100 Women Strong
Anna Shay Wasden
For 36 years, the Family Sunshine Center has been a beacon of hope to victims of family violence, and/or sexual assault. This includes women, men and children. Offering hope, healing, and eventual happiness, the Family Sunshine Center’s mission is to aid victims of domestic violence and assault. Many arrive at the Family Sunshine Center with often just the clothing on their back. After a series of counseling sessions, self-esteem workshops, and other aid, these individuals gain the tools to be independent of their abusers. Although this process is not an easy one, the victims are always appreciative of the center’s aid. Many even come back to the center to share their testimonies of healing with supporters.
Over the past few months, the Family Sunshine Center has seen an immense amount of change. Karen Sellers, Executive Director of the Family Sunshine Center for 36 years, is relinquishing her duties to someone new. “I have mixed feelings about leaving the Family Sunshine Center. This mission has been my life’s work and, I think, my calling. However, I know I am leaving things in very capable hands, and hopefully set on a course for financial stability and program sustainability,” says Sellers. Tay Knight, a former accountant, comes to the Family Sunshine Center full of energy and ideas. And although she has big shoes to fill, members of the Family Sunshine community have no doubt in her abilities. “Leading the Family Sunshine Center into the future is an extension of my career as a CPA and allows me to use my skill set to end family violence and bring hope and healing to victims. I’m very excited about turning my attention to something very important to me and to the lives the Family Sunshine Center touches,” Knight tells us.
After a brainstorming session on promotion and fundraising for the Family Sunshine Center, members of the staff and board of directors stumbled upon the perfect idea. The 100 Women Strong Campaign is a unique and inspiring way to rally “troops” behind the center and its beliefs. The Family Sunshine Center has chosen 100 influential women in Montgomery to become a part of an elite group that helps the center in any possible way. “You put 100 women behind anything and it’s bound to be powerful,” says Kathy Gunter, Vice President of the Board of Directors and member of the 100 Women Strong. Approximately 85% of the 100 women have been involved with the Family Sunshine Center in some capacity, while the other 15% is made up of women who may not have worked personally with the Family Sunshine Center, but feel a connection with their mission.
The 100 Women Strong is made up of a diverse group of women, all bound to the same mission statement: “…to support and promote the work of the Family Sunshine Center and educate others about the needs and challenges of victims of family violence and/or sexual assault.” The group is made up of women from all walks of life and careers, but all have bonded together with one task at hand- to end domestic violence and sexual assualt. As Melanie Beasley, Director of Public Affairs for the center puts it, “We know we are creating a legacy of women who will forevermore be affiliated with the Family Sunshine Center- whether that be in person or through their hearts.” Throughout their annual membership, the 100 women have volunteered to assist with something as easy as helping provide diapers for a child in the shelter, to working on a special event, or speaking to a community group. These women have the opportunity to become a part of a sisterhood, with all of the honor and networking opportunities that come with it.
In the short three months since the campaign launched, the Family Sunshine Center already sees a huge realm of improvement possibilities. A portion of the 100 have already volunteered to speak on behalf of the center to large groups such as churches and schools. After a short training, these women will be an immense help to the only 3-4 women currently staffed with handling this task. The Family Sunshine Center also hopes this powerful group of women can help expand the center’s reach to other counties. With Montgomery as their primary focus, the center also provides full services to Autauga, Butler, Chilton, Crenshaw and Lowndes counties. Partial services are currently provided in Dallas, Perry and Wilcox Counties. The center acknowledges that assaults and domestic violence are just as common in these counties and hopes to one day provide full services to them as well.
The diversity of these women is what the Family Sunshine Center hopes will be most beneficial. Each woman has their own specific skill set, idea range, and background. Each woman has their own angle to relate to the women, teenagers, and children associated with center. They all possess the capacity to touch a unique set of lives. This campaign allows them to put their passion to use. Seemingly small ways to help often result in huge impacts on the lives touched by the center. Domestic violence serves as an equalizer among women. It can happen to anyone, from any walk of life. This equality is what makes having a group of 100 women so powerful. “We’re making these 100 women aware so they can hopefully make their set of friends and family aware,” Karen shares. Their hope is that this knowledge will create a ripple effect, spreading like wildfire. This campaign may even save the life of a woman who was too scared to come forward before.
