Women’s Cen­ter of­fers shel­ter, as­sis­tance to fam­i­lies in cri­sis

The Modesto Bee (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY PATTY GUERRA pguerra@mod­bee.com

It wasn’t the first time Kathryn Reyes had tried to leave her abu­sive re­la­tion­ship. It wasn’t even the fifth. It would, how­ever, be the last. “I had left 10 times,” said Reyes, who still tears up when talk­ing about her ex­pe­ri­ence 25 years ago. Then liv­ing in Barstow, Reyes had three chil­dren, ages 5, 7 and 8.

But this time was dif­fer­ent: Reyes en­coun­tered Haven Women’s Cen­ter of Stanis­laus. The non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion has served sur­vivors of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence and sex­ual abuse since 1977. Reyes’ sis­ter lived in Modesto, so this is where she and her chil­dren es­caped.

“Haven saved my life,” she said. “For the first time in eight years, I felt safe.”

Staffers at Haven helped Reyes get a re­strain­ing or­der and ob­tain le­gal and phys­i­cal cus­tody of her chil­dren. They brought the fam­ily cloth­ing. Af­ter four months in Haven’s shel­ter, Reyes got into an apart­ment, and Haven pro­vided help with ap­pli­ances and fur­ni­ture and ther­apy. And Christ­mas. “They bought our first year Christ­mas presents,” Reyes said. “And not just for the chil­dren. They brought me a gift; it was a bath set.”

She said it was re­ally spe­cial to get a gift just for her, and she will never for­get how it made her feel.

“They gave me my power back,” she said. “They helped me teach my chil­dren not to be vic­tims.”

The lessons were so pow­er­ful that one of those chil­dren – Jen­nifer Spankowski – now serves on Haven’s board.

Spankowski said Haven pro­vided a sense of nor­malcy and struc­ture for her mom and sib­lings, some­thing that was un­fa­mil­iar to them.

“And meet­ing other kids who had been in a sim­i­lar sce­nario was re­ally help­ful,” she said.

Haven wasn’t just about pro­vid­ing a safe place to stay, and that made all the dif­fer­ence, Spankowski said. “You think that’s the end of the story, but they do so much more to help (clients) have a health­ier life.”

That’s one of the main mes­sages CEO May Rico said she would like to get across.

“Peo­ple tend to think of us as just a shel­ter for vic­tims of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence,” she said.

While emer­gency shel­ter is among the ser­vices Haven of­fers, it’s only one of many. And even the shel­ter has changed over the years, with rooms de­signed to house fam­i­lies to­gether and pro­vide some pri­vacy. Haven also works with lo­cal ho­tels to house clients when the shel­ters are full, so they don’t have to turn away any­one in

cri­sis. And pets are wel­come.

“You don’t have to leave your pet to be safe,” Rico said. In the past, that’s been a hur­dle for many vic­tims.

Haven also pro­vides rental as­sis­tance, a school­based pro­gram for youth and sup­port groups. And all of the ser­vices are open to peo­ple re­gard­less of sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, gen­der iden­tity or im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus.

Part of the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s mission, Rico ex­plained, is to be more proac­tive and that’s what the youth pro­grams are de­signed to do. “We know that sta­tis­ti­cally, when we are in a group of young peo­ple, a per­cent­age of them have ex­pe­ri­enced vi­o­lence.” The youth pro­grams teach vi­o­lence pre­ven­tion and em­pow­er­ment skills and pro­vide gen­eral in­for­ma­tion about how to be safe.

“We’re teach­ing peo­ple to be agents of so­cial change.” Rico said.

As for Reyes, the help she got through Haven set her on a course to achieve more than she would have at one time thought pos­si­ble. She started work­ing for Burger King, then even­tu­ally went into mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ment and now works for the city of New­man. She is re­mar­ried to an “awe­some man,” as Spankowski de­scribed her step­dad.

“She’s just a very, very strong woman,” Spankowski said of her mom. “And Haven was a vi­tal, life­sav­ing com­po­nent of that.”

To do­nate to A Book of Dreams, go to www.mod bee.com/do­nate2­bod.

ANDY AL­FARO aal­faro@mod­bee.com

Haven board mem­ber Jen­nifer Spankowski, left, says about her mother Kathryn Reyes, an abuse sur­vivor: “She’s just a very, very strong woman. And Haven was a vi­tal, life-sav­ing com­po­nent of that.”

ANDY AL­FARO aal­faro@mod­bee.com

Haven Women's Cen­ter of Stanis­laus in Modesto, Calif., on Tues­day, Oct. 30, 2018.

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