Strong for the Holidays fundraiser benefits victims of domestic violence

Published Nov 8, 2013 at 12:34 pm (Updated Nov 8, 2013 at 12:34 pm)

Wise Women e-Journal is busy planning its second annual “Strong for the Holidays” event, scheduled for Nov. 18, with proceeds going to Domestic Violence Services of Southwestern Pennsylvania (DVSSP).

Kim Epp Frenette, editor and publisher of Wise Women, said the publication focuses on sharing stories of life lessons learned in order to support, build up and inspire others. “We call it “possip” – positive gossip,” Frenette said.

“We want to support and inspire all women to find their inner strength in the face of life’s challenges,” said Frenette, “which is why we’re so excited to be able to help DVSSP. Women in domestic violence situations need the support of us all, and by encouraging awareness, people can change the cultural environment that allows domestic violence to occur.”

Lisa G. Hannum, prevention/education coordinator for DVSSP, said the event is a great way for the organization to build relationships in the community. “This enables us to educate people in a fun way and provides an opportunity for them to hear about an issue that affects all socioeconomic groups.”

Hannum commented that more than likely, there would be people at the event who were victims of domestic violence or who knew victims. “It’s not that far removed from anyone.”

Susan (name changed to protect her safety) was in an abusive relationship for 25 years, but based on her lifestyle, it was unlikely anyone would have suspected. “I had a big house, car, clothing, jewelry – everything looked perfect from the outside. My husband was the life of the party and had lots of friends, but at home, he had a different personality,” she said.

While never physically abusive, Susan’s husband was emotionally abusive and controlling from the start of their marriage. For her, the breaking point came one New Year’s Day when she asked him to carve a roast. After commenting on every detail and telling her that nothing she did was right, Susan thought: “I can’t live this way another year.”

“I felt like I was living a lie, and I hated that feeling. I had to come clean.”

When dinner was over, she cleaned the dishes, got in her car, and drove to her mother’s house. Susan said she never told her mother or family about the abuse prior to that day, but they had sensed something was wrong and were very supportive of her.

While Susan worked full time as a nurse, she had no idea how much she earned, since her paychecks went directly into their account and her husband controlled their finances. “He wouldn’t give me anything during the divorce, and I signed over the house and everything to get away.”

When she started dating again, she found herself in another abusive relationship, this time physically abusive. Susan went to court for a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order, and as the process went on, her family suggested she try to find some type of support group. In the literature she had been given, she found information about DVSSP and started going to its support meetings once a week.

“It was the lowest point in my life,” Susan said. “It’s very humbling to air your dirty laundry.”

Susan said after hearing the other women talk, it was like everyone in the room was in a relationship with the same man. She said it helped her realize what she needed to do to break the cycle of abuse.

“There’s a stigma attached to domestic violence,” Susan said. “Women feel ashamed and don’t want people to know. They need to remember: you did nothing wrong. Don’t blame yourself.”

Susan now speaks to groups about domestic violence, giving them a view from the victim’s perspective. She works at the DVSSP shelter every Monday, and has started to do support groups. Last year, Susan was able to buy a car, and she recently purchased a house.

Lisa Hannum said Susan’s case is not unusual. The agency helped file 886 PFA orders through the court system from July 1, 2012, through June 30, 2013. During the same period, they had nearly 2,000 domestic violence calls.

Domestic abuse, which is about power and control, can be psychological, economic, sexual and/or physical, Hannum said. “The women we see feel unworthy and beat down. Their self esteem needs to be restored.”

Last fiscal year, DVSSP logged 9,185 women shelter nights and 592 children shelter nights. Since many women come to the shelter with nothing, DVSSP provides basic personal hygiene items likes soap, shampoo, a comb and a toothbrush.

Hannum said that when they receive personal care items collected during events like Strong for the Holidays, DVSSP does not have to tap into its operating expenses to purchase those items. While the shelter provides the basics, donations will often include things like conditioner or body wash. Those items may not seem like “luxuries,” Hannum said, but having them can help these women feel better about themselves.

Last year, more than 85 women attended Strong for the Holidays, donating more than $1,000 cash and a mini-van full of personal care products. This year, Frenette anticipates more than 100 women will attend to support this cause and to enjoy an inspiring, enjoyable evening.

“People really had fun last year,” Frenette said. “There was great food and wine, and a lot of camaraderie.”

“The Strong for the Holidays” event takes place 6-9 p.m. Nov. 18 at the Crowne Plaza Pittsburgh South. The evening features speakers Julie Ann Sullivan and Sanna Carapellotti, and includes complimentary food and drink, an extensive gift basket auction, and the opportunity for a relaxing shopping experience with holiday vendors. Tickets for the event, which can be purchased online, are $15 in advance and $20 at the door. For more information, visit www.wisewomenlife.com/strong-for-the-holidays-2013/.

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