By the time news of a domestic violence situation is reported, it is often too late and tragic for those involved. A new program in northern Virginia wants to give families a safe refuge before they become a headline.
Community Lodgings is marking 30 years of helping families in Alexandria, Virginia. In recent years, they have seen an increase in domestic violence cases, and their approach to create safe spaces for hurting families is given those in need a place to thrive.
Denise, not her real name, was a mother of two young boys who left her husband and their father after six years of masking his abuse.
“There were times I thought I was giving up on myself, and I was giving myself excuses,” she said. “You learn to patch the walls, and you learn to hide the holes in the walls. You learn to cover up the bruises.”
After a terrifying phone call from her husband, she called the Alexandria domestic violence hotline and, with her boys, moved into one of the Community Lodgings apartments.
“One day he called and told me that if I was still home when he got home, he was not going to be responsible for what happened to my children or I,” Denise said. “And that was the first time he had openly threatened my children.”
Lynn Thomas, executive director of Community Lodgings, said each family at the facility has their own apartment, and many families stay here up to two years. She said families who seek this safe place must be committed.
“It’s not an easy task, and as Denise said, there were times that she wanted to give up,” Thomas said.
Besides providing safety, the facility also gives families the opportunity to learn or re-learn life skills, from finances to communication to parenting. The goal is to create independence for those who are trying to recover.
“Thriving in the community, living in the community, becoming taxpaying citizens in the community and just giving back,” Thomas said.
A big part of this program is about creating a community and a real safe space. So for some of the children who live in the transitional apartments, they offer several workshops, many of which are held just across the street.
“A lot these kids come from broken families,” said Gwen Spitzhoff, a Community Lodgings educator. “They’re coming from Central America, Maybe they’re living with an aunt and an uncle who they’re just meeting for the first time.”
More than an after-school day care, the instructors lead an academic curriculum. It is a structure program available to every child in Alexandria.
“So we try to give them a safe environment that they come to after school every afternoon, and we’ve really built relationships with the kids,” Spitzhoff said.
Denise and her boys graduated from the program, and her sons are consistently making the honor roll. She has found success in her own career to support her family, and she said it all started with finding that safe place.
“I know how hard it was for me, and I could not imagine trying to rebuild my life with two children in tow with half the resources, without half of the resources that I was offered here,” Denise said.