SHADY HILLS — Cindy Carson knows the face of disappointment, confusion and desperation when a loved one becomes someone to fear. She used to see it in the mirror when she was in a relationship with someone who abused her, mostly mentally.
She knows how it feels to not know when to run or where to hide. She felt the pain when she couldn't show any social services agency workers the scars from the abuse because they were on the inside. She says she didn't get the proper help because of it.
It took her 27 years, but she got out that bad relationship.
"Of course I left him many times and he always promised to stop," Carson said. "He's a wonderful person when he's not drinking."
At some point in the midst of her own struggle she had an epiphany: She became a victim only to see that she had to help others. Now seven years after freeing herself, that resolve has led her to open Treasures for Peace thrift store. She hopes that the shop, housed in a warehouse-style building where Old Shady Hills and Shady Hills roads meet, just south of the Pasco-Hernando county line, is the portal to her ambitious dream to someday become the kind of help she didn't get.
"All of our proceeds go to Peace Foundations," Carson said, referring to the nonprofit organization she started. Her first goal is to raise the $800 needed to apply for tax-exempt 501(c)(3) status with the Internal Revenue Service. Once she has that, it will open her organization up for grants and a world of possibilities.
Her dream is to first build and an apartment-style domestic violence shelter for women and children that would allow them to stay for up to two years rather than the month or two that is standard for most shelters.
"Thirty days isn't long enough to get your spirit back, let alone start making it on your own," Carson said.
She wants to give victims the tools, like therapy and job skills, and other resources to make new, productive lives for themselves.
She acknowledges there are several great facilities in the Tampa Bay area and she would like to work with them and offer more to those who need it. Eventually, she wants to offer housing and help for the growing number of male victims, and finally she wants to open the doors to abusers themselves who want to change and need free treatment. Of course, Carson pointed out, they would all be housed separately, or perhaps at different facilities. She just wants to provide support, programs and other resources to help stop the cycle of abuse.
"We're on a critical mission to restore peace," said Carson, 48. "A lot of people don't realize how much abuse is going on and it's not just physical, it's mental abuse, too."
She hopes the thrift store she opened nearly six months ago will eventually generate the money for these projects.
She says she and her business partner, Paul Hutchison, don't draw a salary. If they did, they wouldn't be able to pay rent. But they are already growing and she is optimistic the community will continue rally around them.
"Right now we are truly blessed in donations and are truly overwhelmed," she said, chuckling.
She couldn't do it without her team of volunteers either.
Volunteers who help run the shop don't get a paycheck. Instead, they earn $10 per hour in merchandise credit.
Wendy Dill, 52, of Shady Hills, said volunteering has helped get her out of the house after being laid off several years ago. But, more important, it helps her and her boyfriend live within a tight budget.
"It helps with the things we can't afford," she said.
Looking around the store, there's a hodgepodge of treasures, as Carson calls them, like Christmas decorations, a wicker headboard, china cabinets, a collection of wrestling action figures, record albums and baby strollers. A separate room houses neatly displayed clothes and shoes for men and women. Items are priced from 10 cents to $600.
"Nothing goes on the floor that hasn't been cleaned or laundered," Carson said. "That's the one thing I couldn't stand about thrift stores."
She knows it will take years of perseverance to turn other people's castoff items into the cash needed to start her mission.
"We need to get to the next step," Carson said. "I'm a very determined person and I want to get this facility built."