Grand Island Satellite finds permanent home

Grand Island Satellite finds permanent home

Grand Island Satellite finds permanent home

A crowd of more than 50 interested people gathered at Trinity Church in Grand Island on Thursday, January 9 th , to hear the wonderful news: the Family Justice Center has secured a permanent home for a Grand Island FJC Satellite Office.

The space, a former parsonage for Trinity Church, will get a top-to-bottom makeover and refurbishment in early 2020, with plans to open to clients in late-Spring or early-Summer 2020. Located at 2074 Whitehaven Road, the home is in a central location on Grand Island, with easy access to NFTA bus routes, and the 190 Thruway.

“This is a dream come true – to finally have a home for the permanent location for the FJC on Grand Island,” said FJC Board member and Grand Island resident, Karen Panzarella-Brodie. “I am so excited to get our community involved. There is something for everyone: from fundraising, to landscaping, to helping renovate the home, getting trained to be a volunteer at the satellite. We can all get involved and show anyone who is in an abusive relationship that it is not their fault, and we are here in any way you need.”

Panzarella-Brodie, who Co-Chairs the Grand Island Committee with fellow Survivor, Laura Lewis Mason, talked about how the need for services on Grand Island is critical. “Domestic Violence is everywhere, in every community. It doesn’t matter where you live: it is in our neighborhoods. We need to open our eyes and our hearts, and display intolerance for this public health crisis that is taking people’s lives and destroying families. The days of looking the other way need to be gone, and we all need to take responsibility for talking – without judgement – to those we suspect may be in an abusive relationship….and directing them to the Family Justice Center.”

The FJC is working with a general contractor on all updates to the space, but will have volunteers and room sponsors involved in the design of each room.

“We want the space to be cohesive as a whole, but are looking forward to each room having its own personality. We want all spaces to be comfortable and welcoming to our clients, as they are in Buffalo, Orchard Park, and Amherst [FJC locations] already,” said CEO Mary Murphy.

The FJC is currently recruiting volunteers and organizing teams to put plans into motion as the space moves forward to serve clients. Volunteers will be needed to assist with fundraising and sponsorship of rooms, landscaping, outreach, and to volunteer on-site once the satellite is open for business.

If you are interested in volunteering in any capacity, please contact Marcey Bryant at (716) 558-5295 or mbryant@fjcsafe.org. To donate, please visit www.fjcsafe.org/donate.

Photo caption: The Grand Island Dream Team leaders at Rachael’s Warrior Foundation shared storied and information at the January 9 th meeting. (Top row, from left: GI Team Leader Laura Lewis Mason, Pastor Kevin Slough of Trinity Church Grand Island, GI Team Leader Karen Panzarella-Brodie, Rachael’s Warrior Foundation Co-President Mark Wierzbicki, FJC CEO Mary Murphy. Bottom row, from left: GI Team Leader Jessica Mazgaj, Rachael’s Warrior Foundation Co-President Lauri Wierzbicki)

Thank you, Holiday Helpers!

Thank you, Holiday Helpers!

Thank you, Holiday Helpers!

“He emptied the bank account the day before I was going to shop.  I had nothing for my kids for Christmas.   You are all angels!”

These are words from a client, as FJC staff and volunteers loaded her car with Christmas gifts.  Everything from toys and clothes for her three children; to home goods, toiletries, and gift cards for groceries and gasoline for mom.    The tears welled in her eyes, as she thanked the FJC and drove off to the safe place where she and her children will spend the holidays, away from her abusive husband.

For many, the holidays are thought of, and looked forward to, as the best time of the year.  For victims of domestic violence, however, the holidays can bring difficult expectations, financial pressure, and increased stress levels.   For this time of year, celebration and joy can be replaced with fear and uncertainty.

Stories of emptied bank accounts, gifts stolen by abusers, and financial control are often shared by FJC clients during the holidays.  Thanks to a dedicated group of donors, the Family Justice Center is able to help some of the most in-need clients each year, through our small-but-mighty adopt-a-family program.    Clients are able to share wish lists with FJC Advocates, which are then anonymously shared with donors, who do the shopping. 

And then come the deliveries.   Boxes and bags filled with toys, clothing, diapers, toiletries, home goods, gift cards, and more: all for the FJC client families who need it most.  The Family Justice Center offices downtown start to look less like offices each day, and more like Santa’s workshop.

In 2019, former FJC client Rebecca* called to adopt a family for Christmas.   She and her children had been on the receiving end of the program in 2018, and she wanted to pay it forward.  

“You saved us.  You saved Christmas last year,” she said.  “I don’t know what I would have done without getting this help last year.  It would have been a very sad Christmas.”

Rebecca and her children shopped this year for a family similar to theirs:  a mother and her children, temporarily living with a friend to stay safe from an abusive husband.  With a twinkle in her eye, she delivered the gifts to the FJC, knowing that it would bring smiles and happiness to this family, the way it did to hers.

