Escape Just the Beginning

This is one of an occasional post from Margaret Epperheimer, a seven-year member of Next Door’s Board of Directors.

She believed she was worthless. She didn’t think she was capable of doing much more than getting her three kids fed, dressed and off to school each day. She was a failure at the simplest domestic tasks, like keeping the house spotless, the kids quiet and getting a dinner on the table that would please her abusive spouse. Some days were better than others. But the bad days and violence seemed to be occurring more frequently.

And so the story goes. The physical scars of domestic violence are perhaps the easiest to mend. After careful safety planning and a successful escape, the real work to put lives back together begins. Imagine if you will: When you’re at your lowest in terms of self-esteem, resiliency and resources, you’ve got to find housing, food, clothing, transportation, employment, financial aid, legal help, child care, and on and on. You may never have had a bank account, a driver’s license or a job interview. You may have escaped with your life but nothing else. It’s no wonder so many victims return to their batterers and the cycle of violence, sometimes with tragic consequences.

That’s why agencies such as Next Door put so much emphasis on self-sufficiency. According to Sarah Fuller, Manager of Next Door’s Self-Sufficiency Programs, “The abuse causes not just a lack of self- esteem, but many woman feel they have lost the essence of who they once were. Their identity and image that once shown back at them in the mirror is lost because of the violence. Self-sufficiency coaches clients to rediscover their strengths, their talents and their dreams.”

In 2011, a grant from the Avon Foundation allowed Next Door to launch an ambitious pilot program of workshops to supplement its ongoing self-sufficiency efforts. Workshops tackle self-esteem and empowerment, goal-setting, financial awareness, education and job search. Because results from the pilot were so impressive, the Avon Foundation granted Next Door a second-year extension.

Next month, Fuller will speak at an Avon Foundation conference in New Orleans, describing the pilot results: 10 women received full- or part-time employment; 35 women created resumes and cover letters or business cards; 3 women obtained bank accounts; 2 women got drivers’ licenses; 2 women got education scholarships; 6 women found housing; 3 women started junior college or a university; 1 woman earned her CPA license; 1 woman created a business plan. And, that’s just the beginning.

Last year, local donors contributed more than $3,200 and law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich and Rosati donated laptops to establish a computer lab so self-sufficiency clients will have access to tools they need to look for a job, housing and other resources to create a new life. Still, more help is needed. On Fuller’s wish list are donors who will provide funds so Next Door can provide self-sufficiency workshops in Spanish. Anyone out there want to step up to that challenge? You’d be amazed at what little it takes to change a life. Call Sarah Fuller (408-501-7567) if you want to hear more about the courage, tenacity and perseverance of those who have been battered and how you can help.

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