When you meet Jean Cozier, she immediately draws you in with her vibrant personality, infectious laughter and beaming smile.
This longtime donor to The Chicago Community Trust draws on that positive energy to tackle a taboo topic that she is all too familiar with. A survivor of childhood sexual abuse, Cozier uses her donor advised fund at the Trust to support the Awakenings, the organization she founded to help victims of sexual abuse and rape heal from their trauma while bringing awareness to the problem.
Survivors of sexual violence create, inform + heal through artistic expression with support from Ravenswood’s Awakenings art center/gallery
“I’m trying to get people to open up their eyes and get real about how widespread sexual abuse is and how horrific it is and how hard it is to heal from it,” says Cozier.
The Awakenings Foundation supports the healing of survivors of sexual abuse and rape as they explore their feelings through artistic expression—from painting, to writing, to music.
The Foundation’s center and gallery in Ravenswood provides a safe haven for these artists to share their stories and showcase their work. It displays a collection of paintings, drawings, sculptures and multimedia pieces created by survivors of sexual violence.
In addition, the foundation hosts special exhibits, performances and workshops at its gallery space and venues throughout the city.
Awakenings also administers the Judith Dawn Memorial Fund for the Arts, a scholarship program for sexual assault survivors who wish to pursue the creative arts as a means of healing.
Cozier established the program in memory of her cousin, Judith Dawn Hickey, an incest survivor. Before she died in 1998 from colon cancer, Hickey had taken art classes, where she discovered that painting was profoundly therapeutic for her. She painted more than 300 canvases in one year.
Through the Awakenings Foundation, philanthropist Jean Cozier aims “to get people to open up their eyes and get real” about the lasting impact of sexual abuse. The organization’s gallery displays artwork by survivors of sexual violence, and promotes healing through workshops and presentations across the city.
“It really just exploded out of her. She was incredibly prolific,” says Cozier, who wrote a book about Hickey’s journey titled Dear Judith. “So I was able to see what it had done for her and how it helped heal her and empower her.”
“It’s not really about professional art education,” she adds. “It’s about giving a survivor a chance to find a voice and do something creative that can also be healing at the same time.”
Since opening in 2010, Awakenings has cultivated a nurturing environment for many local artists, musicians and writers to create and share their work.
But it wasn’t easy for the foundation to get to this point, especially at the beginning.
When she began the process of creating Awakenings in 2009, Cozier envisioned supporting it through her donor advised fund at the Trust. But legal regulations prohibit grant making organizations from accepting donations from donor advised funds.
“It’s not really about professional art education. It’s about giving a survivor a chance to find a voice and do something creative that can also be healing at the same time.”
So Cozier and her attorney worked with the Trust staff for about a year to create Awakenings as a private operating foundation, a legal entity that would allow her to fund the foundation through her donor advised fund.
“The Trust helped me set up something that works the way I wanted it to,” she says.
Cozier is now able to use her fund at the Trust to provide general operating support for Awakenings. In addition, she will continue to support nonprofits and programs that offer healing and advocacy services through the fund.
By working with the Trust to administer her donor advised fund, Cozier can devote more time to carrying out Awakenings’ mission.
“Everything I do with my donor advised fund is aimed at healing from sexual abuse. I don’t get too much involved in lobbying and advocacy. I’m not a therapist. I don’t know how to prevent it and make it stop,” Cozier says.
“But I know a lot about healing because I’m a survivor myself. I know a lot about what you can do if you sit down and write about it or if you sit down and draw it, if you sing about it. I know how that can empower people. So that’s what I try to concentrate on.”