In the United States, one in four women will become a victim of domestic violence in her lifetime. Here in Erie County, over 11,000 calls where placed to law enforcement to report an incident of domestic violence in 2014 (source: Erie County Central Police Services). Add to that, the fact that only one in seven incidences of domestic violence is ever reported, and you can see just how widespread this problem is. Domestic abuse ruins families and ruins lives. In extreme cases – domestic violence can result in the loss of life.
On Valentine’s Day 1993, Kim Rudnicki was held captive and brutally raped by her estranged partner, while her eight year-old and four year-old children stood watching. Kim survived the attack.
On June 13, 2012 at 7:59 am Jackie Wisniewski was reporting for work as a secretary at ECMC in Buffalo. She was shot dead by her ex-boyfriend in a stairwell of the building.
On March 11, 2013 with one of her children present, a Buffalo woman was savagely beaten and burned by her husband. Her murder was so gruesome police withheld details.
These are true stories of domestic violence in our community – stories that make us shake our heads in disbelief and disgust; stories that may be high profile when they happen but fade quickly once the channel is changed or the newspaper is discarded. Family members are left to struggle alone with the death of a loved one. Victims who survive must attempt to rebuild their lives within the stigma domestic violence often carries.
These women deserve more. Those who died deserve honor. Those who survive deserve to know their community supports them.
The Erie County Commission on the Status of Women has been working since 2009, when Aasiya Hassan was brutally murdered by her estranged husband, to take action in bringing awareness to domestic violence. Over the past six years, the Erie County Commission on the Status of Women, along with partner domestic violence service provider agencies, have organized the “Break the Cycle Bike-a-Thon and Walk” Isle View Park in Tonawanda, New York to bring awareness to the issue of domestic violence in our community and to encourage women and men to speak out and take a stand against it. Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz has stated “as a community, it is important that we take this step together, recognizing the incidents of domestic violence happen all too frequently and that we can join together to stop them from re-occurring. Taking part in the Bike-A-Thon is a good way for all of Erie Country to show our unity and determination to prevent domestic violence in the future.”
As a result of the success of these events, the Erie County Commission on the Status of women, local domestic violence advocates and community volunteers worked together to plan and create a Tribute Garden - a permanent, public tribute honoring fallen victims and survivors, while also raising awareness. This permanent tribute serves as an important reminder that domestic violence exists, and that the lives devastated by domestic violence are remembered with dignity, love, and respect.
On September 26, 2015 as part of the 6th Annual Break the Cycle Bike a thon and walk, Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz was joined at Isle View Park in Tonawanda by members of the Erie County Commission on the Status of Women, Chairman of the Buffalo and Erie County Greenway Fund Standing Committee Alan J. Bozer, members of the Erie County Department of Parks, Recreation and Forestry, WNY domestic violence agencies and community partners, victims of domestic violence and their families, and community members committed to ending domestic violence to cut the ribbon and officially open Erie County’s new Tribute Garden honoring domestic violence victims and survivors.
Located in an Erie County park and overlooking the Niagara River, the Tribute Garden is believed to be the first permanent Garden of its kind located on public land in the United States, and both the site itself and $50,000 in funding for completion of Phases I and II of the project were donated by Erie County. In 2015, the Buffalo and Erie County Greenway Fund Standing Committee awarded the project nearly $200,000, which enabled the garden’s completion in time for the annual bike-a-thon and walk. The Buffalo and Erie County Standing Committee is funded by the New York Power Authority (NYPA) as part of a settlement agreement related to the 50-year federal operating license received by NYPA for the Niagara Power Project in 2007. Additional funding was secured by founding sponsors and generous private, corporate and individual donors who realize the importance of building awareness with a goal of saving lives and breaking the cycle of violence.
The Tribute Garden was designed by landscape architect Joy Kuebler and includes two walls of bricks and stones honoring or memorializing loved ones, an earth-berm amphitheater, bench settings and plantings. An intricate metal-forged trellis designed by sculptor Sarah Fonzi of the Foundry adds a visual focal point to the peaceful setting.
The Break the Cycle Bike-a-Thon and Walk and the Tribute Garden are supported by: The Erie County Commission on the Status of Women in cooperation with Catholic Charities, Crisis Services, CSEA, Erie County Department of Social Services, Erie County Coalition Against Family Violence, Erie County Sheriff’s Office Domestic Violence Unit, Family Justice Center of Erie County, Child and Family Services Haven House, Hispanos Unidos De Buffalo, YWCA of the Tonawanda’s, Child and Family Services, and community volunteers.
The 2016 Break the Cycle event marked a new phase for the Tribute Garden; we have transitioned from a bike-a-thon to a plant-a-thon community event entitled; Growing our Garden. Our goal is to create greater community engagement at the Tribute Garden site with the intention of sharing valuable awareness and resources with our community; particularly our young community members, while engaging them in a an experiential leaning community service project.