Editor’s Note: October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Domestic Violence is a problem that knows no socioeconomic or educational divide, marital status, or specific age. It can affect us all, from your neighbors across the street to your neighbors across town.
Cathy Garner was once a victim of domestic violence who survived three years of homelessness and overcame alcoholism. With the help of the Center for Women in Transition (a Champaign agency that provides housing and supportive services for families experiencing homelessness or who are victims of domestic violence), Garner put her life back together successfully. She has raised two daughters, 24-year-old Angel Zanarini and 23- year-old Felicia Ceaser, and has been sober almost 18 years. Cathy works as as a server trainer at the Cracker Barrel in Urbana and also works part-time at the Atlanta Bread Company. Garner is also giving back to the community; last spring, she organized a “baby shower” to benefit clients at the Center for Women in Transition that raised money as well as provided needed items.
See why we think Cathy Garner is a Chambana mom to know.
A: My second year of sobriety I married poorly and lost my section 8 housing due to renovations at the place I lived(Decatur). In other words, they got rid of all of that housing. I had 30 days to move. No money (living paycheck to paycheck) abusive husband and two children=homelessness. We were living in hotel rooms, and took a chance and drove to Champaign-Urbana looking for housing. I found CWIT in the phone book. Made a few calls, and we were in within a few weeks.
Q: What got you through the difficult times when you were in a shelter and suffering through an abusive relationship?
The community at CWIT and the wonderful community in Champaign helped me through. They helped me to see where my priorities were messed up. I started to grow up, and did not feel so alone anymore. I was also safe at the shelter. Though it took me awhile to break off the relationship, it finally worked.
Q: What have you taught your daughters about your experience in an abusive relationship?
I have taught my girls this, ““Never allow someone to be your priority while allowing yourself to be their option”—-Unknown. I also have taught them to love themselves and to remember that abuse of any kind is uncalled for.
Q: What do you think is important for children to know about Domestic Violence Awareness month?
Some children may not understand that they are in a domestic violent family, theirs might be the only normal they know. The more we teach, and reach out, the more knowledge kids acquire. They need to know that there is help available.
Q: We love the baby shower idea. How did you come up with that idea and how was the outcome?
I never had a baby shower before. When I was having children, I was a gutter drunk. I had no family that wanted to be around me(that is different today) and having children was not a welcome thought. They knew I would neglect them. I had no family in the hospital to share in my moments of joy. So, I decided to put on my baby shower and celebrate with family and friends my wonderful children. My life has been blessed. So, I thought let’s also have all the proceeds go to the CWIT!!!! We come to shelters with practically nothing, so every little bit helps. PLUS IT WAS FUN!!! My sister, my brother and my father’s widow were all there!!!! 2000 diapers, wipes, bottles, diaper genies…and probably $2000 dollars in cash, plus gift certificates!!!! THE SHELTER HAD CHRISTMAS IN APRIL!!!!!
Q: What advice do you have for women who might be in need of help?
I tell all women that cross my path in these situations to continue to reach out for help. Being in abusive relationships can be brainwashing. There is help out there, but we have to work hard at it. Homelessness is very scary, and I wish we all could have more affordable housing. If, they have left their relationship, it takes six months to a year of healing to see the light and to really see the abuse. It takes that long for a spouse to also receive help. Let us not be the victims anymore!!!!! With the help of professionals, we can become stronger. Also, if the homelessness is due to our drinking or drugging habits….GET HELP!!! We need to stop the cycle of violence sometime…WHY NOT YOU!!! It is not easy, but we must take action!!!
Q: What is your favorite thing about living in Champaign-Urbana?
I love Champaign-Urbana for the kindness it has always given me. This community believed in me before I believed in myself. I will forever love the Center for Women in Transition, for they helped me to become the person, co-worker, friend and mother I am today. I have been given many gifts, and this community gave me my life back!!!!!