Success Story

Two children smiling at mother

A life saved, because you cared

By | Success Story

In Isabelle’s* home country in central Africa, not every girl was able to go to school, much less complete her education and enter the legal profession. So when she began practicing corporate law after her graduation, she didn’t take anything for granted.

And it got even better. While in law school she developed a relationship with another budding lawyer, Lionel*, and soon after they graduated they became engaged. In 1997, moved to Canada, got married and started their family.

After the births of their son and daughter, Lionel returned to their home country on business. Little did Isabelle know she would never see him again…he seemed to disappear into thin air.

Devastated, lonely and frightened, Isabelle knew she would have to find a way to support herself and her children. Because of language and educational differences she had been unable to practice law in Canada, so she ended up taking a job in a local restaurant in order to put food on the table.

One of the few bright spots was a new friendship with Claude*, a handsome young man from a country in Africa not far from her home. Isabelle and Claude began dating, and within a few months they were sharing a life together with Claude promising that he would take care of her and the children and love them forever.

It wasn’t long, though, before this dream relationship turned into a nightmare. The beatings seemed to come out of nowhere, and this man who had promised to protect Isabelle instead battered her with fists—and with words. “You aren’t worth anything. Something’s wrong with you. You can’t make anything of yourself.”

And with no one else to talk to, she began to believe he was right.

But someone took notice. Isabelle had been attending school to brush up on her English, and her instructor saw troubling signs and began to suspect something was wrong. “Isabelle,” she said, “You are not safe. You must leave before he kills you.”

As Isabelle watched her children cower in fear of Claude’s next rampage, she listened to the encouragement of her instructor. At the very next opportunity, she found the courage to file a police report. The police took her and the children straight to Interval House.

“I will never forget that day,” remembers Isabelle. “I was so frightened and I didn’t know what would happen. I was afraid to turn my back. But the staff kept saying, ‘Everything is going to be okay.’ They didn’t even know me! And they were treating me like I was family!”

“In those first days, the staff assured me that I wasn’t crazy, that I was strong and capable, and that I could make it. But BESS (Building Economic Self-Sufficiency) showed me how I could make it.” During the BESS program, Isabelle learned how to write a resume and a cover letter, how to make the most of the skills she had, and how to work toward her personal goals. “I believe in myself now,” she says with a smile. “Without BESS, that wouldn’t have been possible.”

Isabelle is now settled in her own apartment, working toward the life she dreamed of as she was growing up. And the children? They beg to go back to Interval House on Saturdays to take part in the activities they came to love!

Isabelle wants you to know that you saved her life. In fact, she is now looking for ways to give back, to contribute to the lives of other women in her shoes. “I don’t know how yet, but I will help,” she says. “Please give so that other families still have hope!”

* Real names and some details in this story have been altered to protect Isabelle’s identity.

a young girl embracing mother

What’s a mother to do?

By | Success Story

Mothers and daughters treasure doing many things together…but escaping abusive partners should never have to be one of them. Yet, tragically, finding a path out of violence can be one of the life events that mothers and daughters share.

Cindy* is the 46-year-old mother of four. Married for many years to a chronically controlling husband in her home in the Caribbean, Cindy endured the humiliation and pain of nearly every kind of abuse: emotional, financial, physical. But nothing could have been more painful for this mother than learning one of her daughters was being sexually abused by the same man who was abusing her.

One of the tragedies of domestic abuse is the way survivors and children of abused women can become trapped other abusive sitations. During these violent years, Cindy’s teenage daughter Tianna* became involved with a young man she imagined would protect her from the violence she had experienced. Instead, he became her abuser.

Terrified for both her daughters, Tianna and Ayanna*, Cindy made a decision to flee with her daughters and seek refuge in Canada. Tianna was by this time expecting a baby, and they were both desperate to stop the cycle of violence before yet another generation was affected.

Soon after arriving in the GTA, Cindy and her daughters heard about Interval House. Without other options to keep them safe, they decided to seek help and shelter with us while they navigated a new country, an unfamiliar job market and the maze of resources available to them.

“It was wonderful,” Cindy says. “They took us on a tour, explained all that Interval House does … They fed us a good meal and got us settled in…the staff was immediately like family to us.”

Back home, Cindy was a hairdresser. But she has always had a dream of becoming a truck driver. So staff encouraged her to take the two-week BESS program to brush up on her resume-writing, interviewing and other job skills as the first part of her preparation.

Meanwhile, Tianna, now a new mother herself, enrolled in a training program for office administration and Cindy is helping her with child care. When Tianna finishes her course, Cindy will begin her “Women in Transportation” training program at Microskills.

