Domestic Violence is a community issue

SAN ANGELO, Texas -- I had been traveling and visiting counties all day dropping off brochures, hanging posters, meeting with counselors and law enforcement. I didn't return to San Angelo until later that evening and was ready to go home. I thought I'd just stop by my office at the shelter to drop off my belongings and then head home.

I had rushed into my office and was putting my things down when I heard the front door buzz. I noticed that the person on duty had her door closed, which meant she was with a client, so I answered the door.

"Can I help you?" I asked.

"I don't know if I am at the right place," the lady at the door said.

I asked, "Are you looking for someone?" and she said, "Myself."

I heard her whimper and when I got to the door, she started crying. She asked, "Is this the family shelter?" I told her, "Yes. You're at the right place."

She told me that her two children - aged 11 and 12 - were in the car and afraid. They had seen everything that had happened to her earlier that evening. I told her to bring her children in and we could talk. When the children saw me, they ran and hugged me as if I was a long lost family member. I will never forget their faces. One of them looked up at me and asked, "Are there other kids here like me?" I told them yes. The other child asked, "Will I be able to sleep in my own bed?" I said yes.

Their mother said the only things they were able to grab were their school bags and they had not eaten dinner yet.

I couldn't really see her face because her head hung down so low and as she came into the light, I could see she was trying to hold back tears. She looked like she had been dragged in the streets. Her clothes were torn, her face was dirty and it seemed like she was missing some hair. As soon as she began to cry, her children held her on each side and they both said, "Mom, we're safe now."

Last year, the San Angelo Police Department responded to more than 1,200 incidents of domestic violence. The NewBridge Family Shelter provided 11,390 beds to adults and children of family violence. We received more than 600 hotline calls and assisted more than 300 clients in our emergency shelter. Each one had stories to tell and needed to be somewhere safer. The shelter provided food, clothing, counseling and most of all, a life free of abuse.

One day I was transporting a client to the emergency room for a follow-up on her injuries. She was punched in the jaw while in the passenger side of her husband's truck. She couldn't eat very well, much less talk. I knew she was in pain, but I was trying to carry a normal conversation with her.

As we arrived at the hospital she said, "Please forgive me. I have not spoken to another female in over six months." I didn't know what to say, so I just thanked her for listening to me and she smiled. Maybe that was her first smile in six months.

Someone told her about our shelter and our services and she called an officer to escort her to the shelter. She said she didn't even know we existed or she would have left a long time ago.

It makes me wonder how many people in violent situations we can't reach out to. As we recognize October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month, let's make an effort to be a voice for others. Volunteer and show victims and families in our town that their community cares and does not tolerate abuse.

I challenge you to get involved and help spread the message: "Domestic violence is not just a family problem, but a community issue."

The 17th Medical Group Family Advocacy staff work side-by-side with the NewBridge Family Shelter. The collaboration and relationship between the two agencies extends to advocating, providing referrals, joint participation in projects and much more. They focus on working as partners to bring awareness to the issues of domestic abuse and stopping the violence.

For more information, contact Karen Bartholomeo, Family Advocacy Outreach Manager, at (325) 654-5235 or Karen.Bartholomeo@goodfellow.af.mil.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month activities

  • Throughout October: Write an article focused on "What is a Healthy Relationship." Contest is open to Goodfellow community and must be 500 words or less. Email entry to Karen.Bartholomeo@goodfellow.af.mil.
  • Throughout October: "Take a stand, prevent domestic violence" cards distributed at Exchange Oct. 14 from 10 a.m.-noon.
  • Throughout October: Weekly domestic violence facts sent via email.
  • Oct. 22: ICD Bridges Children's Fair from noon-3 p.m. at Kirby Park.
  • Oct. 24: Domestic Violence Coalition Candle light vigil from 6-8 p.m. at 112 W. Beauregard Ave., Tom Green County House steps.