Graduates from court’s Womanhood Program ready for life’s next step

  • Kathy Picard, author of "My Idiot Family: A True Story of Survival, Courage and Justice over Childhood Sexual Abuse", was the guest speaker at the graduation ceremony for the Eastern Hampshire District Court Probation Office's Womanhood Womanhood Program in Belchertown on Tuesday, May 22, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Womanhood Program founder Probation Officer Regina Sanderson welcomes about 60 people to a ceremony for the seven graduates at the Eastern Hampshire District Court in Belchertown on Tuesday, May 22, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Carrie Clark, left, Melissa Mertes and Chelsey Earle were among the seven graduates of the Eastern Hampshire District Court Probation Office's Womanhood Program recognized in a ceremony in Belchertown on Tuesday, May 22, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Chief Probation Officer Robert Ryan applauds Womanhood Program founder and probation officer Regina Sanderson, right, during the seventh graduation ceremony at the Eastern Hampshire District Court in Belchertown on Tuesday, May 22, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Carrie Clark is congratulated by Chief Probation Officer Robert Ryan after receiving her certificate from the Eastern Hampshire District Court Probation Office's Womanhood Program during the graduation ceremony in Belchertown on Tuesday, May 22, 2018. Probation Officer Regina Sanderson, founder of the program, is at far left. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Eastern Hampshire District Court Probation Office's Womanhood Program graduates Lyla Roybal, left, and Samantha Gouvan make a short presentation about bullying during the graduation ceremony in Belchertown on Tuesday, May 22, 2018. Probation Officer Regina Sanderson, founder of the program, is at far right. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Probation Officer Kristy Paciorek, left, one of the teachers in the Eastern Hampshire District Court Probation Office's Womanhood Program, is greeted by former State Rep. Ellen Story, Judge John Payne, Chief Probation Officer Robert Ryan and Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan during the program's graduation ceremony in Belchertown on Tuesday, May 22, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Kathy Mitchell photographs graduates of the Eastern Hampshire District Court Probation Office's Womanhood Program in Belchertown on Tuesday, May 22, 2018. Mitchell, a judicial secretary in the Hampshire District Court in Northampton, once held the same position in the Eastern Hampshire District Court and helped organize Tuesday's ceremony there. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Kathy Mitchell photographs the seven graduates of the Eastern Hampshire District Court Probation Office's Womanhood Program, and its founder, Gina Sanderson, right, in Belchertown on Tuesday, May 22, 2018. Mitchell, a judicial secretary in the Hampshire District Court in Northampton, once held the same position in the Eastern Hampshire District Court and helped organize Tuesday's ceremony there. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Above, Christine Maiwald, left, executive director of Unify Against Bullying, thanks graduates of the Eastern Hampshire District Court Probation Office’s Womanhood Program after receiving a gift during the graduation ceremony in Belchertown on Tuesday. From left are Carrie Clark, Brianna Pinard, Melissa Mertes, Chelsey Earle and Kristen M. Dubuque. Below, the program’s other two graduates, Lyla Roybal, left, and Samantha Gouvan, make a short presentation about bullying during the ceremony. Probation Officer Regina Sanderson, founder of the program, is at far right. GAZETTE STAFF/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The seven graduates of the Eastern Hampshire District Court Probation Office's Womanhood Program pose for a photograph with program founder Probation Officer Gina Sanderson, right, during a reception for the graduates in Belchertown on Tuesday, May 22, 2018. From left are Melissa Mertes, Samantha Gouvan, Lyla Roybal, Carrie Clark, Chelsey Earle, Kristen M. Dubuque and Brianna Pinard. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

For the Gazette
Published: 5/23/2018 12:04:55 AM

BELCHERTOWN — Amid the season of college graduations, seven women graduated Tuesday from the Eastern Hampshire District Court Probation Office’s Womanhood Program.

While the women received a certificate of achievement and not a diploma, the same sense of pride and accomplishment filled the courtroom as it does at a college graduation ceremony.

Chief Probation Officer Bob Ryan said that for these women, completing the 10-week program was no small feat.

“You all have every reason to be just as proud of your accomplishments as people graduating from a four-year college,” Ryan said. “It is a significant accomplishment which will serve as a springboard for additional accomplishments in the course of your lives.”

The program, started by Probation Officer Gina Sanderson, educates women coming off probation on the topics of substance abuse, domestic violence, anger management, self-defense, self-care, art therapy, resume writing and job search skills. In addition to providing information and resources, the program fosters a community of positivity and hope for women who come from similar backgrounds. Since its start in the spring of 2015, 72 women have graduated from the program.

“It is a phenomenal group of women here. Each one is an individual, but they all have a tremendous desire for change,” Sanderson said. “They came to class ready to learn.”

Not even a tornado warning deterred the women from coming to class one week.

Friends and family of the graduates gathered among program instructors, court clerks, police officers, state legislators and representatives from the Northwestern district attorney’s office to celebrate the women’s accomplishments and listen to a keynote address given by Kathy Picard, author of “Life with My Idiot Family.”

As a victim of sexual abuse from the age of 7 to 17, Picard spoke on how she ultimately received justice after being told not to speak out about the abuse for so many years.

“I couldn’t change what had happened to me, so I decided to do everything I could to make sure victims of childhood sexual assault could receive justice,” she said.  

Picard was a leading force in extending the statute of limitations for childhood sexual assault cases, reaching out to every senator and representative in the state. Ultimately, on Sept. 21, 2006, Picard watched former Gov. Deval Patrick sign into law a new statute of limitations for criminal childhood sexual abuse cases.

Now, an adult abused as a child has until age 43 in criminal cases and age 53 in civil cases to report their abuse. Right after the bill was passed, Picard called her attorney and began the lawsuit against her abuser. Thirty years after the abuse had ended, she successfully sued her assailant in civil court and won.

Picard explained that she looks at her life like a book — the first part was written by other people, but she wrote the second part.

“There’s a point in our stories where we can decide to start writing them ourselves. You can accomplish anything you put your mind to,” she said.

She told the graduates that by completing the Womanhood program, they have already begun writing the next chapter in their lives.

“Each of you have the right to be proud of yourself for completing this program,” she said. “You finished what you started. It’s easier to come up with excuses to quit than reasons to keep going.”

Carrie Clark, a graduate from the program, emphasized how special it was to be a part of a community of women who had similar experiences as her.

She said that she will stay in contact with the women she has met. “It’s nice to be able to talk to people who get it.”

Another graduate, Samantha Gouvan, said she has gained a greater sense of self-worth from this experience and has learned skills that she will take with her as she moves forward in her life.

“This program was awesome. I feel so grateful to have been a part of it,” she said.




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