With two black eyes, empty pockets, no place to go and three children, Dawn Struthers walked with her head held low. Her brown hair hung over her face; the abusive husband she escaped made her feel like nothing, she said.
“I always thought life was miserable,” Struthers said. “It was painful. I went through a lot of hell.”
After fleeing more than 10 years of verbal and physical abuse, the 46-year-old mom found the support she needed to realize her dignity at Father Ed Judy House, a long-term shelter for single women in southwest Denver.
“I didn’t recognize it because it got beat out of me,” Struthers said. “I watched what I said. I watched what I did. I always felt like someone was looking over my shoulder.”
Then the staff and counselors introduced Struthers to her self-worth.
“They gave me a brand new me. They introduced me to me,” she said. “Now I have a voice.”
Some 417 mothers and their families have received shelter and on-going support at Father Ed Judy House. This year the Catholic Charities’ shelter is marking 10 years of service to women, many of whom are survivors of domestic violence.
“Their dignity has been trampled upon and beaten down to a pulp,” said Amy Burt, program supervisor. “It’s working with them to help restore that dignity, and to understand it and reclaim it. And a lot of that is through a relationship with them.”
By supporting the moms, the children and their families flourish, Burt added.
The small shelter serves nine families at a time by providing basic needs, classes, case management, counseling and post-shelter support to prevent chronic homelessness.
Mothers can stay as long as needed and enter an alumni program to receive on-going support once they find housing.
“They know we’ll be there in good times and bad,” Burt said.
During a May 8 open house celebrating the shelter’s anniversary, volunteer coordinator Theresa Miller said the best thing they can do is share love with the mothers.
“We know the only solution is love,” Miller said. “It’s the only thing we know how to do.”
Catholic Charities CEO Larry Smith, Father Ed Judy House employees, and mothers and their families attended the open house to share their stories and the fruit bore from the shelter. The mothers were also served a Mother’s Day dinner at the Holy Trinity Center on the St. John Paul II Center campus, which Archbishop Samuel Aquila attended.
Struthers said she doesn’t know where she’d be without it.
“If this wasn’t here, I don’t know where I’d be,” she said. “I don’t know where my kids would be.”
Her journey to Father Ed Judy House began two and a half years ago when she fled her second husband’s abuse. Her father-in-law, who discovered she was being beaten, helped her pack her things and leave.
Struthers said she stayed in a motel with her children and bounced between her family’s home and shelters until she ran out of options.
“I didn’t have a job. I didn’t have money—nothing,” she said.
One friend told her about Father Ed Judy House, three days before she would be out on the streets. She was able to move in the next day.
Struthers was skeptical at first, uncertain of the rules such as getting up by 8 a.m. and completing a chore list. She said she refused to hang pictures on the wall, fearing she and her children would be forced to leave soon.
She said she wouldn’t talk to others and was always on the defensive. Slowly, she began to open up during sessions with a domestic abuse counselor. She learned about her dignity and the importance of setting boundaries with others. She also learned parenting skills and earned the respect of her children.
“My kids have seen a big difference,” she said, “and I get a lot of respect.”
She said the shelter helped build her “from the ground up” after surviving a troubled childhood. She lived in foster homes after her biological mother went to jail for selling drugs to children.
“It’s been a long, hard road, but I see I did the right thing by coming here,” she said. “If Father Ed were here today, I think I would find him and kiss his feet. He had this plan in mind for me and my kids. He wouldn’t know it, but he did.”
Struthers now lives in permanent housing, married her husband Robert in November, and has one grandchild that “lights up my world,” she said.
After living at the house for one year and graduating from its program, Struthers would recommend the place to any mom looking to rebuild her life.