Tashmica Torok is a survivor. But after sitting with her for just fifteen minutes, anyone would know she is so much more. She is a hugger. She’s a smart, sassy, no-nonsense mom. And she’s an inspiration to hundreds of survivors of sexual trauma. She is a firecracker. “My charge is to walk into the darkness and reflect all of the light I see there,” Torok said. Torok is the founder and executive director of the Firecracker Foundation, which honors the bravery of children who have survived sexual trauma with a community invested in the healing of their whole being. Torok is a survivor of child sexual abuse and incest from ages six to eight. Torok found answers and refuge 22 years after she disclosed the abuse to her mother and was inspired to provide that same healing to others. “I disclosed to my mother at nine, a year after he (Torok’s biological father) was gone. She believed me right away, which is huge. But then she did the best and worst thing for me. She said ‘let me know if you need counseling.’ There is no nine year old kid who would ask for that,” Torok said. It wasn’t until Torok went to counseling after the birth of one of her sons that a professional helped her clearly identify what she had been through as a child. Her experiences were classified as sexual trauma. Untreated sexual trauma carries with it increased risk for addiction, suicide, early incarceration, lack of education and the spread of STDs. “My therapist said this is what sexual trauma looks like. I was looking at this list and everything on that list with the exception of two or three would have been me. I was 30 and no one had ever told me that,” Torok said. “It’s like defining a mystery disease. For a long time you don’t know what your symptoms are related to. It can make you angry. It can make you feel like you’re crazy. And then suddenly someone says, ‘This is the disease you have, these are the symptoms and this is how you treat it. You are not insane. You are normal with a side of this disease.’” Torok was driven to learn more. She questioned, even with all the risks associated with trauma, how she avoided so many pit falls? How did she manage to find a small sense of normalcy in her situation? It was the determination that love carried her through that led to the founding of the Firecracker Foundation. “I did a little research on what happens when it goes untreated; it’s basically everything you don’t want for your child. I was a rock star compared to the risks. I have a really good family; I’m fairly well educated and moving through this world normal despite a really traumatic portion of my childhood. What was different? Why was that possible for me,” Torok said. “But I was loved unconditionally. My mother believed me right away and I was fortunate to have a great group of older women willing to pour good things into me. It’s not something you deal with just one time. I asked myself what would have made it easier for me? I wanted to share that. That is where the Firecracker Foundation comes in.” The Firecracker Foundation is a nonprofit organization that helps to provide therapeutic services to children whose families are unable to afford care elsewhere. Therapists qualified to treat pediatric sexual trauma survivors are contracted to provide services out of their current practice locations for children. The Firecracker Foundation has yoga classes for teen survivors that are taught by instructors trained to provide trauma-sensitive yoga therapy. “Growing after trauma is different. What does dating look like for survivors? What happens when they are just trying to heal? When their friends know nothing and they know everything? The Firecracker Foundation provides a place where kids and parents can access this information and know they aren’t alone. We walk with them,” said Torok. Though Torok believes balance between work and home life is a myth, she does find ways to create boundaries to help her unwind from her foundation work and focus on her family. Torok and her husband, Paul have three energetic and fun-loving boys that keep them on their toes, Isaiah, 11; Isaac, nine and Levi, six. I get up and get them out of the house and then I make tea and meditate and get dressed. I work constantly since the foundation is tied so closely to my personal story, so it can be hard to find boundaries. I have to determine when I am available for work and when I’m just not. And I have to thank Paul, he carries me. He’s the one that is working behind the scenes. He takes on dinnertime and tackles things around the house. My job is not nine to five, but he has always supported me,” said Torok. And with the support of loved ones and a lot of hard work, Torok reached a milestone in her mission. She won the USA Network’s Characters Unite Award. Torok was awarded a $5,000 grant, shared her story nationally and appeared in PSA’s to promote change. The grant money from her award was used to fund the Firecracker Foundation’s Soulfire project. “USA Network called me and I thought I was being punked. I had six minutes before a meeting I had worked really hard to get. So I told her I have six minutes and asked if that was enough time. She said yes so I gave her the six-minute version and hung up. I totally thought I ruined it, but something worked because we won,” Torok said. “I was one of 10 people from across the US that won for inspiring change in their communities. The most ironic thing is I don’t even have cable so when the PSA came out I had to ask on social media for someone to send it to me.” Other milestones in Torok’s career include simply watching the families and individuals she works with heal and help one another. Awards and fundraising are an important part of running a foundation, but what Torok wants most is to provide support, strength and understanding for those she works with. “I think the best part of my job is seeing the growth in other people and not just children, but adult survivors and families. They are growing on the right path and healing. The community is thanking us for being here. Our mission has a foundation and specific purpose and specific goal. We provide a space without shame and guilt and we can offer healing. They don’t owe me anything; this is something we want them to have. If we can make it better that is an enormous gift,” Torok said. Torok is an inspiration. Her determination and spirit have not only helped her survive her own trauma, but have served as the spark to help guide others down a positive and healing life path. Her mission in life is to bring light to the darkness and help others. “I tell people to just call me. I want them to know they are not alone,” Torok said. “My story isn’t remarkable, it happens so often. My story is one in three, there are a lot of women who have experienced this before. Just know, you are not alone. You are so, so, so not alone.” The Firecracker Foundation is a nonprofit organization working to honor the bravery of children who have survived sexual trauma by building a community invested in the healing of their whole being. Therapists qualified to treat pediatric sexual trauma survivors are contracted to provide services out of their current practice locations for children ages 18 and under. Yoga classes for teen survivors between the ages of 13 and 17 years of age are taught by instructors trained to provide trauma sensitive yoga therapy. Therapeutic services are provided at no cost to children whose families are unable to afford care elsewhere.
Ami Iceman-Hauter is the Brand Manager at M3 Group in downtown Lansing. Iceman is a graduate of Michigan State University with a bachelors degree in creative advertising.