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Painted rocks and awareness | SAFE San Juans at the fair

Hope can appear in the most unexpected places — and that is the message that SAFE San Juans want to spread with their hidden rocks making a comeback this year at the fair.

SAFE San Juans is designed to protect and support those suffering from domestic and sexual abuse. Each August when the fair rolls around, SAFE San Juans usually sets up an information booth. With things being virtual, SAFE San Juans has gotten creative — hiding rocks painted with colorful inspirational sayings along with the name of the organization. Thanks to a partnership with local businesses, whoever finds the first five rocks will receive gift cards for $20-$30. These gift cards could be for any community business — from a hardware store to a restaurant or bookshop. There are five rocks each on San Juan Island, as well as Orcas and Lopez.

“We want to tell people that there are those who want to support people who are experiencing violence,” Dave Dunaway, executive director of SAFE San Juans, said. “There’s hope that what they’ve experienced doesn’t have to be the last word.”

Dunaway noted that many of the businesses in the San Juans know those who help at SAFE San Juans and are always looking to support the organization.

While the rocks are set out during the fair — usually in the city center — Dunaway said that prizes do not have to be claimed during that time frame.

“They are not hard to find,” he said with a laugh. “They are brightly colored rocks. We want people to find them, but we have people find them all throughout the year. Not everyone realizes that when they find one, there might be a prize.”

Dunaway added that anyone who found a rock can always call to confirm whether or not a prize was already claimed.

Even though these prizes are a nice addition, he said that it is more about awareness than anything.

To stress the importance of awareness, even more, Dunaway said that the organization serves around over 160 people per year along with their families.

“There have been a lot of people who have sought our support because they either have or are in the process of experiencing violence,” he said. “And they need help.”

Some of the help SAFE San Juans offers is safety planning — helping clients to figure out their next steps, and learning about the effects of the abuse they have experienced.

“I think the reason why we have the support we do with local businesses is that they know people who have experienced domestic or sexual violence and have been supported by our agency,” Dunaway said. “There really are a lot of people reaching out.”

In a small community, safety planning is very important, Dunaway explained. If one who has suffered abuse does not want to run into the perpetrator, legal actions can be taken. Dunaway noted that SAFE does not offer help for abusers looking to change, although the organization encourages that decision.

“For those who work in this field, we are dismayed by the things that we see people experience,” Dunaway said. “But even more so, we are extremely impressed by the strength, resilience, and courage of those who have experienced abuse and who decide that it is just time for it to end.”

Despite stories of abuse being sometimes hard to bear hearing, he said he wants to utilize awareness to break the stigmas surrounding it.

“These small messages of hope that we put on the rocks are really representative of what we see in those going through abuse,” he said. “What I want someone experiencing violence to know is that it does not always have to be that way. There is hope that abuse will end. There is hope to live free of abuse. We believe hope grows with help.”