How does Ana Cimino understand the importance of raising children in an environment that meets their basic needs for shelter and security? Because she experienced firsthand what it’s like to grow up without them.
Raised by a mother who refused to seek treatment for mental health issues, Cimino suffered abuse and instability as they bounced around the country while her mother moved from job to job. “There was never any consistency in my childhood or early teen years, and certainly not a sense of safety,” says Cimino, a New Hampshire/Vermont Schweitzer Fellow. “I was exposed to situations that no one should experience, but grew with a determination to prevent other people from enduring what I did.”
A student at Vermont Law School and a former AmeriCorps volunteer, Cimino’s personal background informs her commitment to using public policy and the law to advocate for and empower survivors of gender-based violence, which she believes is one of the most pressing health-related issues of our time. Domestic and sexual violence against women―particularly among youth and young adults―is growing at an alarming rate, says Cimino, creating a global health issue. “As a society, we must educate ourselves and our youth―boys and girls―about healthy sexuality and healthy relationships,” she says. “We must empower our youth to respect themselves and each other. Furthermore, we must break down the gender-based social constructs that divide and categorize genders, which only maintain the patriarchy and perpetuate gender-based violence.”
Through her fellowship project, Cimino is doing the youth education that she believes is key to breaking the cycle of gender-based violence. Working with the Clarina Howard Nichols Center, a Vermont agency that serves survivors of domestic violence and their children, Cimino has implemented a program that employs the arts and other youth-oriented projects to empower youth survivors of child abuse and/or witnesses to domestic violence to heal and create dialogue about healthy relationships.
This month she started a healthy body image session with her group. They started with an art project first then held a yoga/dance class. “The purpose of this month was to celebrate who we are and dismantle society’s expectations of how young women and girls are supposed to look and move,” Cimino says.
Cimino plans to stay involved with the program beyond her Fellowship year and is doing strategic planning with the Clarina Howard Nichols Center, which runs its own youth program. “The Schweitzer Fellowship allowed me the opportunity to build my program and build credibility with the kids this year,” she says. “Our goal now is to expand our programs into one and share the curriculum throughout the state, so that there is another place for kids in Vermont who have experienced bullying, violence, or witnessed violence to come together, to be empowered, and to heal.”
In addition to support from the ASF community, Cimino credits the Clarina Howard Nichols Center with helping her successfully implement her program.
“Our host organizations work incredibly hard to provide their various services, so having the additional responsibility of supervising a Fellow can take up precious time,” says Cimino. “However, the Clarina Howard Nichols Center has consistently been open to my ideas and has given me the space to learn, create, and grow the program. They understand that this program is all about the kids, so whatever advice or resources I have needed to make this program as successful as possible, they have provided.”