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Julianne Leavy, Helping heal domestic violence | Susan Cantrell Monterey County Herald - October 5, 2003

Julianne Leavy, Helping heal domestic violence

Monterey County Herald – October 5, 2003

10/5/2003 Susan Cantrell

We are all victims of domestic violence. The repercussions of one abused child reach far beyond one family. The child duplicates what has been modeled for him/her, which leads to more violence — and the dominoes keep falling. We all pay, if only in the pocketbook.

Julianne Leavy, MA, MFT, wants to help break this cycle by leading children and adults who are scarred by domestic violence onto a path of healing. She does so gently, compassionately, one building block atop the other.

Brilliant paintings adorn the walls ofher Camel office: a rainbow, a contorted stick image, “I love you.”

Inviting sandboxes filled with plastic figurines and a table with a kaleidoscope of crayons create a playful air, a safe harbor. Soft music completes the picture.

Leavy wears her brunette hair long, her paisley skirt long, and her smile wide. At 39, she is accomplished in her field and the counseling program she created) Sticks and Stones) is used in schools throughout the county.

We talk of “The Innocent “Victims,” a handbook she has recently written for parents and caregivers of children exposed to domestic violence. “What the book has done for me,” she says, “I finally feel I am able to reach out to so many children I have not touched.”

Q: Why this field?

A: I always loved children. My mother recently reminded me that when I was in junior high school I heard something in the news about horrendous child abuse, I was so distraught I had to do something about it and some deep passion started to flourish… After I was in real estate for a while and had a fat income and a fat car, I realized something was missing…

When I came to the Peninsula, I started working with the YWCA of Monterey County with children of battered adults. One night I was working late when a mother, 3-year-old daughter and infant son came in. The little girl was hysterical. She had watched her father try to strangle her mother. She was crying, “He’s going to kill my mommy!” I’m still working with her. That image will never leave her mind.

Q: What part does women’s liberation play in domestic violence?

A: Women are liberated when they can leave an abusive situation. But that takes so much inner strength. Think of the woman with three kids, no job, and no support outside of the home, who is verbally, physically and maybe sexually abused. So she’s struggling to get the strength to leave and someone says, “Just leave.” It minimizes the power of the abuser. It is so shame based. You never ask why. If she knew, she’d be out of there.

Q: What recourse did baby boomer children, have?

A: The difference is people are talking about it more, and not just behind closed doors, even though it’s a really ugly subject. There are more shelters, resources, and people can get help. The otsiy way a child can be helped, if they’re not yet in school, is if a person in their life notices and makes an intervention. That’s not usually the case. During critical developmental years, kids are learning from what they witness or experience. Layers of trauma are building on these children.

Q: What do you know of this, abuse firsthand?

A: I’ve never been physically violated, but I experienced emotional abuse in my first marriage. It really made quite an impact on me. I’d learned some very dysfunctional ways of relating in that relationship… Emotional abuse can be as severe as physical. Interior wounds are more difficult to name. I left after 7 years. I knew having a child was not a good idea in that marriage.

Q: How does your current husband treat you?

A: We met three years ago and I realized he was gentle and kind and I wanted him to father my child. He never puts me down. That’s what our child is seeing.

Q: How big a part does addiction play to domestic violence?

A: A big part. Often the abuser is addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, which precipitates abuse. Then the partner feels they can’t escape, so they escape with drugs themselves. Children are witnessing how to cope with pain from them. Our homes are our environment to tell us how to operate in the world.

Q: You deal with sexually abused children also. How do you handle hearing the suffering?

A: I mostly won’t work with male perpetrators of sexual abuse. I have too much anger. (She agrees women can also also be abusers.)… I’ve worked so hard to balance my life with light. I need to go home and have my family and my life. But some pain I’ve seen is almost impossible to forget. When I was an intern, I had to leave a 4-year-old I was working with. I couldn’t get her removed from her home. She clung to me and would not let me say goodbye. Ill never forget her huge eyes. I felt I was leaving her to the wolves; she would have no advocate.

Q: How about a success story?

A: So many… A little 3-year-old who came into the shelter. After a world of love, her (abused) mother is now working in schools. She moved on and never went back to her abuser. He’s in and out of jail. They’re doing great.

