited with my family. That was just kind of the beginning of my experience. I have a number of other experiences that – you know, people, you wouldn’t want kids to have to go through and I wouldn’t want my kids to have to go through and it was also my life. Not that it was terrible, my parents did the very best that they could do with what they had and they were trying in every way to live a normal life but I’m not sure you can live a normal life after being raped and hurt in that way at a young age so that’s my experience with child abuse. Then right around 15 I started speaking as a motivational speaker to groups that ranged from five people up to thousands. Every single time I spoke, every single time somebody would come up afterwards or call me or write me or whatever, would find a way to reach out and tell me their experience. I began to realize this was something so many people went through. For a lot of people, telling me was the first time telling their experience. So first I felt honored, second I realized I have to do something with this experience. I can’t just let my kidnapping be a story in my book. So many people do and I think that is beautiful and it certainly doesn’t define me but it informs everything I do. So at 19 I gave a speech at a residential treatment facility for abused kids and that night when I got home, like an hour later, they called and offered me a job. I was working at Outback and going to school full-time so I thought why not [laughs] I can add something else to my plate. So that was sort of the beginning of me working with people who’d experienced child abuse and trauma. I say people because it wasn’t just the kids who lived there. It was their families, it was their siblings, it was the employees, it was everybody, so many people in the field I’ve found had their own experience and story. So eventually after taking six years off to go into finance because I needed to see if I could be anything other than this kidnapped kid. I was great in finance but it did not fuel my soul. I eventually went back to grad school and got my Masters in Psychology and then another degree, at that time it was a two year additional certificate in childhood and adolescent training and family and marriage counseling and in infant mental health, so my focus has been on attachment for the last 21 years. I just believe innately that we’re all born as pack animals because we’re humans and we’re first animals. Secondly – this is the longest answer to a question ever and I’m sorry [laughs]. Secondly I found that when every single person I had known had some form of trauma, it was attachment disruption. Especially if it occurred before the age of eight, the lifelong impact of that and the way they interacted in relationships later in life was so significant. It was everybody I ever talked to who had an attachment disruption, under the age of eight. I just learned and I listened to narrative and listened to story and began helping people. I spend every single moment of every single day helping people, trying to help people heal their attachment disruption including me so I just know a couple of things about it and I’m always learning and open to learn. So that’s my story anyhow.
>> Dayna: Thank you so much for sharing your experience, not only what you personally know but, with the rest of Starts with Youth and our followers, so I really appreciate that and really honored to be able to hear these survival stories and be able to put them out into a community for everyone to benefit from so thank you so much.
>> Lori: Absolutely.
>> Dayna: So my next question I have for you is as the Executive Director of EndCAN, what motivated you to start this foundation?
>> Lori: So having worked in the field for at the time – I just texted my daughter, she was asking how long I’d been in the field of nonprofits and I said 21 years. So I started EndCAN with Dick Krugman three and a half years ago so at the time it would have been 16 and a half years. So I’ve worked in the nonprofit sector for a long time and I’ve found that A) so many people in the field came to it because they had bleeding hearts and wanted to help others heal, whether they’d been healed or not which I thought was really powerful and B) I found that this system, the way this field was designed was in an attempt to respond to something and not as much in an attempt to create something. Now in no way is that me trying to say it’s bad or wrong, it’s just that because the drive to work in this field and to do this comes from our own experiences I feel like so many things have been in an attempt to cover or plug or take over this giant hole which is so many hurt people and I’ve seen fortunately in my lifetime, other issues like the LGBTQ movement, like suicide, like breast cancer, like smoking, that when I was young nobody talked about breast cancer. Nobody talked about being gay, transgender, lesbian, or even questioning it. You certainly, if somebody passed away from suicide – I have goose bumps because it was just silence, right? Then smoking – everybody smoked, my doctor smoked while I was in the room with him. It just was what people did. Then I watched in my forty years of life, I’ve watched each one of those things – and there are so many others – I’ve watched each one of those things improve not because there was a program that did amazing things. That helped for sure but because people started talking about it and people who have lived experience all the sudden started saying ‘hey wait a hot minute, I’m not alone and look at how amazing I am even though I was a smoker, even though I was a breast cancer survivor, even though I identify as LGBTQ.’ Just that “even though” made me think wow, nobody talks about their childhood experience and a large part of that is because there’s shame and fear of hurting our family members, of parents feeling like they failed. Ultimately we know that everything is our parents’ fault [laughs] or we feel like it is so I started EndCAN because I wanted to do for this field and this topic because I wanted to do for this field and this topic what so many others do for other topics that were once taboo.
>> Dayna: That’s amazing. I honestly, I couldn’t agree more and that’s very much our focus at Starts With Youth, is creating a community that no longer shies away from these types of conversations. So similar foundations of why we want to do this for bettering our society.
>> Lori: Amazing.
>> Dayna: So my next question is what are some of the resources that EndCAN offers and what do you hope people will gain from using these resources?
