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Shelter Women Bare 'Soles' in Garfield Library Exhibits

Art Therapist and Director of Children's Activities at the Center for Hope and Safety Marta Levy Photo Credit: Contributed by Marta Levy
A decorative shoe from the exhibit at Johnson's Library in Hackensack. Photo Credit: Melissa Heule
Shoes from the Baring Our Souls Exhibit Photo Credit: Melissa Heule

GARFIELD, N.J. -- A Bergen County-based non-profit organization that assists women and children who are victims of domestic violence is staging a special exhibit -- of shoes -- at the Garfield library.

Presented by the Center for Hope and Safety in Rochelle Park, "Baring Our Souls" is in its seventh year of placing hundreds of shoes decorated by women living in shelters on display to highlight Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October -- and in doing so providing a voice and art therapy for victims.

The women decorate the shoes -- from children's sneakers to adult high heels -- or write comments or poems alongside them.

The 39-year-old agency — which changed its name last year from Shelter Our Sisters “to reflect the growing array of both emergency and non-emergency services it offers to local families” -- focuses on sheltering women and children in moments of crisis and offering support and guidance going forward.

"Shoes are symbolic of women walking and having a journey," said Elaine Meyerson, executive director of The Center for Hope and Safety. "I've seen a woman pick a shoe with five straps and she talks about when he hit her with the five fingers."

"If they want to feel tall, they may choose a high heel, or if they have been running away a lot, they may choose a sneaker," Meyerson said.

"The narratives are very emotional - they tell the story of abuse and then how it is being handled by each individual," said Marta Levy, the art therapist and director of children's programs at the center. "Sometimes we don't even know these things exist in our communities. By looking at these in our own libraries we realize it does exist," she said.

Women have been working with feathers, paint, and glitter in workshops in a process that helps survivors of domestic violence share a voice. Some shoes indicate where a woman is along in the process, walking out or running away from a situation.

"Many of us have relationships with our shoes," said Levy. "One month, they may do something darker, and the following month they may use beads and feathers and make it brighter," Meyerson said.

The shoes are on already on display in Franklin Lakes, Garfield, and Hackensack; and in Bergenfield, Fair Lawn, Fort Lee, Lyndhurst, Mahwah, New Milford. Oradell, Paramus, Teaneck, Westwood in October; and Ramsey and Westwood libraries in November.


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