What’s been difficult has been the unknowns, when a person would leave the shelter. Now I can follow through. For instance, a young woman was severely emotionally abused through childhood. We worked on her self-esteem through art therapy and she’s able to move beyond her childhood pain. I get letters now and she attributes her mental health to the work we did.

Q: That must be rewarding.

A: Every day you’re so honored that people are willing to spill their heart out to you. I remember a third-grader not doing well in school, an emotional wreck. He came to my office and said he couldn’t go home. He was afraid his arms would be broken. His mother had just bought him a backpack and said if he lost it she’dbreak his arms. The family got into counseling and there were changes. His grades and behavior improved. He became a happy little boy.

Q: What about forgiveness?

A: It’s really important to be able to forgive, but forgiveness has to happen when one is ready. They can’t be told. Someone would want that to be the goal because holding onto the anger means they’re holding onto the pain. I can’t see ultimate healing without it.

Q: Are there people who shouldn’t parent and is there an evaluation for them?

A: There are people who shouldn’t parent without education. If somebody has grown up in a violent home, they need to learn new ways to parent.

Q: Cite a child’s bill of rights.

A: To be unconditionally loved, to be trusted and respected. If they have those three components they will believe they’re OK in the world.

Q: That’s what you got?

A: (eyes dance) Yeah, I did. I had been so sheltered. Until I read of abuse, I couldnt believe people could hurt children in that way. I learned to parent by how I was parented.

Week in the wilderness helps teens turn over new leaves

Carmel Pine Cone – September 1, 2006

9/1/2006 Mary Brownfield

FOR FIVE summer days, the Glen Deven Ranch in Big Sur became an idyllic respite for six teenage girls whose homes are often the opposite of paradise.

Julianne Leavy, a Carmel therapist and founder of the nonprofit Harmony at Home, said the fourth annual Teen Enrichment Summer Camp helped the girls “learn to communicate and function in healthy ways” despite living in homes where the parents fight frequently, are abusive to each other and their kids, or are going through high-conflict divorces. Children who are abused tend to be abusive or enter into abusive relationships when they grow up. Harmony at Home seeks to end this “cycle of domestic violence” through teaching, therapy and other programs.

“Children who are witnessing abuse and are exposed to it have a lot of pain inside, and they haven’t developed healthy ways to express the pain, so they take it inward,” Leavy has said of the group she aims to aid. “I see a lot of drug and alcohol abuse, and cutting – self-mutilation. The emotions are so intense and unbearable, they like feeling physical painbecause it relieves emotional pain for a brief moment.”

Run by Leavy and other therapists who volunteer their time, the “therapeutic camp” helped the teens develop productive ways to handle that pain, she said. They also learned how their decisions and actions affect their futures, and to recognize their own value and accept praise and recognition from others.

“In their home lives, they are criticized. They are not really accepted,” Leavy said. In collaboration with the Big Sur Land Trust, Leavy organized the stay at Glen Deven Ranch to provide the girls – who range in age from 15 to 17 and live all over the county – a healthy, safe, compelling environment.

Originally set at the maximum of 10, the number dwindled to six after two canceled and two more could not attend due to crises at home, according to Leavy. Smaller than in past years, the camp was therefore “more intimate,” she said. “Sometimes things happen the way they’re supposed to, and it was just a perfect fit.”

The week was far from the conventional, on-the-couch therapy many troubled teens endure. An ecologist taught the girls about the ranch, taking them on a tough but satisfying hike. A massage therapist demonstrated “healthy touch,” which Leavy said helps victims overcome fears stemming from abuse.

Attendees created art, wrote in journals, danced and did almost everything as a group, which they began referring to as their “family” within a few days of meeting each other.

“They were really respectful of themselves and each other, and I think that happened because they were being respected,” Leavy said.

“And I was impressed with the risks they took – they embraced every project.”

The hiking was challenging, but they all participated without complaint. “The art projects were really introspective.

They put their hearts and souls into them,” she said. “Overall, it was a profound experience for them and all the staff.”