>> Lori: Our biggest resource isn’t really a resource so much as it’s an ask, it’s a plea and that is creating a community of survivors. There’s places – we have an anonymous community, we have an open forum community and we have an action-oriented community that has a few different options in it. The anonymous community is a place where people can go and talk about their experience, to seek support, to share, to be supportive, whatever. There’s a place for all of that. The open forum community is a place for people to go and share their stories and just kind of own their story and own their voice because that’s something that happens so frequently with child abuse and neglect is that we’re rob bed of our own vocal chords. Then the action oriented resources is designed A) we have a Young Champions Council so it’s a national group of people under the age of 35 who volunteer, kind of like a Board but for young professionals, survivors or not. It doesn’t matter, there’s no requirement but they come together and – we’ve just begun it at the end of 2020 – but really come together and focus on how to take action together and how do we spread this word, how do we join with organizations like yours to truly, truly do this. So that is an exciting group, they are pumped up and I love it and we are eager for participants for that. Then another action oriented group is our volunteers. This year – so we’ve only been open for three and a half years. The first year and a half was trying to figure up how to set up a nonprofit because it was only me and Dick who will not own that he operationalizes anything, he just has ideas. He is amazing. The next 7-8 months was putting all that in place and building a Board and then 2020 was like ‘okay now that nobody can go anywhere or do anything, how do we do this? What do we do?’ So 2020 was our strategic planning year and 2021 is our action taking year. This year we’re doing the first ever march, it’s a national march happening in cities all over the country where we’re calling on people who connect to this. Not just victims, not just survivors, not just family members but supporters, believers, everybody to come together to say ‘Let’s do this. We don’t need to go after all the perpetrators because eventually the perpetrators will be healed too because so many perpetrators are survivors themselves. That’s the goal, that’s the action. So it’s a resource and a plea blended into one.
>> Dayna: I love that. I’m really excited to hear more about this march and when that will take place. I don’t know if you guys have a date set any place yet.
>> Lori: I’m happy to share, we don’t have a specific date because right now we have six cities we’re doing it in and permitting and COVID are a thing at the moment. Some cities like LA aren’t giving out any permits at all right now and we really want to make sure we’re doing them all at the same time and they’re going to be September / October of 2021. So at the moment we’re waiting for vaccines and all the world issues to come into place so that people are a little more safe and we can get the permits necessary to shore up all the dates to make sure it can all happen but it will.
>> Dayna: That is so exciting.
>> Lori: It really is, I have goosebumps [laughs]
>> Dayna: I’m so excited for you guys. Okay so the next question I have is: You travel nationally as a motivational speaker talking about your journey to becoming a transcender. What do you mean by this and what was your journey like?
>> Lori: There is this remarkable social worker, her name is Diane Baird. She is the only reason I finished my graduate school program. I wanted to quit so badly so many different days because my internship was challenging and it was just hard, life is hard. Diane called me one day – it was like 7:30 AM and she said ‘I’m just driving into work and I’m thinking about you and I truly believe there are first victims, then there’s survivors, then there’s thrivers, then there’s transcenders and you are a transcender.’ I was like ‘I have to Google that word because I didn’t really know what she meant [laughs] So I Googled it and I found, and I’m paraphrasing, that what I understood of the word transcender is somebody who’s been through challenge and has not only overcome it but has turned around and paid it forward. I just felt so humbled and proud and ego centric in that moment. I was so happy and I shared that in a speech once and this lady in the audience made me a super hero cape with a capital T on it. It really stuck with me, I self-own it now because that’s why I do what I do. It’s exhausting and some days I’m broken and yet I keep getting up. So that is Diane Baird, it’s all her and I just thought it was really cool.
>> Dayna: Honestly when I read that I did the same thing, I Googled it. I know the word transcend but I’ve never heard transcender but I love that, I’m going to share that with my team and I hope we can share that with other people so they’re able to identify as that because it’s something so amazing to feel about yourself and thank you for sharing that because that’s such a valid piece of information. Honestly I want to identify as a transcender, that’s beautiful.
>> Lori: You totally are. The fact that you’re interviewing and doing this. I mean you’re doing it, that’s what it is. You’re doing it.
>> Dayna: Okay so the next couple of questions I sort of got from your webpage and the stats you guys share so I sort of tailored the questions towards that. Explain that one of the biggest barriers of child abuse and neglect is the social stigma that surrounds it. What do you think are some ways that we can reduce this stigma?