Both mother and daughter have high praise for the preparation and support they are receiving at Interval House. “Ladies with children need help and we don’t know where else to turn,” Cindy shared. “When we come from abuse we are lost, and when we come here the environment is like family.”

Cindy is a mother and now a grandmother…and every one of her family members has been affected and scarred by domestic abuse. But she took the courageous steps to remove all of them from danger and put them on a path to a new life full of hope.

*not their real names

Toronto skyline

Naledi: New hope in a new land

By | Success Story

She might have been born in Botswana, but in many ways, Naledi was you.

Like so many other girls, Naledi Marope* grew up dreaming of marrying a handsome, kind, successful young man and having a beautiful family. She knew that married life wouldn’t be easy, but she was ready and willing to work hard to see those dreams come true.

So when she married her sweetheart in 1997, she had every reason to look forward to all the good things in life. Jeremy* promised to be a good provider and seemed to share her hopes for a family and a peaceful life together. And at first, their life was blissful…

Two years into the marriage it became all too clear that their life together was to be anything but blissful. In 2005, after tolerating abuse even through two pregnancies Naledi divorced Jeremy and took her two young daughters away from their violent father. But the abuse continued with Jeremy stalking her. Naledi had to escape, leaving her daughters behind with family.

Naledi first heard about Interval House’s BESS (Building Economic Self-Sufficiency) program when she visited a settlement agency. On September 7, 2010, Naledi called Interval House and began the BESS program the following week.

Naledi believes that BESS must have been created especially for her. She completed the two-week program, including some rigorous mock interviews that prepared her for a challenging job search. She kept in close touch with our Job Developer while she looked for work in the nonprofit field, and just one month later she landed a full-time position with a nonprofit organization whose goals are close to her heart.

Still, life isn’t easy. Naledi is working on bringing her daughters to Canada. Soon they’ll be together again, pursuing the peaceful life that was so elusive in the land they love.

Meanwhile, Naledi goes to work each day working for a foundation that exists to support shelters similar to Interval House. She loves contributing to the causes that help other women going through the same things she experienced. “When I see the newsletters from the shelters, it makes me want to work even harder to give women the courage to move forward like I have,” Naledi says.

Naledi is a hero…to her daughters, her coworkers and the women she assists through the foundation that employs her. But her heroes are the friends and donors of Interval House who cared enough to give her the tools to build a new life – not the life she dreamed of as a child, perhaps, but one that gives her and her family a bright, joyful future.

You can read Naledi’s recent email to Interval House by clicking here.

*not her real name

Two women talking and smiling

Beyhan’s Story

By | Success Story

“Why would you settle for a job like that with all your education and experience?”

At first, Beyhan didn’t know how to answer her son. Yes, she had experience in business management and bookkeeping, and had graduated with an honours certificate as an accounting clerk.

But she also had endured so many years of abuse that her self-worth was shredded.

Beyhan became part of Interval House’s BESS (Building Economic Self Sufficiency) program, a two-week workshop where women complete a skills inventory, learn to write a resume and cover letter, conduct a job search, prepare for an interview and develop life skills.

Graduates have a 75% employment rate within their field and a 90% job retention rate.

“I was so impressed with the teaching. In BESS, I learned to speak the language of the job posting and make sure I answer their requirements. I discovered my qualifications and transferrable skills for the first time. After one week in the program, I felt I could apply for any position.”

Upon completion of the program, Beyhan and the other graduates received two sets of polished and professional clothes to help them maintain their new-found confidence and to compliment the knowledge and skills they now possess.

“When you are in an abusive relationship for so long, even if you have a strong personality, it takes away your courage. I was underestimating myself and now I’m no longer afraid. BESS gave me self-confidence. Any woman coming out of an abusive relationship needs this program.”

Our heart-felt congratulations to Beyhan for being named BESS valedictorian!

From Our Mailbox: A letter from a BESS graduate

By | Success Story

You have no idea how you helped me with the course I attended last year. I took your advice and your words of encouragement and faced the world. In short, I applied for a job and I got it! I nailed the interview. I was told by the interviewer that I seemed to know more than they do. I tailored the interview to focus on my volunteering – for the past eight months as a peer counsellor. Now I will be a Peer Support Counsellor on a new project at a women’s organization that works in collaboration with five other organizations.

