Building Trust and a New Life

“When Theresa* first arrived at our shelter, she was really guarded,” remembers Lizzette Torres, Assistant Program Director of one of VOA-GNY’s domestic violence shelters. “She would barely say hello and it was difficult to engage with her.”

Theresa had been suffering from prolonged physical and emotional abuse by her boyfriend, including strict control over her wardrobe and cellphone.

After living in a violent household as a child, it was the third consecutive abusive relationship she’d been in. All three of her children (ages nine, eleven and thirteen) were fathered by her previous abusers.

As an experienced professional trained in trauma-informed care, Lizzette knew not to push Theresa too hard. Instead, she gently let her know that she would be there for her whenever she was ready and willing to talk.

Months went by and Theresa remained silent, only nodding, or shaking her head in response to questions.

But then one day she showed up in Lizzette’s office in tears, upset because her boyfriend, who she revealed was still in contact with her, had been telling her she was a bad mother for having her children with her at the shelter.

Lizzette empathized with Theresa, and after multiple meetings, shared laughter and tears, she was gradually able to help Theresa see that her boyfriend’s behavior was emotionally abusive.

A trusting relationship was born and from then on Theresa did everything she could to rebuild her life and attain safe, permanent housing for her family.

Although Theresa was prideful about working as a maintenance professional and insisted on buying things for her children with her own earnings, Lizzette convinced her to accept school supplies and backpacks for her children through VOA-GNY’s Operation Backpack® and Christmas presents through our Toys for the Holidays drive. She needed to save her money for an apartment.

Eventually, with the help of VOA-GNY staff, Theresa did secure an apartment where she still lives with her three children today.

VOA-GNY was able to provide Theresa with shelter when she needed it most, including three square meals a day for her and her children, counseling, and emotional support, before ultimately helping her move into a safe, secure home of her own.

In addition, Lizzette helped Theresa learn to define and identify abusive behavior so that she would not be destined to repeat unhealthy relationship patterns in the future.

“And today,” Lizzette points out, “Theresa is an independent woman.”

*Name changed for privacy