Fear has no place in the home
The front door opens with a creak and footsteps echo down the long empty hall. A woman and her children huddle in the kitchen waiting and wondering what is coming next.
Slowly the steps approach and the youngest child hides his head in his mother lap. She wraps her arms around him and listens for anything that might give a clue to what she is facing.
"It's okay," she says softly. "Don't be afraid."
Even as she whispers the words, she is shaking, fighting the fear that ties her stomach in knots.
Finally the door opens and it begins again - the torment that is life for this family.
No it's not a scene from some horror movie. It is life in a home where domestic violence lives.
Domestic violence - now that is a subject most folks don't really want to discuss. After all, it doesn't happen to anyone they know or love. And surely it isn't a problem in South Alabama where family is so important.
Sadly, domestic violence is a reality for people we know, even though we may not realize it. Often victims don't share what is going on inside their homes. They don't tell family or friends because they fear their abuser, are often ashamed and even blame themselves for the violence.
It is extremely painful to live with the knowledge that the person claiming to love you hurts you.
Domestic violence is real right here in Covington County. Don't believe it - just look at the police reports in the local newspapers and see the number of domestic disturbance calls reported.
For more than 10 years, I have been a board member of Opportunity House, Inc., a domestic violence program serving Covington, Conecuh and Monroe Counties. In those 10 years, victims in these counties have died at the hands of their abusers. Others have suffered serious injuries, both physical and mental. Children watched helplessly as their parents were beaten.
In those years, I also heard the success stories, the stories of victims who put their lives back together free from fear and violence.
Before Opportunity House existed, victims in our county had no place to turn unless they left the area for shelters in Dothan, Montgomery or Mobile, something that is extremely difficult for most of them.
As I said, I watched the progress of the Opportunity House program and I know the hearts of the staff members who are so dedicated to helping the victims of domestic violence. These are people who care about those they serve. Their jobs are not without risk because there is always danger when you are dealing with violence, but it is a risk they are willing to take to help those who need them.
Each year Domestic Violence Awareness Month spotlights the problem, but the need for victims' services does not end with the close of the month.
Opportunity House, like so many other programs in our state, is facing huge budget cuts. Thanks to local support, the program's doors are still open and victims continue to receive services. However, the future, if there are more cuts, is not bright.
The program needs the continued support of the communities it serves. Of course, financial support is crucial, but there are other ways to help. There is always a need for volunteers.
Every year as the candles shine at the annual candlelight vigil for domestic violence victims, I hope a day comes when there will be no need for such an event - a day when no one will be afraid of what waits for them inside the walls of their own home.
Opportunity House works everyday to make that safe, secure future a reality for the victims of domestic violence.
For more information about Opportunity House and to find out how you can help, please call 334-493-4835.