When no home seems better than your home

Ministry moves survivors of domestic violence to stability

Move to a shelter? But we’re not homeless, Dolores Duran, mother of four, thought as she considered her family’s future.

“I had to stop and think: Is it better to be (in a shelter) or be in the unhealthy situation we’ve been in every night?” she asked.

While she and her children did have a roof over their heads, the life of chaos and dysfunction they were subjected to had continually gotten worse. She knew she needed to make a change.

“It’s hard to just let go and let God help but that’s really what I did when I chose to go to the shelter,” she said of her decision to move temporarily to Catholic Charities’ Father Ed Judy House last May. “I told God: ‘I don’t feel like I can make it and I guess I’ve been trying by myself for too long. I’m going to let you take care of it.’”

For two years Duran and her children: now 20- and 17-year-old sons and 10- and 6-year-old daughters, lived upstairs in a two-story home while the girls’ paternal grandfather lived on the lower level.

“(The grandfather) promised his son wouldn’t live there because he is my ex (boyfriend),” she said of her daughter’s father. “But he frequently stayed there so it made it hard. We didn’t get along; there were a lot of domestic issues.”

“Grandpa likes to drink,” she added which made the situation worse.

“I felt like I was suffocating,” said the 46-year-old who suffers from Graves’ disease, an immune disorder resulting in hyperthyroidism. “I actually think moving saved my life because I felt so stressed, wondering where am I going to turn?”

She turned to Father Ed Judy House in southwest Denver: a ministry that provides a home for nine mothers and their children, up to 30 people at a time. While there, they provide basic needs, support groups and classes, and case management to bring mothers to independence. Ninety-seven percent of women who stayed there last year were survivors of domestic violence.

“We work with survivors of domestic violence who have found a moment of safety but remain homeless,” explained Wendy Oldenbrook, program director. “They have usually left their abuser months ago, sometimes years ago.”

According to a 2003 study cited by the Family Violence Prevention Fund, “the majority of battered women in transitional housing programs state that had these programs not existed, they would have returned to their abusers.”

“We believe that domestic violence isn’t over until the family is economically and emotionally stable,” Oldenbook said.

Duran felt paralyzed by the emotional abuse she endured.

“It really brought me down mentally, my self-esteem,” she said. “I stayed too long.”

Father Ed Judy House provided confidence, allowing her to make the changes her family desperately needed. On Oct. 5 they moved into a three-bedroom townhome in Lakewood with money she saved while at Father Ed’s and help from a county program.

“It’s perfect,” she said. “It’s three minutes from my job … and I still don’t know what to do with all the room since my daughters and I shared one room for five months.”

The “whirlwind” started for Duran when she lost her home, the house her parents had lived in for nearly 40 years, in 2007.

“It was terrible,” she said and following that they bounced from place to place, living with assistance from survivor benefits of her late husband who died in 1999.

“I’ve learned with all the loss that I’ve gone through and my (Catholic) upbringing that God has been carrying me,” she said. “I haven’t been alone, even though some days it’s hard since I don’t have a spouse, or my mom or my dad, but I can talk to God.”

She can stay connected to Father Ed Judy House through an alumni program where women can continue to receive counseling, gather for social events, be supported with legal issues, or otherwise call for help.

“I’m just trying to keep my family together and that’s all I want,” she said, “to keep them safe.

“And I want us to live in peace and be happy.”

She plans to pursue an associate’s degree and seek a new career.

“I’ve made some bad choices, I’m not perfect, there are things I should’ve done better,” she acknowledged. “But I’ve learned from them and I’m going to move forward.”

For more information, visit http://fejh.wordpress.com or call 303-866-7641.

Julie Filby: 303-715-3123; julie.filby@archden.org; www.twitter.com/DCRegisterJulie

 

BY THE NUMBERS

Father Ed Judy House 2012-2013

Families served in shelter: 35
Families served in community: 69
Survivors of domestic violence: 97% (34 of 35)
Moved to stable housing: 71%
Remain stable in the community: 96%
Average days in shelter: 93
Average income: $462/month
Average age of mothers in shelter: 38 (up from 32)

COMING UP: On Fathers and Christian Masculinity

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The Year of St. Joseph points us to Jesus’ adoptive father, Joseph, as the essential model for fathers. Joseph not only manifests genuine masculinity, he also images God’s own fatherhood, as Pope Francis makes clear in his apostolic letter, Patris Corde: “In his relationship to Jesus, Joseph was the earthly shadow of the heavenly Father: he watched over him and protected him, never leaving him to go his own way.” Jesus, though the Son of God, obeyed Joseph, learned from him, and worked with him, acknowledging Joseph as a true expression of God’s own fatherhood.  

God does not just use fatherhood as an image of himself, because he himself is Father, even within his own triune life. Earthly fatherhood comes forth from him and should manifest his life and love. St. Paul speaks of honoring the “Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph 3:15). God wants everyone to be able to see his own fatherly love and called certain men to share in his own paternal gift of bringing forth life and caring for others. Every father is called to be liked Joseph, “an earthly shadow of the heavenly Father” for his own family. 

Our culture, however, often denigrates masculinity, sometimes viewing even its proper expressions as toxic. We too often see maleness in its fallenness — dominating and selfish — rather than showing self-sacrificial service. In fact, later in Ephesians, Paul speaks of the true vocation of the husband and father: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). He also speaks of the role of fatherhood: “Do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). Paul shows us the goal of fatherhood — sacrificing himself for the flourishing of the family by putting the good of his wife and children before his own desires.   

No matter what the contrary voices of our culture say, we need strong men and fathers. God created man and woman in complementarity, and they need each other to thrive, helping the other in relation to their own strengths and weaknesses. Children need the strong presence of a father to discipline and teach, as Paul reminds us. Study after study has shown that fathers have the largest impact on the faith of their children. Christian Smith explains in his sociological study, Young Catholic America, that “the faith of Catholic fathers is powerfully determinative of the future faith of their children (125). The same can be said for general wellbeing and success. When fathers are absent or refuse to exercise their role, a moral and spiritual vacuum appears. A strong majority of felons, for instance, grew up without fathers in the home.  

St. Joseph helps us to understand the strength of Christian fatherhood. First, like any good husband, Joseph listened — not just to his wife but also to God. Woken up frequently by angels, he demonstrated obedience and trust, quickly leaving everything behind to follow God’s instructions and to protect his family. We also know Joseph for his work as a carpenter and builder, content to live simply and to work hard. Importantly, he also taught Jesus how to work, showing that fathers model and teach by drawing their children into their life and work. And we can also learn from Joseph’s humility, serving the Incarnate God and his Mother without even a single recorded word in the Gospels.  

This humility points us to the essence of Christian fatherhood. Although living with two perfect people, Joseph was still called to lead. He quietly and humbly did what was needed for his family and taught his own maker how to share in his work. Fathers do not lead in order to be in charge or to get their own way. They lead because God asks them to care for and protect their families. Fathers and mothers share in the great and beautiful partnership of family life, although fathers cannot simply sit back and let mom take the lead in the spiritual life, as they are often tempted to do. Like Joseph, fathers should act firmly and lovingly to put God and the family before self, obeying God and leading the family in the right direction. They are called to model faith, work, and sacrifice to their children. 

On Father’s Day we can affirm that masculinity and fatherhood are not just good — they are essential to understanding God and his plan for human flourishing. If our culture turns around, it will be because, in large part, Christian men stand up and fight. As Christians, we cannot give in to the culture’s attempt to denigrate masculinity and fatherhood or to pit men and women against each other. We can use this celebration to affirm the essential role that our fathers play, leading their families like St. Joseph.