March 4 fundraiser drew more than 400 guests to Civic Center

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FARMINGTON — The fifth annual Mayors' Ball to benefit charity took place March 4 with more than 400 guests gathering for a masquerade-theme evening at the Farmington Civic Center that raised almost $100,000.

Like last year, proceeds from this year's ball went to Sexual Assault Services (SAS) of Northwest New Mexico.

According to SAS Executive Director Eleana Butler, this year's event grossed $95,000, the net funds of which will be used to support SAS programs.

During the event, Aztec Mayor Sally Burbridge thanked communities throughout the county for coming together to support worthwhile organizations like SAS, adding that the organization has special meaning for her.

"I am a survivor of sexual assault, so SAS is near and dear to my heart," Burbridge said. "I want people to know that there is life after assault, that you can do whatever your dreams tell you to do, and you can have a happy home and life."

Farmington Mayor Tommy Roberts also offered thanks to everyone who made the event possible.

"It's rewarding being a mayor in a small community," he said. "This is a great event and a very worthwhile cause."

Roberts explained that the mayors from Farmington, Aztec, Bloomfield and Kirtland choose a different organization every two years to be the recipient of the ball's proceeds. He announced that out of six applicants, the next recipients that have been chosen are the Boys & Girls Clubs of America within San Juan County. Those clubs are located in Farmington, Aztec and Bloomfield.

During a tour of the Farmington SAS center earlier this week, Butler said that being the recipient of the last two Mayors' Balls was a great help to her grant-funded agency.

"In addition to the fact that the ball gave our agency great community exposure, it also helped us to grow and expand our services," she said.

SAS operates a sub-office in Gallup and provides sexual assault services at the Northern Navajo Medical Center in Shiprock.

Butler said she and her staff are considering options to come up with supplemental funds since they will no longer receive proceeds from the ball.

"We're looking at new ways to make money," she said. "Possibly through some new fundraising events with the help of connections we made through the ball."

The main mission of SAS is to help men, women and children overcome sexual assault situations, regardless of how much time has elapsed since the assault occurred. The agency provides physical exams and medical care by certified nurses, medical forensic advocacy and support counseling, and operates a rape crisis hotline. Sexual assault prevention through awareness programs and education is a main goal of the organization.

Butler said the agency served 141 assault survivors last year. Of those, 87 were age 13 and older, while 54 were younger than 13. Most of the survivors were female, and 16 were male.

"Eighty-eight percent of the time, the assault is perpetrated by someone the survivor knows," Butler said.

Those numbers were higher than in previous years, and Butler said she has noticed a continuing upward trend in those seeking services from her agency. She's also seeing an uptick in male survivors coming for therapy.

"I don't think it's because sexual assault is increasing, but I think people are coming in more often for services, which is a great thing," she said. "We're getting the word out that SAS is a private, confidential and safe place to get the help survivors need."

Regarding prevention, Butler said her agency focuses on teaching the importance of healthy relationships and respecting boundaries.

"Sexual violence is a symptom of oppression, and until we deal with those attitudes, it will keep happening," she said. "Silence is the biggest problem — it's the enemy to stopping sexual assault, and if we don't teach kids to be kind and accepting of others, we're condoning it."

Burbridge, who agrees that attitudes about sexual assault need to change, spoke earlier this week about what it means to be a survivor of sexual assault.

"Usually, when someone's assaulted, there's guilt — not just self-guilt but guilt put on you by the perpetrator," she said. "You're afraid of what people will think, you're afraid of what your loved ones will think."

Burbridge said the attitude used to be "Just don't talk about it." She said she is glad the taboo of talking about sexual assault is lifting.

"We have to let people know that support exists and that they're not alone," she said. "(The assault) never goes away and will always be a part of you, but you deserve a good life, and you can still have a good life."

For more information on Sexual Assault Services of Northwest New Mexico, visit sasnwnm.org

Leigh Black Irvin is the business editor for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4621. 

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