“Is this it?” I wonder. We had taken so many turns since leaving the University Park area that I was completely turned around and had no idea where we were. It is 7:30 a.m. and the sun has not yet risen. In the darkness of the morning, the building looks like the hybrid of a railroad station and Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. The only sound I can hear is the crushing of leaves at my feet and the gentle swish of my Nike shorts as I walk with my friends to the door.
The group of ten of us wait in silence at the door while an Alpha Chi Omega sister operates the intercom. “Hi! We are from SMU and we are here to serve breakfast,” she says. With a beep, we are let in the doors of Genesis Women’s Shelter.
Genesis Women’s Shelter, which houses sixteen women and children at any given time, is a six-week service that provides shelter for women who are victims of domestic violence. One in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime and Genesis Women’s Shelter helps to spread awareness about this issue.
The building and shelter has a secret address in order to remain confidential and to keep its residents safe.Help and housing is free for those women and children in need.
Women and children often arrive at the shelter after escaping from dangerous situations and abusive partners. The mission of Genesis is to “end the epidemic of domestic violence against women and children by stopping individual victimization and reducing the devastating impact of family violence through safety, shelter and expert services to battered women and their children.” Despite the desperate and terrifying nature of the situations of those at the shelter, the attitudes of the women and children we met were positive and hopeful. The gratitude of the women and children at the shelter was touching and unforgettable.
A warm and friendly woman by the name of Dabney greets us at the door and leads us down the hall and into the kitchen, where we set up for breakfast.
Dabney, who has worked at the shelter since 2007, works every day to fulfill Genesis’ mission. “Anything they need we have access to,” she says. “We try to make their stay here be as, you know, as easy as possible because it’s a hard transition.”
During the six-week stay at Genesis Women’s Shelter, every woman and child is each assigned a counselor and a case manager. Genesis provides services such as masters-level counseling, case management, job readiness, play therapy, an on-site school, hotline, and legal aid, all free of charge. The women are given a private bedroom with all of the necessary items to live in the shelter. “Sometimes, they will arrive with nothing,” Dabney says.
Once they have completed their six-week stay at the shelter, they complete an application for the apartments next door to the shelter, called Annie’s House. “One of the qualifications once at Annie’s House is that they need to have an income, so once their time is over there they have to be self-sufficient once they go back out into the community,” Dabney explains. At Annie’s House, the women do not have a curfew like they do at the shelter and are expected to take more responsibility and initiative.
When I came to SMU in the fall of 2011, I was unsure that I would join a sorority at all, but I knew that one of the main reasons that I was looking to join a sorority was the philanthropic component. Once I joined Alpha Chi and started getting involved, I realized how much work and effort the girls put into spreading awareness about domestic violence and fundraising for Genesis Women’s Shelter in Dallas. Seeing the changes happening in our community as a result is absolutely inspiring.
I couldn’t be more proud that Alpha Chi Omegas work nationally to fight domestic violence. Nothing feels better than knowing that I have had a hand in the amazing work of AXOs in colleges throughout the U.S. The dedication and the passion of my sisters is contagious. Every service of every volunteer and every penny given to the shelter is returned with immense appreciation – no matter how big or small.
After these pancake breakfast trips to the shelter, I was hooked. Seeing the happiness on these folks’ faces was, is and will always be my “Why Alpha Chi” and “Why Couture” moment. The women and children at Genesis were so positive and gracious, despite all that they had been through. It renewed my faith that even the service of one can help change the world. Domestic violence is not simply a woman’s issue. It is a human issue and we must all do our part if we want to end it.
By Ally Van Deuren (B.F.A. Theatre, B.A. Journalism, ’15)