RUSKIN — Kim was in her late 40s, beaten down, desperate and broken.
A victim of domestic violence, she needed a safe place to try to put the shattered pieces of her life back together. She took the first step in her journey to a new life when she stepped into the Mary & Martha House, a domestic violence shelter in Ruskin.
Because she had no work experience, the staff at Mary& Martha House placed her in a minimum wage job, but transportation proved to be a problem because her husband never allowed her to drive.
Her case manager helped her get her driver's license and within three months, Kim had saved enough to purchase an inexpensive car.
This is just one of many success stories that have come about as a result of the caring environment and devoted staff of the Mary & Martha House. October is domestic violence awareness month and Mary & Martha officials say the need for its services remains consistent.
"This is not just a shelter; this is a program," said Laurie Herring, Mary & Martha House director of programs and housing. "We do more than provide a roof over their heads. We know that every case is different and we develop an individualized case plan for each one. We don't do 'cookie cutter.'
"Every woman has a different set of circumstances and we are here to meet her needs."
In 1982, three local women banded together to provide a safe haven for women who were victims of domestic violence. Over the years, the Mary & Martha vision grew into three Hillsborough County facilities for abused women and their children. The effort also includes an extensive program to meet the individualized needs for each woman that seeks their help.
When a survivor comes to the Mary & Martha house facility, the case manager develops a specific plan for the individual. The shelter will provide safe housing for up to three months, during which time the staff will assist the client with finding employment, show them how to dress for a job interview, provide transportation and day care.
The nonprofit also assists with budgeting and how to establish credit and focuses on other life skills. Their self-esteem rises and they begin to become successful, independent women.
After their three-month stay at this facility, Mary & Martha House provides longer-term transitional housing so families can become stabilized and eventually move into their own permanent housing.
"I see my job day to day as an encourager and a guide," Mary & Martha House case manager Christine Olka said. "We wear many hats. There is time to be a cheerleader, or a person who is warning them of danger, to make sure they stay on track with their plan and don't fall back into their old habits.
"I walk with them. I'm giving them the tools they need to be successful, to help them achieve their goals."
For some who have been abused, there may be a sense of helplessness, but Herring said they can find hope just by walking through the door at Mary & Martha House.
"I tell every woman who comes to us, 'Before you walked in here, you were at ground zero. Once you step into this office, you are already one step up on the ladder,' " Herring said. "Every day, if they get up and follow the guidance of the case manager and use the tools and resources we offer them, there is no reason for them to fail."
Mary & Martha House needs financial assistance to maintain its service to abused and homeless women and children. All of the programs they provide are free. Clients are given everything they need to get back on their feet from help with their education to getting a haircut. The shelter depends solely on private and community donations to survive. To donate money, to marymarthahouse.org and donate online.
Other items such as toiletries, clothing, make-up, etc., are always needed, as are volunteers who can assist in a number of ways. To contact the main office of the Mary & Martha House, call (813) 645-7874 or for shelter services call (813) 641-7027.
Helping women who are in desperate need of help like Kim is what the Mary & Martha House is all about. Kim has now overcome many of the barriers women experience when they suddenly find themselves alone and desperate.
Today, she's finished the program and has her own place to live.
Contact Kathy Straub at firstname.lastname@example.org.