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From Survivors to Entrepreneurs: Women Thrive in Innovative Program

The Anaheim Family Justice Center congratulated 26 domestic violence
survivors Thursday for completing an eight-week course designed to
give them confidence and job skills.

The academy helps violence survivors restore self-confidence

In return, the women thanked police and city officials with speeches
and even a original play about a broken doll that served as a metaphor
for healing.

One survivor shared a journal entry that detailed her battle to leave
an abusive relationship.

“Dear Lonely,” it began, “It’s time that you know that I’ve abandoned
you because I met my new friend ‘Joy.’ Joy introduced me to ‘Hope,’
and my life began to change. I am no longer the same person and have
another friend in ‘Peace.’ In this place we share a common friend –
‘Happiness.'”

Deputy Chief Craig Hunter congratulates a graduate

The 26 women comprise the third graduating class of the innovative
program. More than 50 women have completed it – and many are thriving.
Some have come back as mentors. A few even started successful
businesses. A florist, a health foods products saleswoman and a
cosmetics merchant shared their wares at Thursday’s event.

“These women have been through so much and are so courageous,” said
Kerith Dilley, executive director of the AFJC Foundation. “The stories
of what they endured are heart breaking. But their incredible courage
to push forward for their families and themselves inspires us all.”

To view a report by KNBC-TV’s Vikki Vargas, click here.

To read about the prior graduating class, click here.

Domestic Violence Survivor: ‘I’ve Been to Hell and Back’

Maria arrived at the Anaheim Family Justice Center just after Christmas. Her nose was broken. Her black eyes were hidden behind oversized sunglasses.

Lt. Julian Harvey joins violence survivors in celebrating their new found self-confidence

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.”

Gun to the Head, Burned Clothing, Violence Survivors Gather to Heal and Build New Skills

They may be different ages, enjoy different foods and have different hobbies.

But the 26 women gathered at the Anaheim Family Justice Center for Thursday’s 2nd Survivor Academy kick-off have one thing in common: Domestic violence.

Wearing a black sweatshirt and black pants, “Estella” introduced herself as an Anaheim resident who enjoys carne asada.

What she didn’t share was the reason she was there.

“She had a gun pulled on her. Her husband pulled the trigger but because there was no bullet in the chamber it did not kill her,” said Elia Renteria, a center advocate.

Estella remained in hiding for two days until her family brought her to AFJC.

“We helped her with relocation funds,” Renteria said, adding APD Det. Laura Lomeli later arrested her husband. He’s awaiting trial.

During the innovative 10-week academy – funded in part by a $2,500 donation from the Anaheim Rotary Club – the women work with counselors and other experts to build self-worth. They also learn other skills that empower them with tools to leave abusive relationships.

Many have multiple children. Some rocked infants during their introductions. A few still wore wedding rings. “A lot of them are still scared,” she said. “Many of them have never worked outside the home before, so they don’t realize what they are capable of, and they stay in the relationships.”

Wearing sunglasses to hide facial bruises, “Maria,” 21, arrived at AFJC about three weeks ago with her children, 3 and 1. All she had – literally – was the clothing on her back.

After beating her, her husband burned all her clothing.

“Unfortunately, the tragedy of violence in our community is a very real experience for too many women,” said Kerith Dilley, Executive Director of the AFJC Foundation. “However, with financial help from our community we can provide them opportunities to discover and recognize their innate talents and skills, so they can begin transforming their lives and the lives of their children.”

Domestic Violence Survivors Say Family Justice Center Helped Save Their Lives

Click on the screen to view a video about the Anaheim Family Justice Center

Click on the screen to view a video about the Anaheim Family Justice Center

Three domestic violence survivors shared personal stories of terror Thursday – and then thanked the Anaheim Family Justice Center for giving them enough confidence to walk away from abusive relationships.

“I never knew a place like this existed,” said Eva, whose husband beat her for 12 years before trying to suffocate her. “I’m really grateful that you made sure my family was safe.”

The women are among thousands of domestic, child and elder abuse and sexual assault victims who have been served by the justice center since it opened three years ago.

Survivors Eva and Lisa

Survivors Eva and Lisa

It’s Orange County’s first and only one-stop center for victims – and one of only about 50 in the nation. Community and police leaders gathered to celebrate the center’s accomplishments – and to appeal to the community for continued support.

“This center isn’t just about treating and serving victims,” said Police Chief John Welter. “It’s about preventing crime.”

The statistics are staggering. In the U.S. four people are murdered by a domestic partner each day. Half of Anaheim’s homicides result from domestic issues, Welter said.

“Can you visualize what it’s like to grow up in a household where violence in commonplace?” he asked. “We must stop the cycle.”

In the old days, said Lt. Julian Harvey, after domestic violence victims filed a police report they’d be given bus money and sent to the courthouse to file a temporary restraining order.

The justice center houses representatives from social service agencies, police, the district attorney’s office, legal aid and other agencies. Everything is handled on-site.

The center has even taken it a step further, offering a Survivor’s Academy for women like Sandra, Eva and Lisa.

The classes, attended mostly by women and offered in Spanish, include lectures in financial planning, job training and self-esteem.

Volunteer Deanna Irwin

Volunteer Deanna Irwin

They’ve had a profound impact. Sandra was in an abusive marriage. One night last summer, her husband – in a drunken rage – slammed her against a wall and then pinned her on the bed.

“At that moment I realized he wanted to end my life,” she said. Her five-year-old daughter interrupted and she got away.

“I’m grateful that a place like this exists,” she said. “Because of all of you I am still here.”

For more about the Family Justice Center and to donate, click here.