Cheryl Lewis of Bliss was recently awarded the Jeanette Rankin Foundation Scholarship of $2,000, which will permit her to switch from part-time to full-time studies to obtain a degree in paralegal studies at Genesee Community College. The Batavian sat down with Cheryl earlier this week to talk about her studies, her struggle to escape an abusive relationship and her plans to give back. Cheryl was kind enough to put that experience in her own words in a follow-up letter, and since I can do no better at expressing her intentions, I've included that complete letter (see below).
"My name is Cheryl. It’s been more than twenty years since I graduated from high school. I would never have dreamed that I’d be in college today. At one time, I was filled with such dreams, such goals. I wanted to make a difference; I wanted to be successful; I wanted to be rich… I wanted it all.
"I thought I had met the man of my dreams, but I was so very wrong. I chose to be with him rather than go to college. The day I made that decision was the day I lost me. I just didn’t know it yet. I am a survivor of domestic violence. After suffering years of emotional and physical abuse I was finally able to escape. I still have the scars, but I also have my freedom.
"My daughter and I had to live in a shelter for battered women and children for a while, but it was there that I suddenly realized that I still do have dreams. Gone was the feeling in the pit of my stomach, the kind that makes you want to cry in self-pity. I looked around me and I saw other women with not only bruises on their bodies, but also on their souls. I knew at that moment that I wanted to make a difference in the lives of these women and others like them.
"Going through the court system with all the legal formalities, I was scared and very confused. There was a lot that had to be done to obtain a restraining order. I knew others had to be just as afraid. Thus, it was my ordeal through the system that gave me the idea to attend college for the purpose of becoming a paralegal. Then I will have the resources to offer assistance to other abused women.
"My ultimate goal is to someday reopen a shelter for domestic violence victims in Wyoming County that was closed due to lack of funds. Within this shelter women and their children will be provided with a safe environment in which they can try to piece together their shattered lives. I hope to provide legal assistance, counseling, resources for finding a new place to live, and a second chance at happiness.
"Over the past two years, I have gone through a tremendous transformation. I no longer feel I am worthless and I am so very proud of getting myself and my daughter out of a dangerous situation. And I do make a difference – in the life of my child. I have an awesome responsibility in making decisions that will shape the life of a precious individual. And I am rich – in love and family. I do have it all. Or at least all I need to have.
"There have been many wonderful people who have helped me along the way. I wouldn’t be where I am now without them. Those individuals have inspired me greatly and I want to emulate them and hopefully make a difference even to just one person."
HERE ARE SOME FACTS AND STATISTICS ABOUT DOMESTIC VIOLENCE:
The most common response to domestic violence – “Why doesn’t she just leave?”
Answer: Shelters are often full, and family, friends, and workplace are frequently less than supportive. Faced with rent and utility deposits, day care, health insurance, and other basic expenses, the woman may feel that she cannot support herself and her children. Moreover, in some instances, the woman may be increasing the chance of physical harm or even death if she leaves an abusive spouse.
A few statistics:
• 85-95% of all domestic violence victims are female.
• Over 500,000 women are stalked by an intimate partner each year.
• 1,232 women are killed each year by an intimate partner.
Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women. What can each of us do?
• Call the police if you see or hear evidence of domestic violence.
• Speak out publicly against domestic violence.
• Take action personally when a neighbor, co-worker, a friend, or a family member is involved or being abused.
• Reach out to support someone whom you believe is a victim of domestic violence.
• Help others become informed, by inviting speakers to your church, professional organization, civic group, or workplace.
• Support domestic violence counseling programs and shelters.
If you or someone you know needs help: National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE
All of the above information and statistics were provided by Cheryl Lewis.