When DeVona Smith was in the fourth grade, she and her mother left their abusive home to stay at the YWCA. Such shelters are often temporary, and a long-term shelter, Bethany House, had just opened. After moving to Bethany House, they learned that Smith’s mother was pregnant.
During that time DeVona’s mother “got the worst beating of her life that almost killed her,” she explains. Her mother’s abuser found her at a friend’s house and physically assaulted her. The staff at Bethany House came to get her and provided the help she needed.
Having lived at Bethany House as a child, Smith now provides an invaluable perspective as a Board Chair.
“I wanted to give back,” she said. “Without them, I don’t really know what would have happened.”
A 24/7 Support System
Founded in 1984, Bethany House is one of only three long-term domestic violence shelters in Ohio. Escaping from an abusive situation is a long process, Bethany House Executive Director Deidra Lashley said. “When someone leaves an abuser, that’s the most dangerous time,” Lashley said. “From the time they walk out the door, during the whole first year or two, their risk is high for being hurt or killed.”
Bethany House is in an undisclosed location with secure, apartment-style living. Many survivors come there with children and often with custody battles. According to Lashley, many abusers will use a prolonged legal battle as a control tactic. “It can be a really lengthy, very dangerous process,” she said.
Time to heal
Bethany House helps victims recover from physical trauma, overcome fear of retribution, take care of their children, and find full-time employment. The organization also implemented StepUP, a program to help survivors transition to living on their own by providing apartment units below-market rate.
One of the most important parts of escaping an abusive relationship is to be prepared for the worst-case scenario.
“Safety planning is a daily conversation. We talk through different scenarios. It’s really planning for physical safety and emotional safety,” Lashley said.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline. 1-800-799-SAFE
To make a financial donation, visit bethanyhousetoledo.org, or call 419-727-4948 to learn about other ways to contribute