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Where abuse victims go for help

Support Network offers shelter, services to battered women and children

Growing up, Mary was told by her mother never to discuss the domestic abuse that occurred in their home. So for years she kept it secret, and told no one about how her father beat her mother -- the punching, kicking and other abuse.

Decades later, when her daughter's boyfriend became abusive, Mary had a different outlook, and knew the best thing was to seek help right away. And she knew just where to go: the Support Network for Battered Women.

As the only domestic violence agency in northern Santa Clara County, the Support Network provides legal, counseling and support services for 4,000 to 5,000 battered women and their children each year. The nonprofit also maintains an emergency shelter at a secret location for women who need to escape danger and make a new start.

Mary said her daughter, Laura (both names have been changed to protect their identities), at first was reluctant and scared to contact the Support Network. "She said, 'I am not going to tell anyone,'" Mary said, "'I am just going to deal with it myself.'"

But even after Laura ended the relationship, the abuse continued. When the ex-boyfriend started threatening Mary and her family, Mary pleaded with her daughter.

"Please listen to me," Mary told her. "Know your life is in danger."

Several weeks ago, Laura made her first appointment with the Support Network. She has been using the group's legal and counseling services for nearly a month now.

"She is not a crier and she actually cried," Mary said of Laura. "It's not how much you know, it's how much you care. They see the picture, they care."

The nonprofit, located in Sunnyvale, has trained counselors on site and provides its services on a sliding scale. No one is turned away. That's why the Support Network, one of seven recipients of the Voice Holiday Fund, can particularly benefit from readers' donations.

Among its many services, the Support Network runs a clothing and supplies drive. Its shelter houses about 20 women and children at a time families can stay in these dormitories for up to 45 days, according to David Duran, the agency's program director and it offers a 24-hour free help line in both English and Spanish.

This year, the Mountain View Chamber of Commerce named the Support Network for Battered Women its nonprofit of the year.

"Our services are in constant demand," Duran said.

Two full-time employees run the shelter during the day, but Duran said the nonprofit is hoping to expand its services to hire staff for evening and night shifts. Donations from the Voice Holiday Fund will go toward providing these additional services.

"It often isn't in the middle of the day when a trauma arises," he said.

Duran said the Support Network is seeing more clients due to the economic downturn, and is looking for additional funding to address the problem.

"Tighter economic times lead to higher demands," Duran said.

The agency also offers community outreach services, including home visits for clients after they leave the shelter and educational programs for teenagers. Laura Guthridge runs the STAR program, and last year she and student volunteers reached 3,500 teenagers.

All of these programs, Duran said, allow the agency to reach a large population.

"It is rare folks who just need one service," he said of the clients.

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