What is the greatest institution in Toledo?
If I asked you that, what would you say?
What in this city makes you most proud?
For me the list of great institutions, places, and people in Toledo is long.
Among the organizations that a person would place on the top 10 list in the city, certainly the art museum and the library are candidates. And some of our major corporations make our public institutions and personal pursuits of happiness possible. Many people might also list their church. Some would cite our firefighters.
But, the organizations that make me most proud are our shelters — the Cherry Street Mission, La Posada, the Aurora House, and the Open Door, to name a few. In these places, neighbors walk the walk. We take care of each other.
One of the greatest shelters in Toledo is a very small one — Bethany House, which I visited last week.
Bethany House is a long-term shelter for victims of domestic violence.
It is small, but mighty.
It is a hidden gem in this city — physically and necessarily hidden.
But I wish its story was not so hidden and that public support for it was greater.
Bethany House serves about 30 families annually. There are 16 independent apartment units, each with its own bath and kitchen. Bethany House provides a safe, long-term — perhaps six months, perhaps a year, perhaps two years — haven for women seeking freedom from abusive relationships. It provides women and their children with counseling. It helps them get connected to social services they need. It helps women recover, get GEDs, college degrees, and jobs. It has even begun helping them get reliable cars — the lack of which makes acquiring these other things almost impossible.
It does all this for these women at a cost of about $25 a day, per guest — less than a night in a youth hostel or a modest dinner out for two.
Bethany House runs on an annual budget of about $300,000. What it accomplishes for that amount of money puts most of government and private enterprise to shame. Not only are the Bethany House apartments dignified and comfortable, though simple, the organization gets long-range results.
Bethany tracks its guests. Some 80 percent of the women who come there, leave healed and productive people. They do not go back to abusive relationships. They finish their educations. They get and hold jobs.
It’s a remarkable story.
By “healed” I mean they are able to overcome the abuse in their lives. These women will always carry that abuse with them. So will their children, who are often very angry and suffering from PTSD. But they are able to move on.
Deidra Lashley, executive director, told me when I visited Bethany House that one of its several missions is dealing with the anger young men feel — toward the parent who abused, toward the parent who was abused, toward themselves. They were not able to prevent the abuse and they have been taught abuse as a way of relating to other human beings.
Bethany House is one of the few shelters that can and will accept a parent with a teenage boy.
Another key mission is returning the abused mothers to a position of self-respect and respect from their children. At Bethany House they don’t give their guests rules about how to raise their own kids. They try to empower them.
One women wrote that for the first time in her life, she felt safe in this place. Another guest said: “Through Bethany’s door, I found me.”
Many of the women who come to Bethany House are literally saved by it. If they stayed in their own homes and prior relationships they would be beaten. Some would die. In 2012, 14 Toledo women died at the hands of domestic partners. In 2013 it was “only” 9.
Think about how we commonly calculate the extent of domestic violence as a societal problem: It is death. Murder is the metric.
But five fewer deaths in a year does not mean there is less domestic violence. Only that ultimate violence has been evaded.
There is more awareness, more consciousness today about domestic violence than ever before, though there are two persistent myths that bother Ms. Lashley — that domestic violence is a private family problem and that if abusers can fix their substance abuse problems they will no longer be abusers. Wrong and wrong, she says.
The Lucas Country criminal justice system is making real efforts to better protect persistent and potential victims of domestic violence.
But Bethany House actually provides a safe place for the victims of domestic violence, and the tools to remake their lives. Safety and reclamation; lifelines and life paths.
And guess what they charge their guests for this?
Not even $20 a day.
Bethany House has lost about $50,000 in public funding in the past two years. It has run a fund-raiser called “celebrity wait night” (as in waiters) for the past couple years and raised money to supplement operating funds. This year it will also hold a gala celebrating 30 years of existence and a walk-a-thon. Let’s support all three. Bethany House is a remarkable institution — one to be proud of.
Bethany House is operated by the Sylvania Sisters of St. Francis. Deidra is not a nun. Neither is Art Jones, Bethany’s longtime board chairman (a man who lost his own daughter, Katrina, to domestic violence). But sitting across the table from the two of them, I can't help thinking both are saints.
The national Domestic Abuse Hotline has a motto: No fees, no names, no judgment. Just help. That number is 1-800-799-SAFE.
Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6266.
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