Traci Saor is the founder of G.O.N.E. (Get Outdoors Now and Everyday), which began informally about five years ago, when she started taking female friends kayaking. However, the informal meetings quickly grew into a more formal organization, one dedicated to helping women in domestic violence situations find empowerment in the outdoors.
In honor of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, I spoke with Traci about G.O.N.E, what she has learned in the last few years running this organization, and what advice she would share for misadventurers who might want to do similar outreach and activism in their own communities.
How did you start G.O.N.E.? What was the inspiration?
Get Outdoors Now and Everyday (GONE) began informally about 5 years ago, when I started taking female friends kayaking. I had boats for my two girls and I, and bought a couple more because I always seemed to have friends that wanted to go but didn’t own a kayak. I love introducing people to the sport. Several of those women went on to purchase their own ‘yaks and pursue paddling on a regular basis.
One occasion a friend asked if we could take one of her co-workers, who, she said “was having a hard home life”. That was an understatement. The woman obviously suffered physical abuse. She went paddling with us, relaxed, laughed, had a great time. We asked her to join us again but her husband never let her after that.
But seeing her that day helped my friend and I realize we were on to something. We had something we could offer as a no-cost service to other women. We gave the operation a name (G.O.N.E.) not because we applied for non-profit status, or use it on any logos, etc, but because it embodies what we as a group of helpers believe in (get outdoors every day) and gave us a shortcut to refer to our activities. We also liked it because it subtly refers to women who have left-they are GONE and free to start living life again.
How does G.O.N.E. accomplish its mission?
Women in domestic abuse situations lose their self esteem, their sense of identity, their ability to believe they can make positive things happen in their lives. I know because I was one of those women. When we take them out to paddle or hike or camp, they are able to reflect, to see themselves through the eyes of other women as valuable persons, to learn new skills in a safe environment that prove they are competent and able. It helps to remind them who they were outside of the abuse, and that they can achieve goals, even if that goal starts with a small one like learning to build a camp fire.
We are located in Oklahoma, but because confidentiality and safety of our women is a great concern, I can’t give more details than that. We do not advertise, post signs, or give out our address because we must protect the identity and safety of our volunteers and participants. All information is passed word of mouth.
What does the day-to-day programming of G.O.N.E. look like?
The largest group we can take out at any one time is six, although we typically take one person at a time, sometimes two. There is no set schedule, because it is all done by volunteer time. Our volunteers call our resources center and shelters and let them know of availability/outings for any shelter residents that are interested. The local resource center also has my contact number so they can call if they have a participant who is interested.
Up until this year, we have only served adult women, but we recently added kayak and hiking outings for older children. We arrange a day and time, load all the gear, and pick up the participants and a pre-arranged meeting site. No pictures of our outings, participants, or volunteers are allowed-again, to protect their identities and safety. Abusive partners are often known to stalk their victims even after they leave the home, and threaten or harm those who try to help women leave.
Can you tell me more about the connection between overcoming domestic violence and the outdoors? What makes the outdoors so empowering for women in (or escaping from) these situations?
Once you conquer your fear of bugs, wildlife, paddling on deep water, or of learning new things, it becomes easier for you to conquer that fear of leaving the abusive situation, conquer the fear of applying for a job, moving your children, or starting a new life. The women we help who have already left those abusive partners, we reinforce their self-care decisions.
Several of the women we have helped continue to volunteer with the shelter and resource center, and recommend us to incoming residents.
Why are you passionate about this issue?
I still remember this remarks from one of our participants: “I like this hurt when my muscles ache from hiking. Unlike the bruises and pain from my partner, this is pain I embrace, pain I ask for because I know it means I’m getting stronger.”
So I am passionate about this organization for two reasons-I was in an abusive situation and still remember almost two decades later what it felt like to lose myself and all the activities and friends I loved. I am also a strong believer in the health benefits of being in nature, whether that is physical, mental or emotional health, and try to promote that whenever and wherever I can.
Do you have any advice or tips for readers who may want to get involved in outdoor-oriented domestic violence organization, or start their own version of G.O.N.E. in their areas?
If you are interested in offering a similar service, contact your local rape crisis or domestic abuse hotline or shelter and ask what you can do to help. Your won outdoor skills need to be solid, including first aid. What you should NOT do is try to counsel women, mediate, or make suggestions for direction they should take. You are their to offer support, not guidance, unless you are a licensed counselor.