Tanya Reagan has a Christmas memory, but not the merry kind.
More than two decades ago, she and her children waited for Santa to come with candy and dolls and such. The little one begged for a bike, but Reagan doubted she'd get something as grand as that. Would Santa even show up? Was there any hope?
Yes, there was. Though her children didn't know it, the mantle where they hung their Christmas stockings that year was at The House of Ruth, a domestic violence shelter in Dothan. Other mothers and children were spending Christmas Eve there, too. Reagan was away from the shoves and slaps that had been part of her 12-year marriage. This time, it was for good.
Reagan's journey from that Christmas season to this one was bumpy. There were court orders, counseling, and finally, a divorce from a man who had a habit of sticking a gun in her face during one of his rages. And there were lots of rages.
When she left the final time, she saw her 32-year-old face in the car mirror. She wondered, "Who was that woman?" She looked the way she felt: scared, grim, worried. She drove to a church with a light on and followed the light inside. A priest told her he'd help, and he did. So did police officers, counselors, and workers at the shelter.
Because of what they did for her, she does the same for others. As the Shelter Manager for Hope Place, a domestic violence shelter started in Huntsville in 1982, she sees the transformation women make after a few days. "They feel safe. They gain confidence. They start to make plans."
Hope Place can house up to 25 women and children leaving abusive situations. They've housed men, too. The shelter, whose location is kept private due to safety concerns, has multiple bedrooms and bathrooms as well as a communal kitchen and dining room.
There's a cheerful day room with big couches where people go for group therapy. There are offices for private counseling, and there is a play room for children. Most families stay in the shelter for a few weeks, but some stay longer. There is no cost, but women use the time to do financial planning with counselors, to fill out job applications, and to get back on their feet.
"Most of them have no car, no money, no job, and little confidence," Reagan says. "Shame has kept them from having friends; plus, they've been told they can't. Their biggest fear is that they'll lose custody of their children, so sometimes they stay and try to keep the peace."
Peace doesn't last long, especially, during the holiday season when money may be short and tensions and expectations may be high. Last year, there were 10 women and 12 children who spent the holidays at Hope Place. They made cookies and decorated a tree. They drew Christmas cards with Rudolph and Santa and candy canes.
Some of the women will leave Hope Place to start a new life, but a few will go back to the old one, hoping for a reunion with a man who promises to do better. Reagan understands the temptation of a reconciliation, but she knows the cycle, too.
Her own ex-husband was jailed after a stand-off with police. When he got out of prison, he asked her to "friend" him on Facebook. She declined. She's been married to a "good man" for a decade. She advises young women to find someone who honors their goals and she wants them to have some.
Hope Place needs help to keep the tree lit and the gifts wrapped. They provide a temporary kind of family, with members changing month by month. There is always support. There is always someone on the other end of the line. And the light is always on.
For more information about how to contact Hope Place, call Crisis Services of Alabama at 256-716-1000....Read more