We had the good fortune of connecting with Brittany Catton Kirk and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Brittany, how does your business help the community?
Trauma has impacted 70% of adults or 223 million people in the US, and that data is from 2018, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. We must push beyond statistics to create real and sustainable change. Sunlight U educates survivors on the science of trauma and the why and how those devastating symptoms happen. As a survivor, I am frustrated by the lack of both programs and progress in sexual assault and rape resources and survivors deserve more options for their healing. When I could not find what I needed I built it myself. I created Sunlight Retreats (sunlightretreats.org), a non-profit social enterprise which gives survivors a safe place to heal in-person. More than one hundred survivors of rape have experienced Sunlight Retreats and 100% would recommend it to a fellow survivor and said it made them stronger. I also field-tested two coed trauma workshops and a Survivor Symptom Survey completed by 372 survivors. I am now scaling that unique experience to thousands more on their own personal healing timeline, during this pandemic. My solution to scale Sunlight is to create Sunlight U (sunlightu.org), an online educational subscription-based website focused on healing from trauma for all trauma survivors. Our mission is to empower survivors to accelerate their healing and restore their sense of agency and reclaim their lives. Sunlight U addresses and resolves survivors’ challenges because it is an online resource that is accessible 24/7. There will be no need to chase down a doctor that is not even accepting new clients, and low cost (less expensive than therapy/counseling/support groups). Survivors, equipped with science, provided by trauma expert Dr. Shiva Ghaed, survivors will be able to gain a deeper understanding of their symptoms, perpetuating stressors and triggers, and develop healthier coping tools to empower them to move from reactive to responsive with better outcomes, especially now. We know working on your trauma can be scary. That is why Sunlight U and Sunlight Retreats exist- we are here to help survivors shine, with our sunny, educational and supportive community which is rooted in science.
What should our readers know about your business?
When I started Sunlight Retreats, I had a very specific customer in mind, someone who had experienced a (single) attack, who was struggling and looking to reclaim their life. That was my own bias because it mirrored my own personal story. I started seeing massive trends of multiple, cumulative traumas that survivors were struggling with. At our August 2019 Sunlight Retreat, over half of the 45 survivors had experienced childhood trauma, domestic violence and multiple rapes. During coursework throughout the year, I have examined Sunlight’s potential for scalability and reached the conclusion that we must go online to meet the potential need. I have also seen the need to expand to all trauma survivors, since the building blocks of science of trauma are true for all trauma survivors. We all process trauma through our amygdala, even if we respond differently. We learn at sunlight retreats with Dr. Shiva that “Trauma is trauma is trauma.” I examined what a more inclusive program would look like for populations with previous trauma, including: rape/sexual assault, child abuse/neglect, combat trauma, COVID-19 trauma, medical trauma, traumatic grief, natural disasters, school violence, gun violence, domestic violence. In my Capstone course for my Masters in Social Innovation at the University of San Diego, my classmate Becca Pollard and I designed a survey to share with our class on the feasibility of taking trauma education courses online. The survey was geared at general trauma and was accessible to everyone, respondents did not need previous trauma experience. After the COVID-19 pandemic, I noticed survivors and veterans in my private online support groups struggling during this collective traumatic experience and I wanted to share the survey with the general public. Within 24 hours, we went from having 12 responses from our class, to 550 responses from sharing it on Facebook overnight. I shared in groups that were both related and unrelated to trauma. The final number of survey responses was 579. Survey results indicate a large gap between what respondents think is needed for healing and what is available. Almost all respondents (99%) think that the science of trauma is understood by only a few or some, but yet 85% think that knowing the science of trauma is very or extremely important for those healing from trauma. A key statistic is 74% of respondents are interested in taking an online course that teaches survivors the science of trauma. Sunlight U is a needed, scaleable, customizable solution to fill these gaps.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Ponces is my hometown favorite Mexican food in Kensington. We would also want to walk around the University of San Diego, just to walk around and see the number-one-rated prettiest campus in the U.S. Other favorite food spots include The Mission for brunch, and Sipz in North Park for vegan/vegetarian food. It is great to visit the Belly Up Tavern, to see some of our amazing local artists, like Tristan Prettyman and walk the beach afterwards.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
If you are interested in changing the world, here are some amazing people and organizations that can help you do it: The Kroc School at the University of San Diego, where I got my masters in Social Innovation. Mission Edge, and their Impact Lab for nonprofits and social enterprises. The Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge, where I won seed funding for Sunlight U (any college can apply to compete). The Fowler Business Concept Challenge at the University of San Diego, where I won seed funding for Sunlight U. And a big shoutout to my personal mentors that challenge me and push me to new heights: Dr. Shiva Ghaed, Kacie Brennell, Jabez LeBret, Lu Hanessian, Carlie Ward, my husband Brian Kirk and Sue Hoppin. No woman is an island.
Instagram: sunlightretreatsforsurvivors and sunlightushines