Lisa Brock, chairwoman of the Spring, shared how more than 200 volunteers at the Hillsborough County domestic abuse shelter recently created a playground out of a mountain of dirt.
As Brock told the story at the Spring's annual Mabel H. Bexley Gift of Peace Breakfast on Thursday, I fixated on the word mountain. The old Marvin Gaye-Tammi Terrell song Ain't No Mountain High Enough popped into my head.
Ain't no mountain high enough
Ain't no valley low enough
Ain't no river wide enough
My mind just works like that sometimes.
And when it comes to domestic abuse, the challenges can seem like a mountain.
The breakfast audience of more than 500 people saw 16 empty chairs on the stage at the Tampa Convention Center, each representing a domestic violence homicide victim in Hillsborough County since the last breakfast.
From 2008 to 2009, the number of domestic violence killings more than quadrupled in Hillsborough County, and the 10 deaths this year exceeds that number.
Across the state, demand for domestic abuse shelter services has increased 37 percent. At the same time, the shelters faced a $3.8 million budget shortfall going into this year's legislative session.
Why? Well, $25 of every marriage license fee (and every dissolution) goes toward funding domestic abuse shelters. It's a law that two of the breakfast honorees, former legislators Betty Castor and Helen Gordon Davis, helped bring about in 1978.
But last year, the number of marriages in the state decreased by 30 percent — likely because of the economy.
"I guess what we have to do is encourage more people who are living together to get married," Davis said in one of the event's lighter moments.
Tiffany Carr, president of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said if the shortfall had stood, four of the state's 42 shelters would have closed and the others would have had to reduce beds and other life-saving services.
However, state Rep. Denise Grimsley, R-Lake Placid, successfully fought to have the Legislature cover the shortfall.
"As a former emergency room nurse, I've seen the devastation of domestic violence in the form of broken bones and broken spirits," Grimsley told the group.
It's a good thing Grimsley has been appointed House appropriations chairwoman, because the shelters may face another shortfall in 2011.
Against this somber backdrop, you search for hope. You find it in the stories of survivors like Cenith, who told the audience how she escaped an abusive relationship for herself and for her four children.
While we all ache for every victim, we exact joy from the survivors who escaped the darkness and torment. Luckily, the Spring was there to answer Cenith's call.
If you're ever in trouble
I'll be there on the double
Just send for me
You know, Tammi Terrell was a domestic violence victim more than once before dying at age 24 from a malignant tumor in 1970. Now, all these years later, abuse victims are still in trouble, and we need to be there on the double.
Just like the folks who built that playground, we have to realize there ain't no mountain high enough.
That's all I'm saying.