>> Lori: I think that one thing I’ve found in my career and just my experience in the world, and this is truly just my opinion. But when something bad happens it’s so easy for us to want to focus on who do we blame, why did this happen. I do that, my first response is always how did this happen but my second response hopefully is what do we need to do so this doesn’t happen again. It pulls me out of the anger and puts me in a place of solution and for so many people that’s not their second response, that’s not even their fifteen and I get it, I’ve been there. Where that stems from is in grad school I had to take a diversity class and my assignment was to work with people you wouldn’t otherwise work with and the only people on that list at the time were sex offenders so I marched to a sex offender place – and my teacher said I was doing this to the extreme – but I marched to the sex offender place and I volunteered and I did 100 hours where I was only supposed to do 20 but all the sudden I realized that all those people, the offenders that I was among, were people and almost all of them were survivors. What they did was inexcusable and their choice versus mine to do harm instead of good hurt me. It hurt my heart. I found so often that what people want to do when we talk about child abuse, we want to litigate, they want to sue the bad guy. They want to out their family, they want to go that route and I haven’t found that to be as helpful or as healing as finding our own voices and as living through compassion and living by way of modeling how I want everybody around me to be. I know that hurt people hurt others so instead of hurting others I’m going to love them because sometimes – I have this quote right here that Don Bross said to me two weeks ago on a podcast recording – “The difference between an offender and a survivor is someone believed in them” I find that to be what drives – I don’t even remember your question now and I’m sorry but for me that is what drives why I do this work and why it is so taboo and why we have to talk about it because we need people to come together and show that it’s possible to get out of this and that it’s possible to move on with our lives and have it be a part of our lives. Not ignore it, not forget about, not talk about it all day every day, not be anger and not repeat it but instead to have it be a part of my identity just as much as being a woman, just as much as being a mother. I’m okay with that, I’m proud of my experience. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone but I love what I’ve done with it and I’m okay with that so I think I answered your question, I’m sorry [laughs]
>> Dayna: You definitely did and you added your own little twist to it and I love that. Okay the next one I have for you is one goal of EndCAN is to break the silence of child abuse and neglect. What do you think we need to do as a society to change this narrative?
>> Lori: I would say just as I’ve been saying, we have to come together and we have to hold the space and create a community for, with and because of one another. I do believe that I know 99.9% of offenders were once people who were offended. But I also know, and we don’t have a statistic sadly, but I also know that most people who were abused do not grow up to be abused. What we don’t know is what did one group get that the other didn’t and how do we do that more? If it’s giving them $0.50 in Kindergarten, I’ve got $0.50. I’ve got a lot of fifty cents and I’ll make that happen but what I want to do is help people see that we don’t have to offend because we learned that. We don’t have to repeat the cycles and the things we learned and even if we do yell at our kids or hit our kids or harm them, we don’t have to keep doing it. So there’s always a time to stop, always. There’s always a time to say I’m sorry and change. So what we need to do is come together and talk and stop blaming and stop shaming and stop hiding and stop being angry and just talk. I think if we do that we’re going to do some pretty cool things for this topic, you know? Ideally make it go away, wouldn’t that be so cool?
>> Dayna: It would honestly be amazing. I was saying to my roommate the other day – I live with three of my team members.
>> Lori: Nice! That’s a community.
>> Dayna: Honestly we’re all very good friends and that’s how this started. So that’s my team which is amazing but I was saying what if we were to look at child abuse from a preventative perspective. Why can’t we stop children from being hurt in the first place, not looking at it as an aftermath of trauma when it’s already happened so preventing it from happening in the first place.
>> Lori: I hear people say that and I love it and I want us to be there so then I ask prevention organizations because there’s so many cool ones, I ask where they intervene and at what age do you intervene. Some say during early childhood education, some say with parents who are first time parents, some say at-risk and my answer – I ask this question because I’m curious – but my answer is the whole circle because we have to start with us, and I don’t want to loop you in but I’m saying survivors, we have to start with the “us” because the “us” is also the “them” so it has to be everything, it has to be both/ and. That’s the problem, it’s so big so where do we begin? We begin with us and then we go to the “thems” then all the sudden it’s all of us. Us and them, everybody, check. So that’s how I look at it. we’ve got a lot to do but I think it’s going to be easier than we think.
>> Dayna: I hope so. My last question I have for you is, what do you believe are some ways people can get involved in their communities so that people can help try to end child abuse and neglect. I guess you kind of just answered that.
>> Lori: I think anything we can to get involved. If that means finding your local Children’s Advocacy Centers or Family Resource Centers or Prevent Child Abuse America groups or showing up to a march or moving in with a bunch of people that you love and starting an organization where we’re all talking about our things. Whatever it is, just do it. That’s it. Every time you see a child, be a light in their day. Every single time you see a kid, be a light for them. That’s all we need. That’s it, we just need somebody to see us when we’re not seen as kids and we’re being abused so see them.
>> Dayna: That’s amazing. Well thank you so much!
>>Lori: I want to thank each of you again for joining us today and listening in. If you or someone you know is being abused, please call 1-800-4-A-CHILD. To learn more about EndCAN, visit www.endcan.org or find us on all social media platforms. Join us in being Louder than Silence and being a part of the change. Please leave a comment, like our podcast, or share with your friends. The more the word spreads, the more of a collective impact we can have. If you have a question or you know someone who would want to be a guest on our podcast, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks again, and have a great day.