By Jennifer L Warren
POUGHKEEPSIE – About 100 guests in the dead silent room had their eyes on the speaker as she staunchly affirmed her truth.
“I’m a survivor, not a victim,” Alyssa Carrion proudly addressed the captivated audience after sharing her journey of hardship, pain, shame and a host of other emotions she’s kept hidden from herself for years decided to replace it with strength and resilience to regain her power.
Carrion, who works for Mental Health America of Dutchess County Veterans Programs and serves as a veteran peer mentor for veterans, strives to improve ex-military life after suffering her own military sexual trauma as a freshman at West Point. Although Carrion graduated from the prestigious military institution in 2006 and embarked on a highly decorated military career, she never forgot the wrongful imprint of her unpunished abuse; However, she chose to focus her energies on his lessons and use them as a catalyst to discover her purpose. That choice made all the difference.
“We need to do a lot more for veterans who have experienced trauma; They need and deserve care and respect,” Carrion said. “I strive to do this with all of the people I work with every day.”
It’s this empowering ability to “flip the script,” master challenges, and craft her own narratives that led to Carrion being selected as one of two powerful speakers at last Wednesday’s annual women’s networking event, held at the Locust Grove Estate in Poughkeepsie. The program, led by Senator Sue Serino of the 41st District, was launched in 2018 and focuses on providing local women with an important platform to strengthen both their personal and professional networks. His intentions go even deeper.
“I started this event because I met so many amazing women and I really wanted to find a way to connect them. it’s what we do as women,” said Serino, who also shared her own not always smooth backstory, one whose select bits she too was to keep under wraps as she entered the political world. “We’ve all faced challenges that could easily have stopped us from moving on, but so many of us have found ways to move on.”
Another speaker of the evening, Undersheriff Jacqueline, “Jackie”, Salvatore of the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, also embodied the program’s theme of “Flipping the Script.” Fed the stereotypical, limiting roles of what a woman should be while growing up in a family “riddled with substance abuse” and lacking strong mentors who set the barometer for more, Salvatore has spoken of having two college Rejecting athletic scholarships, which naturally fall into abusive marriages and experiences of extreme poverty. However, similar to Carrion, her focus was a purposeful choice laden with overcoming, healing, and growth.
“No matter what your scenario is, where you are in life or what has happened to you, know that you are exactly where you should be right now,” dynamic speaker Salvatore, who sled those limiting female blueprints, said when he was a state trooper for 28 years and recently received the distinction of becoming the first woman and black person to serve as undersheriff in Columbia County. “I never learned to judge others and to give myself as many options as possible.” As she reflected further, she added, “I have no regrets in my life, just multiple choices.”
In addition to guest speakers, who unraveled her personal trials, struggles, and eventual successes while providing encouragement to all in attendance, the night also featured Serino’s announcement of the 41st Senate District’s 2022 Distinction Woman of Distinction (many of the groundbreaking community leader nominees were in attendance), Lori Cassia -Decker, the co-founder (along with her husband George) of the 20-year-old nonprofit and official 501(c)(3) organization Angels of Light, originally founded to truly transform the lives of children battling life-threatening illnesses and provide full support and hope for their families during the holiday season. To date, Angels of Light has improved the lives of more than 1300 children. It has also grown into something that is growing in breadth, offering year-round help with medical bills, utilities, groceries, gas and more.
“We never intended to start this organization; It was truly divine intervention, said a visibly moved Cassia-Decker, who spearheaded the effort with her husband, who had been coaching a young player with a life-threatening illness, immediately wanted to help ease his path, and soon saw how many others could benefit. “We didn’t know then that such a need existed and I just feel so incredibly blessed that we are able to make all of this possible now.”
Cassia-Decker, who has developed a strong bond with Serino over the years, added: “Sue is just amazing, always comes to all my events and takes a really, really genuine interest in everything I do, not as a politician, but only a human.”