Our holiday adopt-a-family donors help our clients during a very emotional time, and a special time of year.   The ice and snow of the season is no match to the warmth and generosity of these caring, thoughtful angels.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the Family Justice Center at (716) 558-SAFE (7233), or visit a service location to speak with a domestic violence advocate.    With safety planning, access to legal support, a forensic medical unit, and a team of advocates who care; the Family Justice Center can help bring safety, hope, and healing to clients during the holidays, and the rest of the year as well.

*Name has been changed for anonymity.

A New You ~ Laura’s Story

A New You ~ Laura’s Story

It was 2:00 am when the door opened to the house.  

“Why am I not surprised?!” he yelled, as the refrigerator door slammed.

I crept downstairs to the kitchen.  As usual, he was intoxicated.  I should have known better, but I did it anyway: I asked him where he had been, and to please quiet down as I’d just put our colicky baby down to sleep. 

I was exhausted.

“How many times do I have to tell you that I don’t like that kind of cheese!?!” he said angrily. 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about “as I opened the refrigerator and pulled out the cheese and waved it in his face. “This IS American cheese”. 

“No, you dumb ass it is not”, he said with a grin on his face.

I wanted to smack that grin right off his face. “I don’t understand what the difference is…and please let’s not discuss this now.  You’re drunk”.

He persisted to mumble under his breath so as to be antagonizing and condescending.  

“Please be quiet” I pleaded through gritted teeth.

More words were exchanged and one thing led to another.  Before I know it, I am on the ground getting my hair pulled, being punched in stomach, and kicked in my head with his steel-toed work boots. It was the first time I actually thought I could die. 

I began flailing my arms in the air searching desperately for a way to get him to stop.  Eventually, I found the “sweet spot” and I brought him to his knees. Without thinking, I got up and called 911.  I feared for my life.

When the Erie County Sheriff’s Deputies arrived, I knew all of them.  Immediately I was embarrassed and regretted calling them.  My dirty little secret was revealed.

They handcuffed my husband and put him in the police car. One of the remaining Deputies asked me if I wanted them to call my father, and I replied with a firm “NO”.  You see, my father too was a Grand Island Police Officer and collaborated with the Sheriff’s Department. I was embarrassed and ashamed for myself and my father. I thought, “If I had only just stayed upstairs none of this would have happened.”

Later that morning, I called my abuser’s father to come and take the kids for the day as I had some things to take care of.  I had to go to the police station and file a report. 

At the police station photos were taken of my bruises and the report was filed.  I left feeling such shame.

The next evening, I found myself in town court for the hearing: a very public forum.  As I looked around, I found that I knew several people in the courtroom waiting to be seen by the judge for their parking violations and speeding tickets. I felt myself shrink as I was trying to be inconspicuous.  I felt so alone and ashamed.  I was at an all-time low. A friend approached me asking me why I was there.  I stuttered…I couldn’t answer.

Then, right at that moment, the judge took to the bench and my heart sank even more: discovering that the judge was a close family friend. Almost simultaneously, my abuser was being brought in handcuffs and wearing an orange jumpsuit.  I stood there, mortified and ashamed.  I left court that evening with a restraining order and my abuser was mandated to anger management classes.

“That’s it?” I thought, “I went through all that embarrassment for a lousy piece of paper that stated he couldn’t come near me or my children?”

Nonetheless, statistically, you can guess what happened…

I took my abuser back, and I never called the police again.  I feared being judged for taking him back and I did not want to have to go through that process and ordeal again. I gave my abuser all the power back.

As a result, I lived with domestic violence for another ten years, almost 20 in total. It started insidious in onset, like a malignant cancer metastasizing in me until it infected every part of my soul and well-being. 

I never considered myself to be in a domestic violence situation, let alone a “victim”.  I made choices, right? To stay.  To fight back. I was very much a part of the problem, if not to blame…right?

He was a master, he perfected the term “gaslighting”. He manipulated every situation. He called me abusive for reacting to his abuse. He manufactured so many responses in me that I felt as if I was truly crazy.  He tormented me almost daily and turned me from an easy-going, loving, confident woman, to being unrecognizable.

The emotional and psychological abuse was constant. 

The physical abuse was random, and unexpected. 

In fact, to me the physical abuse was a relief, as he would retreat, becoming tender and solicitous afterwards.  I relished that power and the righteous feeling of being wronged. And then things were once again wondrous….so I thought.  

Domestic violence continued to permeate my daily existence. It became the norm.

I could go on and on about what my life was like with my abuser: I would have no lack of material. However, this isn’t about my abuser.  This is about ME, the victims that are still caught in the cycle, and the victims that never made it out.  

