by Stacy Vermylen, President
As I listened to her story, I could not help think about how strong, how brave she was. Alina Donahue, a young, hometown Naples, college-aged woman got caught up in the web of a boyfriend turned trafficker, who abused her for years.
How did she survive? How could she build herself back up?
Thankfully, after years of hiding the facts of her tragic experience, Alina met Linda Oberhaus, CEO of the Shelter for Abused Women & Children. It was a chance meeting, said Alina, “but something about Linda made me open up for the first time.”
Together, they developed a plan to help Alina regain her sense of self-worth and the strength to move on, using proven restorative methods of empowerment to renew herself, instead of being defined by her experience.
Today Alina is happily married and has two wonderful children. She has been successful in separating the past from her future.
The Shelter, which services both women who have experienced domestic abuse as well as those who have been trafficking victims, uses a strategy to help women help themselves, rather than making decisions for them. By providing immediate care and shelter, plus providing any needed trauma therapy, the Shelter staff uses techniques to aid victims in choosing their own paths, when often they had been so dominated by others.
Assistance includes finding safe housing, a job and additional career training (of their choice), boosting their self-esteem by improving their appearance, or just plain listening.
The goal is to have a survivor find her own path to recovery and own it.
Another inspiring example of this approach is Christy Carpenter, who had a promising life as a wife and mother derailed by an abusive husband. She, too, sought assistance from the staff at the Shelter when her situation became frightening. Her husband crossed way too many boundaries, hurting her, and controlling her life.
As Linda said, “Our job is to empower women to rediscover who they were before the abuse occurred: intelligent, capable people who have forgotten or don’t believe that they are any of those things.”
Christy is now a national speaker on the realities of domestic abuse and how women can rise above it.
Linda Oberhaus, who addressed a group of over 100 women at the Naples Woman’s Club’s Empowering Women Scholarship luncheon in November, stressed that trained staff are available at the Shelter to provide emotional and psychological counseling. They focus on giving a “hand up”, not a “hand out” to the survivors. Linda was recently named the president of the Florida Partnership to End Domestic Violence whose mission is to promote safe families and communities through empowerment-based advocacy, providing technical assistance to centers and providers, and engaging in systems and social change.
The Naples Woman’s Club and its Empowering Women Committee are dedicated to helping with this mission. Programs include awarding scholarships for mature women to improve their abilities to earn a living and providing women at the Shelter with simple self-esteem building events, toiletries, and holiday gifts.
“After years of being told they were fat or stupid or ugly by abusers, even these small things can help,” said Linda.
The Naples Woman’s Club, serving Naples for over 90 years, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to service and philanthropy.
For information and the many events sponsored by the Club, go to https://napleswomansclub.org.
The Shelter for Abused Women and Children can be contacted at https://naplesshelter.org and their crisis hotline is 239-775-1101.