If you are interested in becoming involved with the Family Sunshine Center, a volunteer request form is available on their website. After assessing your strengths, Sandy Smith, the center’s Volunteer Coordinator, will then match you with the perfect way to become a part of this organization. “We change lives,” Melanie says, “and more than that, we save lives.”
Each of the women touched by the Family Sunshine center has a unique story to tell- stories of their low points, stories of when they needed help, stories of their triumphs over their abusers, stories that demonstrate a perseverance that serves as an inspiration to all. Fortunately, most of us will never have to endure what they have, but so much can be learned from their testimonies. Here are a few of their tales:
Jennifer was 18 when she married her high school sweetheart. She had never dated anyone else. Mark was a great guy . . . most of the time. But, sometimes he would get high-strung, yell at her, and curse her. Sometimes he would call her names. But, he was always sorry; always said he couldn’t live without her; couldn’t wait a minute longer to marry her. They had been “intimate” for some time, and sometimes he would demand that she comply with his wishes. She was sure all this would change when they were married. It didn’t! It got worse. Harsh words continued, and new “punishments” were instituted. If she stayed too long at the store, he would sometimes backhand her, drilling her on where she had been and with whom. If dinner was not on the table on time, basically when he got home in the evening, he would sometimes throw a dish at her. Rock bottom was when he strangled her because she was on the phone with her sister when he got home. She had just learned she was pregnant. She didn’t know what to do.
Angela was 30 years old, had two children: six and 10. They were from a previous marriage. Her current husband, Jake, was jealous. When he would get upset thinking about her relationship with her ex, he would take it out on the kids. He had broken the six-year-old’s arm once, but told her it was an accident, that Parker fell off the swing set. Parker verified the story. He would also lash out at her, making her feel guilty for having a relationship with another man before him. At first it happened only periodically, maybe every three months. As time went on, his jealous rages got closer together, and he was pulling her down to the floor by her hair, slapping the kids, and calling them all “hand-me-down trash.” She was scared—scared of his behavior, scared about her future, and scared that whatever she did and said would be wrong.
Harley was a good dog. He had been in the family for seven years. A golden lab, Harley could be counted on to greet them at the door, tail wagging ninety miles an hour. He was a great comfort to Sheryl and the kids, especially when Gretchen went on one of her tirades. Gretchen was Sheryl’s roommate and life partner. They had been together five years. She was Sheryl’s lifesaver after the bitter divorce with her former husband and father of her children. Gretchen was the breadwinner, allowing Sheryl to stay home and raise the children. But she was also a strict disciplinarian, treating Sheryl like one of the kids, demanding that they follow a strict code of conduct and comply with her every wish. It was a suffocating situation, but one Sheryl couldn’t seem to get out of … until that day they came home and Harley did NOT greet them at the door. Sheryl and the kids looked all over the house, called his name, fished out one of his favorite treats from the bag—he’d usually come running when he heard the bag rustle. Not that day. When they finally found him, he was tied to a tree at the back of their property, choked with a piece of clothesline. It seems killing Harley was Gretchen’s way of punishing Sheryl and the kids for excluding her from a family picnic with Sheryl’s extended family the weekend before.
These are all stories that the Family Sunshine Center has heard about and stitched together in a way to protect the victims who experienced them. Every story is a “textbook” snapshot of what it looks like to be a victim of intimate partner violence. Victims are “punished” for non-compliance by partners who wish to have total power and control over them. Domestic violence is not about anger; it’s not about stress; it’s not about abuse of alcohol and other drugs. It IS about power and control.
Sometimes the first step to healing is getting your pain out in the open and talking it through with an expert. If you suspect you or someone you know is being abused, help IS available. The center’s Crisis Line is available 24/7 at 1-800-650-6522. This line is confidential and does not require a name.