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Coming out the other side: How a woman’s shelter saved a life

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The abuse had gone on for three years.

“In the beginning, it was bliss,” said *Esther. “The physical violence didn’t happen until the end of our relationship. But in the meantime, all of the other forms of abuse were there. I would shower once a week for three years: that’s all I was allowed.”

Then, early one morning, Esther’s partner came home and began accusing her of cheating on him.

“He attacked me. He threw my phone across the room at me in front of the kids and then came after me. I was in a corner and the kids were screaming and he got me off of my feet and into the air,” said Esther. Esther’s abuser then knocked her unconscious and her memory of the incident goes black.

“All I know is that my children were impacted deeply. My son was terrified for so long after. I couldn’t even cough without him asking, ‘Are you OK, Mommy?’”

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Thankfully, this violent act marked the end of the relationship. Esther knew she and her children needed to leave. She and her family ultimately found La Salle, a Catholic Social Services second-stage shelter in Edmonton for mothers and children who’ve experienced abuse.  Funded by Sign of Hope, Catholic Social Services’ charitable arm, La Salle is a place where abused women and children can feel safe. To this day, Esther feels “unspeakable gratitude” to those who donate, giving her the opportunity to piece her life back together.

Catholic Social Services
Catholic Social Services Catholic Social Services

“La Salle was there to support me and showed me that I was loved and it wasn’t my fault,” she said. “We started the healing journey that’s been the past year for me. And it’s been an incredible year.”

When Esther arrived at La Salle, the team met her at the door. “They helped me bring in what little stuff I had with me,” she said. “It’s a secure facility that allows you to have your own space—so you can be with your kids alone in your apartment.”

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The shelter runs programming five days a week, each day focusing on a different part of healing. Programs include group therapy, self-care workshops, child-parent relationship training, and more.

“I had no idea what self-care was anymore,” said Esther. “Now I know self-care means taking the time I need. So when the kids are in bed, I take time for me by taking a shower or bath or watching a show or reading. I understand now that the more love I pour into myself, the more I can give my children.”

La Salle also focused on healing Esther’s children. “One day a week is child-parent relationship training—it’s an in-depth parenting class that also prepares you to do play therapy with your children,” said Esther. That helped change both Esther and her children’s lives for the better.

Catholic Social Services
Catholic Social Services Catholic Social Services

“When we got there, my son was very physical. He would get upset and he had no way of knowing how to express what he was feeling,” she said. “That one-on-one time with each one of my children allowed us to reconnect after what had happened. Now he uses his words and tells me how he feels.”

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Today, Esther has completed her stay at La Salle and is focused on looking for work. She’s currently enrolled in an employment preparation program, has moved into her own home with her children, and volunteers weekly to give back to her community.

One of the biggest changes for Esther was learning to feel safe again. “I didn’t think there was anything that could make me feel safe. I used to go to multiple grocery stores weekly because I feared being seen or recognized. Inside La Salle, I knew I was safe,” she said.

Esther sees that safety reflected in her children as well. “In the first few months with the children at La Salle, there were potty training issues, emotional response issues and more,” she says. “Now there are words in place of hitting and hugs in place of throwing stuff. My children and I have such a connection now. It’s  incredible.”

“If I could say anything, I would say that La Salle deserves support,” Esther says. “This program saves lives – it saved my life, it saved my children’s lives. People can support the programs that help people like me.”

** Names have been changed to protect privacy.

To help save a woman’s life today, call 780-439-HOPE(4673) or visit https://signofhope.cssalberta.ca/Donate-Now