“If I think about it, I’ve never really had a safe place. I’ve been on my own pretty much from the beginning. I had to raise myself.”
Nicole met Rick when she was nineteen, and it seemed like things were starting to click for the first time. He had a good job and promised her she would never have to go without. She started thinking about going to school. She wanted to become a dental hygienist.
Rick told her there was time for all that. She didn’t need to get a job, he said; he wanted to take care of her.
Rick got laid off when the pandemic hit. He started driving for a rideshare company at night, but money was still tight and Rick started to get nasty at home. With so much of the world still closed down, there was nowhere for Nicole to go to get some space until he’d start work.
And then Nicole discovered she was pregnant. “I’d always wanted to be a mom. Having Yolani was like a dream come true. I thought I was giving her something better than I had had growing up. And for a while, it was. It was good.”
At first, Rick was excited to have a family and Nicole got pregnant again. This time, the violence didn’t stop.
Nicole went into labor alone. Rick had been gone for days and she couldn’t get in touch with him. The labor and delivery nurse was the first person Nicole ever confided in about what was going on at home. She knew she couldn’t go back there.
“I needed to get out of there for my kids. I just didn’t know where to go. I had no one. My friends, my so-called family – they were all Rick’s.”
Two days postpartum, with Yolani and baby Joriel in tow, Nicole arrived at the RESPOND shelter.
Will you make a gift this spring? With your help, a young family like Nicole’s can get a fresh start.
And that’s not all.
RESPOND is launching a program specifically designed for young parents like Nicole who are facing the impossible trade-off between living with continued abuse or becoming homeless. Through comprehensive supportive services and rental assistance, we can ensure these young families have a roof over their head and so much more, long after they’ve left shelter.
In the meantime, Yolani plops down on the pink quilt in her new bedroom, “I am smiling, mama!”
“I love it when you smile,” Nicole says, hugging Yolani close, with Joriel cradled in her other arm.
Thanks to friends like you, Nicole has found a safe place to heal with her little family. And she has found camaraderie like she’s never felt before. With half a dozen children under the age of five, giggles and cries echo throughout the shelter’s common space. Together, the mothers have built a community, sharing in cooking and childcare, swapping outgrown baby clothes and advice for soothing little ones in the night.
“My own mother wasn’t around. Here, I have moms, I have sisters.”
RESPOND owes so much to its foremothers, who came together to envision a world free from violence, where survivors were believed and supported. I am motivated by these moms and my own every day. Thank you for joining me – for joining us – in this work.
Wishing you a happy spring!
P.S. Thank you for supporting RESPOND today! Visit our donation page to get started.