“Abrigo” Clients Are More Than A Statistic
By Gerry Luciano | 3/02/2021
When I first set eyes on the two little girls, maybe three and five years old, coming through the doors of Abrigo Centre, my heart immediately began to melt as I suddenly came face-to-face with real-life angels.
Dressed in matching pink jackets, they looked like they were going to church on a sunny Sunday morning, not to Abrigo on a grey, blustery day. They were even more adorable than when I saw them on a Zoom call a few weeks earlier.
I met Grace when she agreed to tell her story to me about the difficulties she and her children faced living with an abusive husband. Excessive alcohol use and physical violence were regular visitors to their daily existence. Grace wanted to tell her story in hopes that other women facing similar circumstances would know that they are not alone, that help is available and that you can start a new life, one without fear, anxiety and desperation.
Interviews Reveal the Real Story
As a communication and fundraising professional, I get the intermittent opportunity in our very busy agency to interview clients to better understand their lived experiences and tell their story.
Every story told by the women in our VAW program leaves me deeply moved and severely troubled by the details of the abuse. Each time it shines a brighter light on the wide-spread prevalence of gender-based violence in society. Without fail, I would think, “How can this happen to such a smart, kind and thoughtful person? No one deserves this.”
Positive changes in people’s lives
Grace’s story is typical of the one’s I’ve heard, although it does her and everyone else a disservice to generalize people’s lives in such a convenient way. What is clear, however, is that the good work carried out by the smart, driven and talented team of counsellors at Abrigo leads to incredibly positive change in people’s lives.
Yet, it’s easy to fall prey, when writing our media releases, reports and donor thank you letters to simply reduce Grace, her children and the thousands of other clients like them to a number, a statistic, or a figure.
“Abrigo helps over 800 VAW clients each year” is a common refrain in just about everything I write about the agency. Simple figures put things in perspective for the reader. People like numbers. They’re easy to understand. But it’s also easy for the writer to rely on them too much and not paint the entire picture.
The Reality Behind Each Client
We should never overlook the individuals who make up those numbers. There’s a story behind each client in every one of our programs or the individual who calls Abrigo for the first time because they’ve lost their job and can no longer feed their family.
I think often of the client in Abrigo’s Life and Hope seniors’ group who lost her daughter at a relatively young age. The deep pain she carried was self-evident but she came to the group to be with her peers to try, if only for a few fleeting moments, to forget about her unimaginable loss. She’s far more than just one of 200 in the group.
How to develop healthy relationships
There’s the young woman I interviewed who was born into a dysfunctional family, lived through an early life of sexual abuse, dropped out of school and turned to drugs to ease the pain. Coming to Abrigo turned her life around. She gave credit to her counsellor for steering her into college after ten years and learned how to develop healthy relationships instead of unhealthy ones. She too is far more than just one of 1,800 in our Youth Outreach program.
As Grace was leaving, I walked with her to her car, our arms full with boxes. After everything was tucked away she turned and joyfully said, “I wish I could give you a hug, but I shouldn’t because of COVID.” I immediately wanted to shout back, “Yeah, you and your kids are awesome. I want to give you a hug too.” Alas, I knew I couldn’t. Instead, after what seemed to be a few painfully long seconds, I awkwardly mumbled, “Ahh, yes.”
Some individuals embrace people, opportunities, and life anew. Others prefer to embrace the safety and anonymity of numbers. As much as I try, I’m still not sure in which camp I belong.
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