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From around the world, beautiful artwork with inspirational messages sent to domestic violence victims

GRAND FORKS -- Becca Cruger could not have guessed the response she'd receive when she challenged her online card-making community to send her cards for victims of abusive relationships. The challenge "really resonated with people," she said. She...

Becca Cruger is amazed by the response from the online card-making community to her request this fall for cards for people affected by domestic violence. About one in three women will be affected by domestic violence, in some form, during their lifetimes, said Cruger, a CVIC volunteer. (Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald)
Becca Cruger has received between 200-300 cards from the online card-making community for people who've been affected by domestic violence. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

GRAND FORKS - Becca Cruger could not have guessed the response she'd receive when she challenged her online card-making community to send her cards for victims of abusive relationships.

The challenge "really resonated with people," she said.

She has been inundated with hundreds of handmade cards from paper-crafters around the world who share her desire to raise awareness of domestic violence.

"They came from all over the U.S.-the East Coast to down South to the West Coast. And from Australia, Finland, the United Kingdom and Canada."

Cruger received cards with inspirational, cheerful, encouraging messages such as "With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts," "You're special," "You're one in a million" and "Embrace life."

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She's also received birthday and thank-you cards.

"The card-making community is so generous and supportive," she said. "I'm incredibly grateful for their generosity."

She understands the importance of positive messages when a person is in a dark place.

"If, in the long term-or even short term-you've been told over and over that you're worthless, ugly, lazy, you're not the same person," she said. "It takes years, sometimes, to get over that. People struggle with (the effects) their entire lives."

Cruger plans to donate the cards to the Grand Forks' Community Violence Intervention Center, where they can be used by counselors and other staff members to offer messages of strength and encouragement to clients who are dealing with difficult situations in their personal lives.

For example, some may be in a period of transition, having made the decision to leave an abusive relationship, she said.

Clients could use the thank-you cards to express gratitude to those who are making a difference in their lives.

"If you've been forced out of the home due to domestic violence, you don't have anything-maybe only the clothes on your back-so notes to thank people who are helping you, you can't even think about buying," said Cruger, a CVIC volunteer.

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Domestic violence "is a cause that's close to my heart," she said. "So many people are affected. It's estimated that 33 percent of women will be affected by domestic violence in their lifetimes.

"I'm really happy to give back."

Blogging for a cause

Cruger has been blogging about card-making for two-and-a-half years, developing her online presence in the paper-crafting community.

Companies that sell card-making materials offer "thousands of challenges you can participate in," she said. The challenges give those companies an avenue to promote their products.

"They'll say, make a craft using our product and you could win a prize-the prize could range from $25 to $200 in value."

She noticed that other issues, such as breast cancer awareness, were the focus of challenges but "I was disappointed that there was not one about domestic violence," she said.

So last year, she contacted companies, asking them to sponsor a challenge that focused on domestic abuse.

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The first challenge, launched in October 2015, drew about 100 cards and about 300 were displayed in an online gallery, she said.

"This year, it was just reversed: we had about 150 in the gallery, and I received close to 200 cards."

She is especially pleased at how the project has raised awareness of domestic violence.

"Some people donated money or time to their local shelters," she said. "Some didn't realize they could volunteer or that it was a need."

Personal story

Cruger's interest in raising awareness about domestic abuse is more than altruistic. It's personal.

Four years ago, she moved to Grand Forks after leaving an abusive relationship that lasted for years. When the emotional abuse she had endured turned physical, and her belongings were being destroyed, she knew it was time to go.

"Toward the end, I realized how much of myself I had lost, and I wanted it back," she said.

Part of her loss was an interest in crafts. Instead of a pleasurable pastime, it had become a source of anxiety because she said any items she didn't put away would ignite her husband's anger.

A battered women's shelter, in the town where she lived, provided the help she needed to change her life.

When she shared her story of domestic violence, in the challenge she posted online, others opened up about their own experiences-either as victims or as worried family and friends of victims.

She has been overwhelmed by how the initiative has spread in the card-making community around the world.

"It snowballed," she said. "It got people talking."

"There are so many people who've had a friend or family member in this situation, and it's something that is not talked about. Once it could be talked about online, that became a safe place to talk about it."

"One woman said, 'My daughter was in an abusive relationship, and I didn't know until she got out of it.'"

Talking about the issue is essential to combating the silence many victims cling to out of a sense of shame.

"You realize how much shame plays a role in keeping up the violence," she said.

"I didn't realize the impact that such a small thing can have worldwide. It's amazing to see. There is power in sharing your personal story."

Art on a card

Cruger learned about card-making as a child at her grandmother's kitchen table.

"My grandma was an artist. I remember sitting across the table from her," she said.

Cruger has been card-making "since I was able to attach glitter to paper. It's something I've loved to do; it's very relaxing to me."

She has started her own card-making business and is teaching the various techniques to others through the Creatively Uncorked program at its East Grand Forks location.

"It can be as simple as stamping and coloring an image," she said.

Or it can be much more elaborate-such as the use of mixed media, an approach she prefers.

"With mixed media, it's really like a piece of art on the card," she said.

And making the art is anything but slapdash.

"Sometimes I spend two or three hours just making one card," she said. "Sometimes I spend 20 minutes."

Crafters choose from an array of items to express their individual creativity, including stamps; texture paints; watercolor, embossing and glow powders; alcohol-based marker pens and specialty papers, not to mention the embellishments-tiny pearls, beads and flatback crystals, stickers, feathers, metal, rhinestones, lace, ribbon, twine and wood.

"The limitlessness of it can be a terrible thing," she said.

The popularity of paper-crafting blossomed in the '80s, leveled off in the '90s "and now it's coming back again."

Cruger is keenly aware of the impact a thoughtful, handmade card can have on the recipient.

"If you give someone a card that's a piece of artwork, it's impressive, and the sentiment makes people feel," she said.

Many people hang onto handmade cards. She has noticed that friends to whom she's given her cards display them in their homes.

"It's a keepsake," she said. "A gift that keeps on giving."

Related Topics: CRIMEART
Pamela Knudson is a features and arts/entertainment writer for the Grand Forks Herald.

She has worked for the Herald since 2011 and has covered a wide variety of topics, including the latest performances in the region and health topics.

Pamela can be reached at pknudson@gfherald.com or (701) 780-1107.
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