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With the donation of $6,000 from Eric Berger Insurance to the Family Justice Center are, from left: Jen Preyer, Chris Hughes, Eric Berger and Kelly Gast.
With the donation of $6,000 from Eric Berger Insurance to the Family Justice Center are, from left: Jen Preyer, Chris Hughes, Eric Berger and Kelly Gast.

Eric Berger Insurance donates $6,000 to Family Justice Center

Sat, Dec 23rd 2023 07:00 am

Story and Photo by Alice Gerard

Senior Contributing Writer

The holiday season is a time of joy and gift-giving and of sharing for most. But, for victims of domestic violence, the holidays can be stressful and difficult.

“This time of year really is critical. We think of the holidays as a very happy time for most people,” said Kelly Gast, a Family Justice Center outreach specialist. “But there is a segment of the population that experiences the holidays as severe trauma, for whom gift giving is not a possibility. For some, (the domestic abuse) could calm down for a little bit. But, for those that it doesn’t calm down for, it can escalate badly.

“We’ve had some horrific situations, which we’re seeing right now. Oftentimes, the holidays are ruined. It could be stressful, a financial burden, alcohol abuse, drug abuse. All these things escalate at this time of year because of all those stressors. But there is also that power and control at this time of year. And taking away from somebody. We’ve had situations where a woman was beaten up (by her abuser, using the family Christmas tree as a weapon). All the Christmas decorations and everything were trashed. Gifts trashed.”

The Family Justice Center offers help and support for victims of domestic violence year-round, and there are extra supports offered during the holiday season. Donations, such as Monday’s donation from Eric Berger Insurance of $6,000, really make a difference in providing a happy holiday season for domestic violence survivors, Gast said.

“When we get gifts like this, it means everything, because we can assess the most emergent, as a situation of the day or the time or the month, as opposed to grant funding and other funding, where everything is very specific and geared toward a certain purpose,” Gast explained. “Our advocates and our director of operations know what the most pressing need is, and we can begin to address that. The unsolicited open-ended gifts mean the world. This is how agencies like us keep going and how we’re able to serve those in need.

“When Eric Berger came forward, it pulled on our heartstrings because this time of year is critical for victims of abuse. These are people who now have to start over from scratch. When we get generous gifts like this, we can help people emerge from that situation and give them some hope back at a time when it was all taken away.”

Family Justice Center CEO Catharine Miles-Kania said, “What it immediately means to them is that they matter.

“You have to remember that, when you are going through a domestic violence situation, the psychology is so complex. The domestic violence is so complex that you really start to lose yourself in the process. You really feel like you no longer matter. You don’t matter to society, you don’t matter to yourself, your partner, your children, etc. So, when something like this – and in this significant size – comes forward to an organization that’s helping to serve the needs of survivors of domestic violence, that individual is immediately struck with ‘I matter.’

“The other is, when funding like this comes, and we are able to provide those wrap-around services, such as food or essential needs or shampoo or toothpaste, etc., remember, these are people fleeing violent and urgent situations. So, when we’re able to provide them with those wrap-around items, that’s one less thing they have to worry about. It’s one less thing that they have to carry with them when they leave, when they come to us. They get all these services under one roof in a very holistic way. They’re able to leave with dignity intact with those care package items of ‘You matter. These things will help get you through the next couple of days or weeks, until we come up with a plan to get themselves immersed into a hope-filled life.”

Not only are domestic violence victims lost to themselves, they may be lost to a community that is unaware that domestic violence is going on behind closed doors in their neighborhoods.

“I didn’t know any of this existed on the Island,” said Jen Preyer, who has worked for Eric Berger Insurance for 17 years. “I live in a bubble. It tears at my heart that someone hit someone with a Christmas tree and did all that to them. I can’t even fathom in my mind that that happens.”

Eric Berger said, “The main thing is that I truly believe in the Family Justice Center. They do great things and there’s more to come. I am dumbfounded as to how many … mainly women … who get caught in this type of thing, where they have no place to go. I think of them very highly and wish them all the luck.”

One way the Family Justice Center helps survivors of domestic violence realize they matter is with the Holiday Hope Shop.

“The Holiday Hope Shop allows any of our clients, who have been with us for the last year, to have the opportunity to come in,” Gast said. “It’s set up like a store, but they shop for free. They can get personal care items like always, but they can get a gift for themselves, a gift for their children. They can get several gifts for their children or a parent or someone who is helping them get back on their feet. With what they are going through, they may have no money, no house, and they may have no way to provide. This helps get some autonomy back.

“We could use funds like (the donation from Eric Berger Insurance) for providing gift cards and things like that. Gift cards in our program are important because they give autonomy back to a survivor. Everyone is giving you something. Now you get to go to the store, and you get to pick out what food you’re going to feed your children. It’s been a while since you’ve been able to do that. Or it’s been a while since you've been able to pick out an article of clothing for your child. Or a pair of shoes. Or whatever that essential need is. Just to be able to get them assimilated again. So, there’s a lot that happens.”

Miles-Kania said, “A donation like this is significant enough for the Family Justice Center that it really does provide hope and opportunity for those who are working tirelessly to improve their lives. Somebody who is trying to leave an urgent and dangerous situation. For them, to be able to see that there are people out there who are allies in our work and have the spirit of philanthropy flowing through them. Because they believe there is hope on the other end of this. It really does mean a lot, not just to the staff, but also the people we serve.”

Gast said, “After the holidays last year, there was a woman who hadn’t been able to provide a warm meal for her family for a long time. She was able to come to the Holiday Hope Shop and pick up a rice cooker, and she sobbed. This is the first time that she’s been able to take something with her so she can provide a warm meal.

“These are all donations. We count on that. We count on the kindness of others.”

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