Fazia, I am so excited and happy I attended the B.E.S.S. course. I just wanted to make you realize that your program is so good and to keep teaching other women. May God bless you – for you are not selfish but willing to share your knowledge. May you accomplish your resolutions for the New Year and enjoy! – 2010 BESS Graduate

A New Home

By | Success Story

When Alex and Emma* arrived at Interval House several years ago, Rubina Khan, Children’s Counsellor Advocate, remembers, they cried and begged to leave. Their mother had been afraid to tell them where they were going and that they weren’t going back home. At 11 and 13, Alex and Emma wanted no part of the shelter or the teasing they knew they would take when their friends found out.

Rubina knew she needed to give them time. She gently took them downstairs to the playroom and let them share with her how they felt. “Please give yourself a few days,” Rubina urged them, “and then I’ll ask you again.”

When in the next few days they both did a complete turnaround and began feeling at home at Interval House, their mother was surprised, but Rubina wasn’t. She’s seen many summers of kids moving through the shelter, and she sensed that Emma and Alex would soon make friends and flourish in the atmosphere of safety and camaraderie.

She was right. Now all grown up and attending college, both Alex and Emma are still in touch. “They think Interval House is amazing,” Rubina says. “They still come back to visit, and they attend the picnic for former residents each year.” And every year, she reminds them with a grin about how hard they tried not to stay.

*Not their real names

“Empress Lyrics” Sings a New Song

By | Success Story

Building a new life can seem like a never-ending set of challenges, but for one beautiful singer, Interval House was in it for the long haul.

More than a decade ago, Denise Williams, better known to her fans in the vibrant world of Canadian and Jamaican Reggae music as “Empress Lyrics,” found a much-needed refuge at Interval House. The mother of two young sons, Denise felt trapped in an abusive relationship with the boys’ father. One day, while rehearsing for an upcoming gig with her band, her abuser burst in and hurled an industrial strength drain cleaner on her, one of her sons and other band members.

Despite painful third-degree burns, and desperate for safety for herself and her sons, Denise used a contact number she obtained from a victim’s hotline and made her final escape to Interval House. “Because of my injuries I was unable to keep my boys with me,” she recalls. “Thank God my parents were there to help.”

Denise spent the next three months putting her life back together with the help of the caring staff and a new sense of security at the shelter. She remembers being comforted by the structure and the schedules as well as the presence of monitors, alarms and cameras. “At that point I needed help with the simplest things, like filling out forms and getting bus tickets, not to mention getting counseling and finding housing. The staff were always there for me.”

Holidays are painful times for families escaping abuse. But Interval House did their best to make the Christmas season a time of joy and caring. Denise and her sons were added to a sponsorship list and given very special gifts. She remembers warm hoodies putting smiles on the boys’ faces and she received a brand new set of sheets for her bed.

As any woman escaping domestic abuse soon learns, rebuilding a life is an arduous journey, one that often brings setbacks and disappointments. Although Denise did escape her abuser, she did not escape so quickly the baggage from her past that had kept her with him. A sense of hopelessness and a lack of confidence in her own resources led her into major depression, keeping her from being the woman and mother she longed to be.

Even then, Interval House was there.

“Fazia [Mohammed, Client Services Coordinator with Interval House] continued to call me every month,” says Denise. “She encouraged me over and over to enroll in the B.E.S.S. program. She knew I needed skills that would help keep me moving ahead. People need to be reminded!”

Through her difficult bout with depression, Denise never let go of hope. She always sensed that her struggle was not without a purpose. Still, breaking the hold of depression was not easy.

After hitting what she admits was “rock bottom,” Denise answered Interval House’s challenge to take the next steps in the long road to healing. She was able to rise above her depression and is now gaining a continuing education that has helped her with self-presentation, resume skills, dressing for interviews and, most important, believing in herself. She looks forward to a course in financial management as well as others that will keep her progressing in her career and in her mission to help others.

Today, Denise is all about sharing a positive message with the world and with young women in particular. Many of her original lyrics spring from her personal experience with abuse and recovery — “Woman Scorned,” “Deadbeat Dad,” and “Never Keep Me Down” are some of her more recognizable songs.

Not surprisingly, songwriting has always been therapy for Denise. And unlike many in her industry, she has a commitment to keep her lyrics clean, uplifting and positive as an example and inspiration to those who share her struggles. More significant than any performances, competitions or music video is her sense that she has valuable work to do so young women will value themselves and avoid violent relationships.

Denise’s journey through domestic abuse and recovery has given her wisdom and insight as she helps others on the same road. She shares this advice with women who need to flee an abuser:

  • Make a plan. Leaving is easier when you’ve worked out the details beforehand.
  • Find support. Get the number of Interval House and keep it with you.
  • Leave when things are quiet. Don’t wait for the next storm.
  • Love yourself enough to leave. Don’t settle for less than you deserve.
  • Don’t go back.


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