Maria arrived at the Anaheim Family Justice Center just after Christmas. Her nose was broken. Her black eyes were hidden behind oversized sunglasses.
Her alcoholic boyfriend beat her then burned her clothing.
“They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” says “Maria,” 21. “Well, I’ve been to hell and back.”
On Thursday, she and 20 other women graduated from AFJC’s eight-week “Survivor’s Academy,” designed to provide tools, skills and confidence to make meaningful changes in their lives.
“It was a wake-up call for me,” said Maria, a mother of two boys. “I have enough self-respect now not to tolerate that kind of behavior. I was in denial before. He was taught to be a woman beater, and I know now that I can’t change him.”
Hosted by Irene Martinez, the one-of-a-kind academy focuses on teaching self-confidence and self-worth. It also provides budgeting, resume writing and job-skills assistance.
“You really see a transformation in these women,” Martinez said. “It’s a special program and I’m proud to be part of it.”
During Thursday’s event, which was attended by police officials and community leaders such as Annan Aboul-Nasr from the Islamic Institute of Orange County, each participant was asked to address the audience.
In Spanish, Ana said: “This is a place that helps alleviate sadness. It helped me learn to value myself more – and love myself more.”
A few minutes later, Spanish-speaker Carmen turned to Police Chief John Welter and, in English, said, “It gave me tools to help me. I really appreciate it. Thank you.”
A high school drop out, Maria plans to enroll in community college classes and earn her diploma. Her four-year-old will start preschool soon; she’s also looking for work.
What about her boyfriend, the father of her children?
He’s in jail.
Maria knows he won’t be there forever.
“Eighty-percent come back and retaliate,” she says, citing a statistic from the academy. “It is a concern. But I’m in control. Not him.”