Sharing meals, as many families do at home, helped the teens practice communicating with each other and adults while resisting acting out, fighting or yelling, according to Leavy. She is confident they took those newfound skills and the mindset of “a healthy family system,” home.

“They all walked away with a new model,” she said.

For a surprise on their final day, Leavy and the Ventana Wildlife Society arranged for the girls to release rehabilitated birds at Andrew Molera State Park. A VWS representative taught them about the program and the flying creatures they were setting free in the wilds of Big Sur.

Afterward, Leavy said, the girls were clearly moved by that experience and the many others presented by the Teen Enrichment Summer Camp. They pledged to raise money for future camps and said they want to participate again.

“They want a reunion camp,” she said.

“I’m going to try to set one up in the wintertime.”

Psychologist’s nonprofit helps kids fight domestic violence

Carmel Pine Cone – June 9, 2006

6/9/2006 Mary Brownfield

HE DOESN’T know it, but a 10-year-old Cupertino boy played a major part in Carmel therapist Julianne Leavy’s life.

When she was in school studying clinical psychology, she counseled a boy whose father abused his mother.

“He was in an extremely violent home and emotionally it was affecting him,” Leavy recalled the 1993 case. “He was scared every day of his life.”

She created a safety plan so the boy could avoid the fallout at home. And two years ago, she formed the nonprofit Harmony at Home to help end the cycle of abuse in families. “It evolved with this first case – this was what I wanted to do, how I wanted to help children,” said Leavy, who moved to Big Sur with her family when she was 10 and graduated from Carmel High in 1982.

Fresh out of graduate school, Leavy took on the more traditional tasks of helping victims fleeing abusive homes. She worked in shelters and served as a therapist for the YWCA in Monterey and Community Human Services in Seaside.

“I realized that there weren’t any programs focusing on prevention – on children and ending that cycle,” she said. Children of abusive parents can become abusive adults or enter abusive relationships. “I had been trying to effect change with the parents, and that wasn’t working.”

‘Planting seeds’

She opened her own practice in Carmel in 1996 and developed a school-based program, Sticks & Stones®, for children and families suffering from domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, loss and abandonment, and trauma.

“If things weren’t changing in the home, we could start planting seeds, teaching the children there are alternatives to violence and ways to express their feelings,” she said. “Anger is OK – it’s how to express it.”

In September 2002 she published, “The Innocent Victims: A Handbook for Parents and Caregivers of Children Exposed to Domestic Violence.” She wrote the book for foster families, grandparents, mothers in shelters and other adult caregivers of children exposed to domestic violence so they might understand how the kids are feeling and reacting.

Leavy received a grant to distribute 20,000 copies to agencies and shelters throughout the United States.

The story features a mother and son who flee an abusive home.

Leavy said she’s received positive e-mail from readers around the country, including abuse victims who have left violent homes. “That’s been an important piece of the work we do.”

Harmony’s role

Leavy continued working in her own practice until 2004, when she started Harmony at Home, “so I could be directly responsible and effective in raising money for these programs.”

Through her new nonprofit, Leavy hopes to expand Sticks & Stones® by asking donors to give $7,500 to “adopt” a school so a counselor can work with kids there.

She also wants to distribute more copies of “The Innocent Victims.”

And in 2005, Harmony at Home took over a program called, “What about the children?” that was started in 1997 by a group of private therapists.

WATC helps “children understand the feelings they’re having about the divorce,” Leavy said. “The goal is to walk away having them realize it’s not their fault.”

Harmony at Home raises money for scholarships to the $350, four-week class. In a new pilot program, outreach workers in Alisal Union School District will identify those in need, “and then our coordinator will reach out and see if they want to participate,” Leavy said. Harmony at Home will help with meals, transportation, baby-sitting – whatever’s necessary.

“It’s set up so they have no reason not to come,” she said. The group also collaborates with the Big Sur Land Trust to offer summer camps for troubled young women “who have shown interest in having goals, plans and dreams but haven’t had the ability to support that.”

At the Glen Deven Ranch on Garrapata Ridge or the Mitteldorf Preserve in Rancho San Carlos, the week includes counseling, journaling, art, drama and dance for about 10 girls.

