Laverne thanks Catholic Social Services for helping her out in her moment of need. When the mother of three escaped her abusive partner in early 2012, she found refuge at LaSalle, a second-stage shelter operated by CSS in downtown Edmonton.
She and her now 11-year-old son spent a full year at LaSalle recovering from physical, emotional and financial abuse at the hands of her partner, a violent alcoholic who beat her up constantly.
On Oct. 22 Laverne, who only gave her first name, joined several CSS officials and shelter staff for a news conference at LaSalle to launch CSS' 30th annual Sign of Hope fundraising campaign.
At the news conference, Edmonton lawyer and Sign of Hope volunteer Carole Anctil-Michalysyhn, chair of the 2013 Sign of Hope campaign, called on Albertans to donate generously to Sign of Hope so that "Catholic Social Services can continue to offer help and hope to people in need in our communities."
She said although many of the 130 programs operated by CSS receive Sign of Hope monies, several key ministries like LaSalle still rely heavily upon campaign funds for its continued operation.
LaSalle receives 80 per cent of its $450,000 operational budget from Sign of Hope, which this year is looking to raise $2.87 million. The remainder comes from government and rent paid by residents. Currently, 11 women and 23 children are receiving services at LaSalle.
Stephen Carattini, CEO of CSS/CCS, said the success of Sign of Hope is critical to the health of LaSalle.
"This particular program is essentially 95 per cent supported by private donations and without those private donations we would conceivably have to begin to cut back on services; we obviously hope that's not the case," he said in an interview. "We hope the community will continue to help us support this vital ministry."
LaSalle is a second-stage shelter where women and children can live up to one year while they recover from the violence they have experienced and learn to live in a home that is violence-free, program manager Liz John-West told reporters.
It provides multiple social support services to the residents as well as workshops on parenting, budgeting, self-esteem and healthy relationships, she said.
Women also meet with aboriginal elders regularly and have access to psychologists. "La Salle staff also support the women in attending medical, legal and social service appointments."
Children are assigned a child or youth care worker who works closely with them to ensure they are enrolled in school and receive appropriate assessments and services.
Once a family leaves, LaSalle works with them to ensure a smooth transition into the community.
In the last year, the occupancy rate of LaSalle was 93 per cent. "We are never empty," John-West said. "On the average we get at least three phone calls a week from families who want to come into LaSalle. It's a good indicator that the need for second-stage shelters is a significant need."
Referrals to LaSalle come from first-stage emergency shelters, police, hospitals and social service agencies.
In Alberta, there are 40 first-stage emergency shelters, where women can stay for up to 21 days, and 10 second-stage shelters.
Statistics provided at the news conference show nearly 13,000 women and children stayed in Alberta's shelters between April 1, 2011 and March 31, 2012.
John-West said the success of the Sign of Hope campaign is critical so that LaSalle "can continue to move forward and support families to live a violence-free life."
Laverne, a native of Saskatchewan, spent time in various first-stage shelters before she arrived at LaSalle. When she left last March, staff supported her in getting a subsidized home in Edmonton which she shares with her son.
Her two other adult children live on their own.
One of her daughters has kidney problems and is waiting for a transplant, which is why Laverne came to Edmonton three years ago.
Here she met and started living with a man who proved to be abusive. "He drank and his family lived right above us, so we got negative support from them to abuse."
Tired of the beatings, Laverne ran away to a woman's shelter with her son. A member of her partner's family went to the shelter to harass them, questioning her son who was only eight then.
She left the shelter and went to an apartment. The harassment continued, with people entering her suite when she was not there. "I figured it was the guy who I used to be with."
Afraid for her safety, Laverne and son picked up their clothes and went to a women's shelter again. She was referred to LaSalle in March 2012.
"I got tired of the abuse because I had seen it in my life growing up," she said. In fact, all her past relationships had been abusive.
"They didn't look like they were abusive or that they had addictions until I got into the relationship deep enough to the point where I was pregnant and I couldn't run," she said.
At LaSalle, Laverne's life changed significantly. "I got mentally healthy and emotionally healthy," she said, wiping her tears.
"My son was really withdrawn because of all the violence he had witnessed but now is okay and very happy."
People can contribute to Sign of Hope online until Dec. 31 by accessing www.SignofHope.ab.ca on the web or calling 780-439-HOPE to make a donation.