“He probably would have killed me.”
This was Sara’s response when we asked her where she thinks she would be without Catholic Social Services.

When Sara finally decided to leave one December morning two years ago, it wasn’t because the previous night’s fight had been the first to get violent. They’d had plenty of physical altercations in their nine years together. Usually, like the night before, the fights started because of his drinking; and they almost always revolved around the couple’s finances, which were shaky. “Shaky” was an understatement that night—they were staying in a hotel because they had just been evicted from their home.

When Sara’s husband threw her down and began beating her , it wasn’t 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 that one hotel room, Sara couldn’t hide their 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 try 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 was acutely aware that her daughters were watching and, in her words, “That’s not how I would want them to think a relationship should be.”

Sara didn’t have anywhere else to go, so she ended up at CHOICES, Franklin County’s only domestic violence shelter, where she and her daughters stayed for over a month, unsure of their next step. It was at the shelter that 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 our Pathways to Hope program, CSS provides comprehensive supportive services to help these survivors and their children get back up on their feet—to find and maintain safe affordable housing, to work through their trauma with counselors, and to become stable and independent.

After two years of working with CSS in the Pathways to Hope program, Sara met with us to share her story and her experience with CSS. Though it was clearly a difficult story to share, Sara told us that she wanted to do so in hopes that it will help other survivors with children learn about CSS and the resources we provide.

When she first heard about us, Sara was skeptical because she didn’t know an organization like CSS existed. She followed the referral to CSS because she didn’t have any other options. More than that, she didn’t have any hope. 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 different.

The biggest difference at CSS was simply knowing that someone still cared. Sara still had a long, difficult road ahead of her, but after finding CSS, she had the necessary ingredient to get through it all—hope. Slowly, the hope grew into more. Sara shared, “My case manager advocated for me and that gave me the courage to advocate for myself.” In describing the services CSS provided her, 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 she wanted to live. The financial support we gave allowed her to sustain her new housing and provided her with a path to independence. Sara says CSS helped her put her goals on paper and set timelines, and that “It set me up to succeed.”

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 has 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.

Sara told us that, with the help of CSS, “It turned into one of the best outcomes I could have dreamed of.” Sara knows she is a role model. She said, “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, and 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 just one example of Catholic Social Services’ dedication to helping survivors of domestic violence with children get the second chance they need. Through our Pathways to Hope program, we help families establish safe, affordable housing, and provide 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.

You can make a difference, too.

This February, you, too, can make a difference in survivors’ lives by supporting Catholic Social Services’ mission to spread hope and love to survivors of domestic violence in Columbus.

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