“He probably would have killed me,” said Sara when asked where she thought she would be without Catholic Social Services.
When Sara decided to leave one December morning two years ago, it was not because the previous night’s fight had been the first to get violent. They had plenty of physical altercations in their nine years together. Usually, like the night before, the fights started because of his drinking and almost always revolved around the couple’s finances, which were shaky. “Shaky” was an understatement that night; they were in a hotel because they had just been evicted from their home.
When Sara’s husband threw her down and began beating her, it was not new. He threatened to kill her, but he had done that before too. So what was different that night?
Sara’s two daughters were there, and in the hotel room Sara couldn’t hide the fight. One of Sara’s daughters jumped in, trying to protect her mother. When the turmoil died down and the police came, Sara realized her daughter had been hurt in the struggle. Up until this point, the physical violence had never extended to her children.
That was the difference.
Leaving was hard, but for Sara that was only the beginning of a long, difficult journey. Again and again she almost went back to him, because it was easier to deal with him in his “moments” than it was to make it on her own. She needed to take care of her daughters—maybe she should go back for their sake. But it was for them that going back could not be an option. Sara knew that her daughters were watching and, in her words, “That’s not how I would want them to think a relationship should be.”
So Sara went to CHOICES, Franklin County’s only domestic violence shelter, where she and her daughters stayed for over a month, unsure of their next step. At the shelter Sara heard about Catholic Social Services (CSS). CSS partners with CHOICES to accept referrals for clients who are ready to leave the shelter but have nowhere to go, having been rendered homeless by deciding to leave their abusive partners. Through CCS’ Pathways to Hope program, these survivors and their children get back on their feet with the help of comprehensive support services: to find and maintain safe affordable housing, to work through trauma with counselors, and to become stable and independent.
After two years in the Pathways to Hope program, Sara shared her story and her experience with CSS. Though it was difficult to share, Sara hoped that her story would help other survivors with children learn about CSS and its resources.
When she first heard about CSS, Sara was skeptical because she didn’t know such an organization existed. She followed the referral to CSS because she had no other options. And she didn’t have any hope either. She didn’t see any way out of her situation and she didn’t see how anyone could help. She couldn’t imagine that CSS would be any different.
But it was.
The biggest difference at CSS was simply knowing that someone still cared. After finding CSS, she had the necessary ingredient to get through it: hope. Slowly, her hope grew. “My case manager advocated for me,” Sara shared, “and that gave me the courage to advocate for myself.” In describing CSS’ services, Sara said, “There was no judgement. My case worker asked what I needed to succeed rather than telling me what to do. It was a big relief.”
Throughout the following two years, Sara worked with her case manager to set tangible goals with achievable steps. CSS helped Sara find a safe place to live—a place where she wanted to live. CSS’ financial support allowed her to sustain her new housing and provided her with a path to independence. CSS helped her put her goals on paper and set timelines. “It set me up to succeed,” Sara said.
Sara and her daughters now have a safe, stable home and a sustainable income. Sara maintained her job through the stressful transition period and worked to keep life as normal as possible for her daughters, who are doing well and have achieved honor roll and good grades. Sara enrolled in college and is on track to become a Registered Nurse in three years’ time. Most importantly, Sara and her daughters are now able to live without the constant fear of violence in their own home.
“It turned into one of the best outcomes I could have dreamed of,” Sara said, acknowledging the help of CSS. “It was harder to walk away than it was to stay, but I have two little girls who watch everything I do, and I don’t want them to ever give up on their dreams. I want them to be strong too.”
Those are the big things, but Sara says that even the little things—like not running out of toilet paper before payday—still mean the world to her. The two years of support Sara received from CSS gave her the opportunity to regroup—the second chance most people never get.
In Sara’s words, “This was the do-over I needed for life.”
Sara’s story is one example of CSS’ dedication to helping survivors of domestic violence with children get the second chance they need. Through the Pathways to Hope program, CSS helps families establish safe, affordable housing and provides intensive case management for up to two years, providing survivors and their children the support they need to break the cycles of poverty and violence.
Learn more about our Pathways to Hope program here.