“Children who are witnessing abuse and are exposed to it have a lot of pain inside, and they haven’t developed healthy ways to express the pain, so they take it inward,” Leavy said.

“I see a lot of drug and alcohol abuse, and cutting – selfmutilation. The emotions are so intense and unbearable, they like feeling physical pain because it relieves emotional pain for a brief moment.”

The camp, run by therapists who volunteer their time, helps the teens develop productive ways to handle that pain, according to Leavy. But the nonprofit itself needs help, and Leavy hopes getting its message out will garner support.

“There are a lot of agencies that are doing wonderful work with these different populations,” she said. “But I feel Harmony at Home is coming from different place. Our focus is on prevention.”

For more information, visit or call (831) 625-5160.

Why Sticks and Stones Can Help Kids

Carmel Magazine – Summer/Fall 2006

6/15/2006 Brett Wilbur

Sarah (not her real name) is 12. Her home life is less than ideal, with family members doing drugs and moving in and out of her life. Sarah responds to her difficult family situation by often getting angry at teachers and other students at her Monterey County elementary school. Last spring, Sarah’s teachers referred her to Sticks and Stones®, a school-based program for kids living in traumatic environments.

The group, which was begun for kids experiencing domestic violence, and has expanded to include kids dealing with any type of major traumatic event, meets once a week for 10 weeks.

“Most of us are mainly angry,” Sarah says. “I learned how to deal with it. I learned that it’s better to deal with a bully than to be a bully. If you’re feeling sad you can go see your friend to cheer you up or do something that wouid cheer you up, but nothing bad.”
When asked what “something bad” wouid be, Sarah says,”You learn not to do something that you think will make you feel better but will get you more angry, like getting a knife or trying to stab yourself”

To take kids from a place of wanting to hurt themselves to a place of empowerment in 10 weeks seems hardly long enough, a fact that  those running the  program readily acknowledge. But for Sarah and others, every moment in a positive environment counts.

According to one of the program counselors, Tracy Keenan.the change in kids has been at times dramatic.

“A lot of them have realty opened up to each other and have found a trusting environment,” she says. “A lot of them don’t have a safe place and they’ve found it.”

Keenan says thai some of the kids in the group she runs have also made impressive academic strides.

“When you start dealing with things emotionally, the academics follow,” she says. “Some of these students have become students of the month.”

Keenan uses tools like art therapy to help the students express painful emotions.

“We do a soul collage,” she says. “We cut out pictures from magazines of empowering things they want for their future. We also do journaiing with weekly assignments. One week the assignment is called “Dear Self; where they write a letter to themselves and go over the ideas they have of themselves.”

So far Sticks and Stones is only in eight Monterey County schools, including in Marina and Salinas, but the fact that it exists at all is due to the dedication of program director, Julianne Leavy.

Leavy has the rare ability to exude warmth and calm while talking about the darkest of topics. As a marriage and family counselor working in Monterey County for the past 10 years, Leavy has seen families experiencing violence and become intimately familiar with the damage it wreaks on children.

“(At least) 6,500 children each year in Monterey County go through Family and Children Services,” she says. “They most likely have either witnessed violence, or personally experienced it.”

Part of the reason for Leavy’s calm must be that she’s part of the solution: as director of County nonprofit Harmony at Home, she designs and manages programs like Sticks and Stones, as well as others, to help kids and families break the cycle of violence.

Other programs run by Harmony at Home include “What About the Children?”, a series of classes for divorcing and separating families, and a therapeutic teen summer camp for young women who have experienced trauma, run in collaboration with the Big Sur Land Trust Ail the programs aim to stop the cycle of dysfunctional behavior

“Even if parents aren’t willing to change, we could still plant seeds in the kids,” Leavy says.

Right now Leavy is focused on fundraising for Sticks and Stones®: the program costs $7500 a year to run per school, and is especially critical for areas like Salinas, which she says no longer have any professional counselors in the school system.

“My goal is by 2010 to have all the schools in the county that need this program, have it,” she says. “The goal is to end the cycle of violence starting with this generation.”

According to counselor Cheryl Trotter, the group setting allows children to normalize feelings like being sad or ashamed.