As I reflect on that time in my life: I was ashamed, I felt as though I deserved it.  I have asked myself over and over “Why did you stay? Why did you go back?”

I have no answer.  I wish I did.

What I do know, is that I never thought I would be “that woman”. A woman who isolated herself from family, friends, and colleagues.  A woman who lacked self-confidence, becoming more weak and depressed with each passing day. I was suicidal and felt like a terrible mother, and I cared way too much about what others thought, that it paralyzed me from leaving again.  Who was I?  I was a woman I did not know anymore. 

Living with this abuse changed everything about me.  My decision making, my values, my family interactions (or lack thereof), my interactions with my children, and my career.  Every decision and reaction in my life was based on what his responses would be.

I realized I couldn’t continue this secret life, I had to do something, so I started with Al-anon; it’s anonymous and I wouldn’t know anyone. I found comfort here and as I worked the steps and became healthier in my own life and faith…but the abuse became worse.

It was then I realized it wasn’t me, it was him – interesting revelation right?  I had to be certain I wasn’t to blame…and then I left him.

Insert Family Justice Center:  Let’s imagine in this moment, if at that time, there was a Family Justice Center on Grand Island [where I lived].  A place where there is collaboration of services, privacy, safety, and child care provided in one secure environment with loving, caring, professionals.  I believe I would not have to endure the public humiliation and embarrassment of “the system.”  I would not have had to stand there in front of the judge with my abuser.  I would not have been made to feel that this was an anger management issue, and feel hopeful that my abuser – having gone through anger management classes – would have made it all ok. I may not have felt responsible. I may have not gone back…

Despite not having access to a Family Justice Center in my hometown, I was one of the lucky ones. Today, you read the words of a STRONG and CONFIDENT woman!

I have since forgiven my abuser, removed the negativity from my heart, and have moved forward without any regret. I love myself and who I have become.  I am not perfect, but I work on myself daily to be the best I can be:  a better mate, mother, daughter, sister, colleague and friend.

I am in a loving relationship for 12 years, I am a Nurse Practitioner in Neurosurgery. I am a consultant for medical legal, I am an adjunct Professor at D’Youville College, and I recently started my own aesthetics business called, Anew You.  (The name – ironic?  It is not.)  And most importantly I have become a strong advocate for the Family Justice Center against domestic violence.

This is why I share my story. Hoping my story will remove the stigma and stereotype. It can and does happen to anyone. We as a society need to make a paradigm shift, asking the question “why do they hit?” instead of “why do they stay?”  We need to change the stigma of shaming and blaming the victim. Only recently has society made small gains in those areas.  It is a slow arduous process.

So, what can you do to help? You can help by volunteering, contribute financially, or support the FJC in advocacy work.  Help the Family Justice Center to continue to provide services, so that those, unlike myself, have the opportunities and resources that the Family Justice Center provides.  Help by changing one community at a time.

Help those that live with domestic violence become victors and not victims. So like me, they too can say, “I am a Victor!!”         

FJC Staff and Volunteers gathered on Thursday, August 1, for the Second annual FJC Volunteer Appreciation Picnic

FJC Staff and Volunteers gathered on Thursday, August 1, for the Second annual FJC Volunteer Appreciation Picnic

FJC Staff and Volunteers gathered on Thursday, August 1, for the Second annual FJC Volunteer Appreciation Picnic

FJC Staff and Volunteers gathered on Thursday, August 1, for the second annual FJC Volunteer Appreciation Picnic.  Gathering at Stiglmeier Park in Cheektowaga, guests enjoyed a delicious BBQ dinner, complete with hot dogs, chicken, sausages, salads, and more!  Delicious sweet treats were also available, courtesy of KupKates Bakery in Buffalo.

Volunteer chef Dan Barone gave his time to grill the delicious feast; with DV Advocate and Volunteer Coordinator, Jaclyn Strycharz, and her mom, Cindy Chentfant organizing the event.   Everyone was ABUZZ with excitement, as the picnic was bee-themed, with charming yellow and black decorations adorning the pavilion: complete with bee-autiful floral centerpieces, courtesy of Maureen’s Wholesale Flowers in Buffalo.  The skies were a beautiful blue, and the summer sun was shining for this picture-perfect party!

The celebration gave volunteers from all the FJC locations a chance to meet and enjoy an afternoon of fun and friendship.  What’s more, Helium Comedy Club of Buffalo and Paula’s Donuts generously donated prizes to raffle off to our hard-working team of volunteers. 

CEO Mary Murphy spoke to the group after dinner, giving heartfelt thanks on behalf of the entire organization, for the amazing work volunteers do day in and day out.    We thank all our volunteers for giving your valuable time to support the Family Justice Center, and the domestic and relationship abuse victims who walk through our doors each day.  

Thank you again, volunteers, for BEE-ing so great!