Womanshelter/Compañeras is a place where all those fleeing from an unsafe situation are welcome. Holyoke-based, the organization provides confidential shelter and community-based services to those who need it most: women, children, and men. While most victims are local, we have survivors who come to Womanshelter from all over the country. Many families leave their homes and have nowhere safe to go, so they reside in the shelter, enjoying a home-like atmosphere where all pitch in to make dinner, play in the playroom, or simply sit around and watch tv. Other victims have secured safe housing in the community, and take advantage of Court advocacy in Holyoke and Chicopee District Courts and Hampden County Family and Probate, support groups, counseling, safety and financial planning, and other workshops or events that Advocates hold. Additionally, Womanshelter provides consulting to local businesses and organizations in the area. Workshops and events on various topics are able to be arranged through our Community Educator.
(Drawing by the child of a Womanshelter client)
Working with victims of domestic violence can be a challenging process. Most of the victims Womanshelter works with are women who have been controlled by their abuser for so long that they don’t even know what trust is anymore. Self-confidence is a thing of the past. It can take a long time to regain trust and build a sense of self-worth. So, why do they stay with their abuser? Many reasons contribute to a decision to stay with, or return to, an abusive relationship. The belief that “it will never happen again.” Lack of knowledge or resources, lack of education/employment, and lack of finances are three big ones for many participants, but the opposite can also be true -- domestic violence does not discriminate when it comes to social and economic demographics. Other factors may include having no means to escape -- it is not rare for an abuser to monitor every aspect of their victim’s life — controlling all finances (think: counting change from a trip to the store); limited access to a phone or internet; cutting off social ties; stalking. It becomes nearly impossible for a woman to escape. Women will also stay for the sake of the children -- he threatens to take them away from her if she leaves. And the pets! Most pet owners would agree that their animals are members of the family, and don’t want to leave them behind for fear of what might happen. (Womanshelter does provide pet fostering.)
Anna (not her real name) fled from Florida to Connecticut with her four children and another one on the way. Due to the nature of the situation, the family had to leave very quickly, with little but the clothes on their backs. After temporarily staying with family members, Anna and her children arrived at Womanshelter. After getting settled, Advocates were able to provide the family with clothing and gift cards for basic needs (groceries, toiletries), enroll the children in local schools, and start working with Anna on safety planning, financial literacy, and her job search. The shelter provided her with a pre-paid cell phone, and Advocates were able to provide transportation to job interviews and doctors appointments. Within months, Anna had saved enough money to move out of the shelter and into safe housing, where her children could remain in the same school system. She continues to work with her Advocate in the community, and attends support groups. She has had very little contact with her abuser, who remains in Florida.
Stories like Anna’s are heartwarming. It is due to the generous support of the members in the local communities that Womanshelter is able to provide all of these life-changing, life-saving services to those who need it most.
Further information on how to help can be found at www.womanshelter.org or by calling 413.538.9717.
To donate to Womanshelter/Compañeras, follow the link provided and click on Add to My Donation Basket, or use the code 499088 on your paper pledge form.