While most of us will have a very different Christmas this year please know that you have made a very special holiday for many victims of violence. This year men, women, and children in our community are living safe and violence free because of your care and generosity.
At the shelter on Christmas morning young and old will be waking up to gifts and goodies and a lovely meal but the best present you have given them is the opportunity to wake up unafraid and hopeful.
I asked some of our staff to share a brief story about a survivor who has made an impact on them (names have been changed to preserve confidentiality). Some of you may have read about Melyssa’s encounter with a young mom and I thought it needed to be shared again, especially during this holiday season.
Melyssa, one of our amazing case managers, wrote of “Mary” (the name “Mary” is fictitious). I asked Melyssa if she would like to share a remembrance of a resident and she touchingly wrote about this about Mary.
I have worked at Russell House for almost five years and there have been many survivors that have touched my heart. I admire their strength and resiliency. When they first arrive at the shelter I tell them how brave they are for taking the hardest step: leaving their family, home, lifestyle, and everything else they have known, to shelter at a safe place.
There is one young lady, who I will call Mary, who really inspired me. The day I answered the Russell House crisis line Mary told me she had two young children and needed to leave her situation quickly. Like many parents in a domestic violence situation, her abuser had used the children as leverage. One day he took the children and later that night dropped them off on the front porch without telling Mary. When she found them they were alone and scared. She made a courageous decision that night, and called Russell House for help.
She had to leave her community, and for fear he might find her or hurt her family, she could not tell them where she was going. She secretly packed a few belongings ready to walk out the door as soon as she saw the taillights of his car leave the driveway for work. She quickly grabbed her toddlers’ hands and left that house knowing she wouldn’t return. She continued to call the Russell House crisis line to touch base as she made each step to safety. Unfortunately, there was a mistake with her bus ticket and she and her small children had to sleep in a friend’s car overnight. The bus arrived the next afternoon.
When I first saw her it astonished me how young she was and how much she had been through. Her shoulders sagged with exhaustion, but she continued to soothe her children as we drove to Russell House. When I was her age, my biggest concern was passing my classes and hoping my parents weren’t too mad that I didn’t clean the kitchen. She carried the weight of a seasoned adult who had weathered so much hurt and trauma. However, I only saw silent strength, grace, and the sweetest smile.
Mary immediately took action to start a new life. She worked with me daily to meet all of her goals. Occasionally she hit a snag and would have to fall back a few steps. She never let it drag her down and only pushed harder. She did all of this while caring for one child learning to walk and the other potty-training. She studied for her GED with a child wrapped around her leg and the other climbing over her shoulders.
Over time her light started to shine brighter and she held her head higher. The first time she came downstairs and joyfully greeted everyone good morning I was astonished by how much she had changed from that first day at the bus stop.
During one of our talks she told me how she had grown up in the foster system and never had much support. She had been a parent to her younger siblings and soon to her own children. Her story of abuse and violence was heart wrenching. Mary brought me to tears when she told me that Russell House was her greatest support system and how she had finally been able to care about herself in our supportive environment. Mary cared and loved so deeply despite everything she had been through and now she had the chance to start a new life for her young family.
Russell House offers many services that are all crucial in helping survivors. In my opinion the most important thing Russell House offers is a safe, supportive, and empowering atmosphere that allows the broken to become healed. A place that patiently waits as they find their voice, offers a listening ear, and a tissue and a hug (pre-pandemic of course).
Friends of Russell House and our staff are here for support; however, the survivors do the real work. Thank you for allowing Mary and so many like her to find a new way to a violence-free life.