CSUN Alumna Goes the Distance with Strength United at LA Marathon

Representatives of Strength United — a California State University, Northridge community agency that provides support and crisis intervention, long-term counseling, victim advocacy and prevention-education programs to individuals and families affected by domestic violence, sexual assault and child maltreatment — will participate in the Los Angeles Marathon on Feb. 14, raising money to support survivors and raise awareness.

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Sheri Strahl ’03 (Psychology), ’06 M.P.H., a part-time faculty member, is one of 16 athletes running the marathon for the organization.

“We’re all training. We’re all running regularly, even now that it’s cold and it gets dark early,” Strahl said.

Strahl is reaching out to donors and athletes who are interested in participating in the LA Marathon or donating to the Strength United runners. Strahl herself has participated in several marathons and two-person relays as a charity athlete.

“There is still time to join the marathon,” Strahl said.

The LA Marathon provides two opportunities to participate: a 5K run will take place Feb. 13, and the full marathon will take place the following day. There is also a charity relay option where two people can partner, with each person running half of the LA Marathon route. The run is symbolic for survivors of sexual and domestic violence, Strahl said.

“It’s a metaphor for what the survivors we work with go through,” she said. “We’re all doing something that’s hard. For some of us, it seems impossible. There are people that have never done anything like this before. Knowing that we can do it, we just have to keep trying and not give up. This is really a parallel process to what our survivors go through, as they work to heal from the trauma that they have survived.”

In October, Strength United celebrated the grand opening of the Family Justice Center, a unique public and private partnership that houses multiple agencies under one roof to serve people of all ages who have experienced child maltreatment, domestic violence and sexual violence. The first of its kind in Los Angeles County, the center is located in Van Nuys.

On CSUN’s campus, Strength United works closely with University Counseling Services and has established the prevention education program Project D.A.T.E. (Discovering Alternatives for Today’s Encounters), which educates students on sexual assault prevention. Strength United and University Counseling Services are launching another program, MenCARE (Creating Attitudes for Rape-Free Environments), which will engage men as allies to end sexual assault on campus.

Strahl oversees the campus initiatives and works closely with CSUN students. The CSUN alumna also has taught part-time in the Department of Health Sciences since 2007. Serving as chief administrative officer for Strength United, Strahl said she enjoys facilitating the work of undergraduates and graduate students, who serve in volunteer and internship roles with the agency.

“I love connecting with the students,” she said. “It helps me to stay sharp in my field. Many former and current students also do field learning at Strength United. We had 108 CSUN students placed at Strength United this past year.”

Strahl started as a volunteer at Strength United during her undergraduate years at CSUN, and she joined the staff one year later. She worked for the organization for five years, until she decided to pursue a master’s degree in public health at CSUN. After working on several different projects, she returned to Strength United in 2013.

“I knew this is where I wanted to be, it’s a home for me, ” Strahl said. “I’m a survivor of sexual assault myself. As a child, I was sexually assaulted by a stranger. I went through my own journey, and now I get to work for a client-centered organization that does incredible work to help people who have experienced things similar to what I experienced.”

Strahl has played a significant role in the organization, setting up an open-door policy and accommodating the needs of clients, said Gail Hynick, engagement and outreach officer at Strength United.

“[She] is a very honest and forthright person,” Hynick said. “She has openly shared her life experiences as a way to support, inspire and empower others to make their own lives better. The messages she openly shares with others come from [her] recovery and positive, healthy living. She is articulate and delivers a heartfelt message  — she makes a powerful impact on others.”

For more information about the Strength United team and the LA Marathon, contact events@strengthunited.org or call (818) 368-1404. To support the team, go to https://2016-la-marathon.everydayhero.com/us/strength-united.

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