Every nine seconds a woman is assaulted and beaten in the United States. As a result, one out of every three women has been abused. This is not an unfamiliar statistic to the women living at A Friend’s House in Bluffton, IN, or to a member of the non-for-profit organization’s Board of Directors, Heather St. Peters. This is their reality.
The President of the Advisory Board at A Friend’s House is Heather St. Peters, who also serves as Director of the Public Relations Major at Taylor University, Fort Wayne. Prof. St. Peters understands the women’s struggles, situations, and emotions due to her own life experiences.
Born on May 2, 1969, in Hinsdale, Illinois, into a Christian family, Heather St. Peters admits to being a “social deviant by nature.” She became an adamant feminist in her teenage years, upholding values such as equal wages and the Pro-Choice Movement.
However, she led a life of contradictions. Heather was vocal in her feminist opinions but was involved in a physically and sexually abusive relationship from ages 14 to 21. This relationship resulted in a pregnancy, an abortion, as well as a tremendous amount of shame and guilt.
St. Peters, who is now committed to helping women heal from tragic events, did not begin healing from her past relationship until she met her future husband Tim on a blind date on September 16, 1993. Used to being rejected and disrespected by men because of her past, Heather was blunt and honest with Tim from day one. She told him as they walked through Johnny Appleseed Park, “I have been beaten for seven years, slept with two guys, and have had an abortion.”
To this, Tim responded with what Heather calls, “the most beautiful words spoken to me by another human being.” He said, “You are pure, holy, and blameless before God and, so, you are pure, holy, and blameless before me.”
Heather was able to handle and recover from the bad things in her life. The reason, she says, was because, “I am exceptionally blessed. God’s grace has been evident in my life because I have always been exposed to truth.”
Heather’s past experiences have given her sympathy and a passion to help women dealing with similar situations at A Friend’s House. Previous to her involvement with the organization, Heather led small group Bible studies with women who had been abused or had aborted a child.
In November of 2000, Heather was contacted by A Friend’s House and became a member of the Board of Directors, as well as the President of the Advisory Board — overseeing policy, procedures, and personnel.
The Christian organization had been operating as a crisis pregnancy center since 1983, and, in the fall of 2005, the residential facility was opened. Thanks to the donation of an old nursing home and help from 400 volunteers, A Friend’s House has become home to 14 women who are trying to change their lives.
Since 50% of the homeless women and children in the United States are fleeing abuse, organizations like A Friend’s House, that provides shelter and food, are necessary. Out of fear, more than half of battered women stay with their abuser because they do not think they can support themselves and their children on their own. Adding to their fears is the fact that women who leave their abuser are at a 75% higher risk of further abuse than women who stay home.
A Friend’s House is unique in the fact that it is free of charge for the women who live there. The organization takes in women who have been physically or sexually abused, are depressed, have become drug or alcohol dependent, have experienced unplanned pregnancy, or are dealing with eating disorders. Counselor Jennifer Wallace says, “It is not a facility, and it is not an institution. It is a home. It’s their home.”
The application filled out by prospective residents is thirty pages in length and covers the history of sexual activity, family, mental health, debt, crime, and medical exams. Only 10% of the women who inquire completely finish the full application process. After completing the application, the women have a phone interview and then a one-on-one interview with Director Pam Durdahl.
For the first six months, the new residents cannot work, and, for thirty days, they cannot have any contact with the outside world except for their children.
This lengthy process isolates the women who have a desire to change and to improve themselves. They are taught life skills, including how to cook, clean, and do laundry. If the woman is not a high school graduate, it is a priority of A Friend’s House to provide the opportunity for her to complete her GED. The non-for-profit organization also offers instruction in basic nutrition, budgeting, financing, career counseling, and fitness.
Upon acceptance into the program, the women set short and long-term goals that must be accomplished in order to graduate, which normally takes a year. Unfortunately, only 10% of the women actually make it through a full year, often because of behavior problems.
Heather St. Peters wishes that Fort Wayne would realize that “more women face difficulties than folks realize.” A Friend’s House is looking for support and creative ways to partner with local businesses, such as paying for meals, sponsoring special events, and providing crafts.
Three times the amount of money is spent in America to shelter animals versus sheltering women trying to escape domestic violence. A Friend’s House is an organization offering women the world has forgotten, a safe place to live, learn, and be loved. In reflection of her work with A Friend’s House, Heather St. Peters says, “It is about trying to make women better so they can contribute to the community.”
Cassandra Warriner is a public relations and communications student at Taylor University Fort Wayne, and a freelance writer for Church Libraries and Christian Book Previews.
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