“A lot of the kids feel confused,” she says. “It’s so complicated, because the child loves their parents whether they are abusive or not. They want to defend that parent, but at the same time, their body is telling them it’s not right.”

Trotter has a leather bag in which she has the children place special glass tokens with their initials on it.

“We go around the group, and everyone says what they appreciate about the other children, and we charge the token with some special wish. We wish them safety.”

– By Brett Wilbur

Youngsters turn to Harmony

The Salinas Californian – November 29, 2006

11/29/2006 Alla Katsnelson

Program helps children get back on track

For a child, seeing violence can stir up a storm of emotions. Without help, some may succumb to the storm, turning to violence themselves as they grow up.

Harmony at Home, a Carmel-based nonprofit, is working to break this cycle in east Salinas’ Alisal Union School District schools by providing bilingual counseling to elementary school-aged children who have experienced domestic violence or other family trauma.

“It has to start with the children,” said Julianne Leavy, a therapist who founded the organization. “If nobody intervenes, the patterns are just repeated.”

In 1997, Leavy developed a counseling program called Sticks and Stones® to help such children. It took root in several schools across the Monterey Peninsula, but this is the program’s first year in the Alisal district.

Children referred to the program receive 10 weeks of group counseling, where art therapy and discussion helps them learn positive ways of expressing their feelings.

“It doesn’t take a lot of hours to see the kids’ directions change,” said Candice Gregory, outreach programs coordinator for the district, who oversees the program.

Gregory tells teachers to look for extreme behavior in children, such as withdrawing into silence or acting out and picking fights.

One third-grade boy starting Sticks and Stones® was doing fine academically, but began to complain of stomach aches, refusing to go to school, Gregory said.

Teachers learned that his father had violently hit his mother. Although the parents had separated, the boy remained terrified for his mother’s safety.

Educators report positive changes.

“We see progress in the next month or two, when the child begins to realize, ‘I’m OK,’” said Anastacio Cabral, principal at Virginia Rocca Barton School at 680 Las Casitas Drive.

When 10 weeks isn’t enough, the child stays in the program until he or she has enough positive skills to move forward, Leavy said.

Teachers and counselors must, however, juggle waiting lists. “We can only cover so many students,” Cabral said. “We pick the ones that are most in need.”

Harmony at Home runs a tight ship – $7,500 provides a school with a counselor one day per week who sees 60 to 75 students. This academic year, the program will reach between 680 and 825 Salinas children.

Support comes entirely from the community, including from foundations, companies and individuals. Last summer, the group received a grant for $25,000 from the Harden Foundation, a Salinas Valley charity, allowing the program to come to eight of the Alisal school district’s 11 schools. By the end of the school year, Leavy plans to offer services in all 11.

Nationwide mission

Leavy’s mission extends beyond Salinas. Within five years, she intends to bring the program to schools across the county, then push for programs statewide. She’s already talking to educators on the East Coast about instituting the program there.

“These children are going to be parents – they are going to teach their children new ways to operate in the world,” she said. “If we can offer this program in as many schools as we can get funding for, maybe we can see a shift in domestic violence statistics.”

Contact Alla Katsnelson at

Harmony at Home’s Julianne Leavy featured on KWAV 97 FM

Harmony at Home’s Julianne Leavy was featured on KWAV 97 FM’s public affairs program Coast Chronicle, originaly airing on February 20, 2006.

This interview may be heard in its entirety by clicking below:

Harmony at Home’s Julianne Leavy featured on KSBW-8 TV

Julianne Leavy, the Executive Director of Harmony at Home, discusses Harmony at Home’s various programs on KSBW-8 TV’s program Feedback at Five with Theresa Wright which originally aired on June 15, 2006.

The program can be viewed in its entirety by watching the following three parts:

Harmony at Home’s November 6, 2009 Event at the Corral de Tierra Country Club

Julianne Leavy, Executive Director of Harmony At Home, sits down with Theresa Wright of KSBW to discuss the organization’s programs. Two of the youth participating in the Teen Programs were interviewed as well to share, with the community, their experiences.

The program can be viewed in its entirety by watching the following two parts:

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