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Full of hope


Bags of Hope was started by teenager eager to help women escape domestic violence.

M.A. Smith December 23rd, 2013

The South has always been a target for domestic violence. In fact, seven out of ten Southern states, including Oklahoma, were recently declared to have the highest number of domestic violence-related deaths.


According to the Violence Policy Center’s (VPC) 2013 report, Oklahoma ranked third in the nation for the number of women killed by men, a startling jump from the previous year’s ranking. In 2012, VPC ranked Oklahoma at No. 17 in the nation.

“Nine women each week are [killed] by their husband or intimate partner,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

Oklahoma’s Intimate Partner Violence program reports 49 percent of women in the state have reported abuse by their husband or intimate partner.

Many of the women who do survive and flee their abusers leave with little more than a garbage bag full of clothes. That’s where a new domestic violence program coming to Oklahoma comes in. Brianna Swinderman, age 17, from Rio Rancho, N.M., started Bags of Hope in 2011 to help women and children escape the torment of their abuser.

Her aunt works with survivors of domestic violence and told Swinderman the women often have nothing more than a plastic garbage bag to put their clothes and other belongings in when they leave the abusive relationship.

“I heard that and I was just devastated,” Swinderman said.

Bags of Hope was born.

Getting started
“I started collecting duffel bags, suitcases, backpacks and any other type of bag I could get my hands on,” Swinderman said. “I gave them to local agencies.”

Swinderman said many local businesses, churches and local donors jumped in to help, too. The project has become a family-based system. Swinderman and her mother and sister speak with community members and local leaders to get support and volunteers to help spread Bags of Hope to other communities.

Bags collected are kept in the city where they were donated. “When they donate the bags, it really impacts their area,” Swinderman said.

In four months, Swinderman collected more than 1,000 bags. To date, she has provided more than 2,000 families with bags in New Mexico.

Oklahoma ties
She founded the program while she was a sophomore at Rio Rancho High School. It was difficult juggling classes, homework, Girl Scouts and a social life while getting Bags of Hope running.

Indeed, the program was so successful she decided to start a national campaign. Alissa Swinderman, Brianna’s mother and a domestic violence social worker, said that, starting with Oklahoma, Bags of Hope has partnered with the National Foster Parent Association (NFPA) to offer services in all 50 states.

“Brianna has ties to Oklahoma because her maternal side of the family lives in Oklahoma City and surrounding cities,” Alissa said.

But family isn’t the only thing about Oklahoma that made her choose the state. Brianna said there were “9,100 children in foster care in 2012.”

Brianna said she does plan to grow. “We’re looking to expand into the whole country,” Brianna said.

 
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