Domestic violence victims fight fear on road to independence

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Indy Star on 11/10/16 by Maureen Gilmer

Yin Walker couldn’t take the abuse any longer. The 42-year-old Indianapolis woman called The Julian Center, a shelter and resource center for domestic violence victims. She left her husband and moved into the facility, where she stayed for several months before moving into transitional housing.

Today, she is one of nine women enrolled in a new program, Propel Indy, aimed at helping people shed the victim label and work toward independence.

The Julian Center, Coburn Place Safe Haven and the Domestic Violence Network have joined forces to develop the 18-month program. And the timing couldn’t be more important, say staffers at Coburn Place, 604 E. 38th St.

Propel Indy offers assistance with financial literacy, employment, education, parenting, interpersonal skills and building a network of peer support. The national average indicates that 1 in 3 women have experienced domestic violence by an intimate partner, according to Jenni White, vice president of mission impact for Coburn, which housed 56 adults and 67 children last year. Coburn also provides counseling and referral services to additional clients.

“When someone has been abused, their confidence takes a hit,” said Julia Kathary, executive director of Coburn Place. “Propel Indy helps restore survivors’ social and emotional well-being so they can focus on what they need to do to not only survive, but to thrive.”

It’s not enough to provide temporary housing to survivors, added Catherine O’Connor, CEO of The Julian Center. “We must empower survivors with tools, education, resources and hope so they can restore their families and rebuild their lives.”

The program launched last month, which was Domestic Violence Awareness Month, with nine participants who first completed a 16-week Getting Ahead empowerment course. Clients attend group classes twice a month. Programming in October focused on healthy relationships, then moved into financial literacy and career readiness.

Walker, a mother of six, said calling The Julian Center was the best thing she’s done in her life. “I was able to get back in touch with myself and build my self-worth. I found that there were people that were willing to help and I didn’t have to take the abuse.”

The inaugural Propel Indy class will grow next summer as the program layers in another group of graduates from the Getting Ahead course offered in February.

“This community of survivors and community partners will increase over time as the cycle of classes continues,” White said, “offering participants at different stages in their journey the opportunity to work together to increase their social connectedness, sense of belonging and stability.”

The need for social connections, for people to have others they can lean on, is even greater now after an election that has polarized the country, she said. “In this moment, we’re nervous and scared for our clients that the fallout may be that more people don’t feel safe speaking up.”

Kathary said while some fears might not be grounded in reality, “the permissive space for people to be hateful and hurtful to one another has grown — that’s what it feels like to our clients.”

Propel Indy is a fitting name, she said. “It feels like there’s a heavier anchor around everybody’s feet; we’re trying to propel forward and hope we can rise above. Our work is cut out for us.”

Domestic violence organizations need people to step up and volunteer. “We’re going to need help to lift people up,” she said.

Eight local organizations will provide training and additional services to program participants: Indianapolis Urban League, Ivy Tech Community College, Indiana Institute for Working Families, John H. Boner Center, Dress for Success, Allegion, Indianapolis Marriott Downtown and Goodwill Industries.

“It takes great tenacity over many months for survivors to overcome the effects of abuse and achieve long-term success,” said Kelly McBride, executive director of the Domestic Violence Network. “Propel Indy is specifically designed to help them do this.”

Participants’ children go through a similar program that covers healthy relationships, manners, emotional expression, bullying and positive body image.

To learn how you can help visit coburnplace.org, juliancenter.org or DVNConnect.org.