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Group Helps Survivors Of Violence Surviving Storms Of Violent Relationships Needs Support

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Sally Clorina (left) and Dr. Johnnie Martin pose with some of the tiles that tell stories of survivors at the Healing Garden on the Purple Martin Trail in Rutherfordton. The garden, picnic area, swing, and plantings happened with the help of the Town O

If you've been abused, some friends are waiting on you.

Dr. Johnnie Martin and Sally Clorina have run a support group for survivors of the storm of domestic violence for seven years and built many community projects around their work. They group also includes others who offer a hand up.

If you'll come see them, they'll be glad to help.

Over the past seven years, they have created a quilt, collected stories, encouraged journaling and otherwise created projects to encourage the long-term healing of women who have survived the storms.

Their most ambitious project so far is the Healing Garden along the Purple Martin Trail in Rutherfordton. They are effusive in their praise for town folks who made the project a success.

Mayor Jimmy Dancy almost got a shout of praise. "Oh, nothing would have happened without our mayor," Martin said.

Support from the town was superlative. City Manager Doug Barrick, Maintenance Supervisor Keith Ward, and Cory Hall all got behind the building of a picnic shelter, placement of memory tiles, and a plexiglass table top for each of the two picnic tables.

But the two group leaders weren't finished thanking people. David Pratt, Steve Stimac and Megan Cogdell of Lowe's of Forest City coordinated the donations of materials and planting of flowers and other plants in the garden.

Cogdell created one of the memory tiles on the picnic tables, a painting of a lotus blossom and fireflies. She wrote of her tile, "The symbolism of the lotus flower is related to how it rises from the muck, and while its roots are in the mud, it lies beautifully on the water. Despite the difficulties and struggles of life we can also rise above them and be magnificent. The fireflies symbolize wonder and joy! Amid darkness, they grow steady with hope. That represents that which is inside us that allows us to shine."

They also are grateful to Sheriff Chris Francis and two detectives, Andrienne Wallace and James Keever. "All three have met with us and encouraged the women we work with," Martin said. They have lowered fears of law officers and courts.

Martin has a notebook full of laminated meditations on the tiles, words of hope and sadness and love and joy. In the front of the notebook, she has written, "If anyone hurts, we all hurt."

She wants you to know about the warning signs, the red flags that indicate violence is coming from a boyfriend or husband. And yes, there are men who are abused by women, but the number is much smaller and the education and support group only serves women.

Among the warning signs are a man who:

Moves too quickly toward a serious relationship, says, "I love you," before you are ready to hear it.

Is a smooth talker,

Is extremely jealous,

Isolates, asks that you not spend so much time with friends and family, wants you all to himself,

Attempts to control what you wear, who you see, what you do,

Is always looking for others to blame when something goes wrong,

Abuses drugs or alcohol, but this does not always show up,

Has unrealistic expectations, expects you to be perfect,

The list goes on and those who attend meetings of the group can see the full list and get other information about the dynamics of abuse.

The problem is so common that national statistics show more women have died at the hands of husbands and boyfriends than Americans were killed in either Afghanistan or Iraq since 2001.

Domestic violence was the inciting problem that led to the deaths of three Rutherford County law officers in 1979. Owen Messersmith and Roy Huskey died responding to a domestic violence call; and Trooper Pete Peterson died pursuing their killer.

Martin mentioned that one in three women will experience domestic violence at some time in their lives.

Martin and Clorina emphasize the positive even as they work in one of the country's grimmest public health issues. They are in it for the long haul and many of the women in their group are years out of violent relationship.

"One woman has survived more than 20 years, but is still a critical member of our group, an encouragement to the other women," Clorina said.

The two group leaders also want to answer the question, "Why do they stay?"

Obviously many survivors of these storms are financially vulnerable. But others have few options due to living far away from family, friends and feeling socially isolated. Do abusers select women who are poor and isolated?

"Absolutely," Martin said.

One woman said, "It's my house. My pictures are hanging on the wall. My children have grown up in this house. Why should I be the one who has to leave?"

Also Martin pointed out that among the saddest reasons women stay is fear.

"They have been threatened and threatened. They have been told if you ever leave, I will kill you. Most of the women who die are killed after they leave," Martin said.

One North Carolina woman fled to Maryland. When she applied for food stamps, the government contacted her husband for child support. He drove to Maryland and killed his wife and his children.

Still, there is hope. The healing garden features a mailbox called, "The Soul Speaks." In it are two journals where over 50 people have recorded their stories of abuse and survival. Just like after a hurricane, some die, but many more survive and thrive.

One woman wrote of her tile on the picnic table, "My tile represents how lonely, insecure, hurt, and broken I felt. I has been ten years and I am finally starting to love myself and my life. Through my journey of darkness, I have finally started to see the Light. And if I can make it, you can, too."

Another wrote, "There is always light at the end of the tunnel. You can always find somebody to talk to."

One tile shows a black hole and a ladder The painter wrote, "I slowly started to climb out of that hole, up what I felt was a ladder. As time passes, I see bright skies and moving up in life. I even have a full-time job now!"

The stories come one after another. A book about the group is in the works.The group has worked with roughly 50 storm survivors in the past seven years. They have created several public projects to celebrate the light at the end of the tunnel. Call Sally Clorina at 828-245-1390 ext. 104 if you're a woman who'd like to attend the next meeting.

If you need help, don't hesitate to call the PATH shelter at 828-245-8595 for shelter and protection or Sally Clorina for details on the Domestic Violence Education and Support group meeting location and details at 828-245-1390 ext. 104. Sally is also the contact if you want to purchase a brick paver to support the group. The pavers cost $19 and can be engraved with up to 18 characters including spaces.

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