Lives change because of Women’s Place South Niagara. I can confidently say this from firsthand experience. My name is Deborah. Twenty years ago, along with my 4 children, Josh, Kalie, Jay and Jonathan, we lived in the safety and security of Women’s Place for a number of weeks. Our lives changed that April evening when we were greeted by a kind and compassionate staff who escorted us through the doors at the shelter in Welland. Instantaneously, a thousand pounds had been lifted off my shoulders or so it seemed. I felt an incredible sense of relief after being overwhelmed just moments before I had fled the abuse and terror at the hands of my husband at the time.
I had met with the staff at the shelter 3 weeks prior to actually leaving the abusive environment. This meeting consisted of educating me, guiding me in the next days, and developing a safely laid out escape plan. They reassured me that they would be with me the whole way. They stayed true to that promise. You see, I had attempted to leave in the past on my own with my children but he would always find us. Over time, we had become very isolated from everyone who loved us. I would find out that I couldn’t talk on the phone because he was wiretapping my every conversation and then threaten to hurt those who voiced their concern or support. He had people following me wherever I went as he knew I was going to leave again. He would always have at least one of my children with him as he knew I would never leave one behind with him. I was a prisoner in my own home and there wasn’t anyone to help me. I felt like there was no hope.
And then, hope for our future began to emerge during that initial meeting when I met the staff at the shelter. I had no idea until then that there was this level of support available to me. The secure set up of the shelter was the answer to not living in fear each day. I would soon find out that I could sleep with both eyes closed as we would begin to make plans and build a future with the help of those at Women’s Place.
The next several weeks living in the shelter were filled with many life lessons. I learned that I could live without material objects such as my home that had been so difficult to leave. I learned that I could once again feel safe from danger. I learned that there are people who could help me in my deepest and loneliest hours. A wise support staff told me that I would need to provide my children with two basic needs from that moment on and all would work out. She stated simply; love and stability are those two needs. This wisdom held our family together through the most difficult times and continues today into my life and their adulthood.
Lastly, I learned that I had the strength and determination to live my best life despite the chaos and adversity. A few years after leaving the shelter, I decided to go back to school. Through the encouragement and support of my children, family and friends, I obtained my Bachelor of Arts degree and then went on to receive my Master of Arts degree and a post-graduate certificate. Although challenging I was able to pursue a dream. Best of all, my children observed that there are no limits to what we can do even when we are being pulled down. My dream couldn’t have been fulfilled without that initial support Women’s Place gave me when it seemed my life was filled with hopelessness.
Over a year ago, I decided that I wanted to give back to the shelter, and read an ad in the local newspaper, so applied to be on the Board of Directors of Women’s Place South Niagara. This has been such an amazing opportunity and I am thankful to have met such incredible people along the way. This includes many of the staff at the shelter. The faces may be different from 20 years ago, but each and every one of them still have that same incredible spirit and exude a sense of hope, compassion, and caring. This is exactly what a woman requires when walking through those doors as I did many years ago.
I will sum up what the shelter meant to my family. Back then, my three-year old twin boys would tell people about what they called the “happy, safe house” and still today state that they are thankful that we had that place when we needed it. I approached my children to get permission to tell our story, and without hesitation they each responded with a big “yes”. In my daughter’s words, “Of course, Mom. Tell our story so that families in danger learn about what they can do to be safe like we did. Everyone needs to know about the shelter. Abuse and domestic violence can happen to anyone.” Great wisdom has been bestowed on my children. This, I am convinced is because of the chance for a better life that was given to each of us by Women’s Place South Niagara on that evening back in April, of 1994.