RIVERVIEW — It took her 13 years to gather the courage to escape domestic violence at the hands of her husband.
Now, Lorianne De Loreto wants to help others — both men and women — discover there is a life outside of the fear. She wants them to know there are resources to help them move forward.
De Loreto founded Visions of Hope International as a resource center for survivors of domestic violence. Many survivors, such as De Loreto, find themselves lost and wondering about the next step after they remove themselves from a domestic violence household. Many organizations exist to help women and men during the crisis stage, but De Loreto saw the need for a service that can help survivors past that initial intervention as they rebuild their lives
"I categorize Visions of Hope as the 'what to do next' organization," De Loreto said. "For many survivors, there's that lasting feeling of, 'I'm still floundering. I still feel like I'm a shell of myself. Where do I go from here?' "
De Loreto, 50, of Apollo Beach knows from experience that just because a survivor has removed themselves from that situation and found a new place to live doesn't mean the healing is over. That's where Visions of Hope International comes in. The organization, which was founded less than a year ago, seeks to provide support for women and men through support groups, scholarships, financial assistance, housing and more.
In order to raise awareness about domestic violence and to promote the organization, De Loreto decided to host its first fundraiser, Breaking Free: Silent No More, July 11 at Club Renaissance in Sun City Center.
The event will feature a fashion show where the models are all domestic violence survivors.
"This is the first time these women are doing anything like this," De Loreto said. "We're all giddy because we're able to share this joy and have this empowering, confident experience."
Franki Bernier of Town 'N Country, one of the event's models, was chosen as the first beneficiary of Project Restoration — a community outreach program through Visions of Hope which selects one survivor semiannually to receive assistance.
Bernier, 32, experienced domestic violence since birth, and it wasn't until she had a child of her own that she found the courage to break free from the dangerous environment and create a healthy household for her and her son.
As part of Project Restoration, Bernier will receive practical and financial assistance for six months, including transportation, medical care and clothing.
As for her upcoming modeling engagement, she said she's working on breaking in her heels and is excited to help spread awareness about domestic violence.
"I'm so excited to spearhead this campaign that's going to help so many women and get the word out there," Bernier said. "This event is bringing our stories to the forefront and showing you can break free and you don't have to live in fear."
Cyndi Edwards of WFLA's Daytime, the master of ceremonies for the event, met De Loreto when she was interning at Daytime. Edwards said she was inspired by De Loreto's decision to return to school and finish her education while also being a mother of three and a domestic abuse survivor.
"I think now she's at a point where she's saying, 'Just watch me,' " Edwards said. "I've heard so many people say things that they want to do, but they never get around to doing it. And to come from a place where she didn't have much power and now she's got the strength to realize her dream, it's really inspiring to see."
While she said she hopes the event raises necessary funds and promotes the organization, De Loreto said it is most important that attendees leave the event with a better, more robust understanding of domestic violence and the role it plays in Tampa Bay's communities.
"I want them to be educated," De Loreto said. "I want them to be aware. I want them to be cognizant of this situation that we face, to not shove it under the rug, but to know how to recognize the signs of domestic violence and how they can handle it."
Contact Caitlin Johnston at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2443. Follow @cljohnst.