Annual Catholic Appeal supports 'guardian angels'

Sid Hastings
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Tanisha Brown was 14 when she met the man, a few years older than her, who physically abused her. She experienced the violence for 12 very long years. The man came close to taking her life three times. She felt as if she would either die or end up in prison for killing him.

"I didn't know where to turn. I didn't know who could help me. I called the police, and they would lock him up, then he'd be right back," Brown said. "I'd call my brothers, and they couldn't help me. So one day I just got tired and I called out to God and said, 'I just can't do this any more. It's just not worth it.' I decided I would take my own life. Then I got to thinking, I'm not going to take my life, I'm going to take his life."

She ended up getting arrested after he called the police on her. She was held for 24 hours to calm down. The police officer, concerned for her safety, gave her the number to St. Martha's Hall, a Catholic Charities of St. Louis federated agency that provides a shelter-care program for abused women and their children, helping them break the cycle of violence in their lives. St. Martha's Hall, which is supported by the Annual Catholic Appeal, is guided by the social teachings of Jesus Christ.

"Build My Church" is the theme of the 2014 Annual Catholic Appeal, which provides funding for various ministries, including those that help people in need, Catholic education, vocations and promoting the inherent dignity of life. This year's appeal, which runs April 26 through May 11, has a goal of $13 million.

Brown would end up in the hospital every time she tried to leave her abuser. She was afraid, but when the police officer gave her the phone number to St. Martha's Hall she saw it as a sign from God that she was being given a way out.

At first she hesitated, but eventually decided to go in.

St. Martha's Hall changed her life, Brown said. "When I went in those doors it was if they had wrapped me in a blanket and held me. To hear them tell me it was going to be all right -- I hadn't heard that before. They took care of me, and they took care of my children."

Brown learned that she had worth, that she deserved love and respect. They taught her children the same thing. She believes they were her guardian angels.

When she arrived, she still felt her abuser would come for her. But the staff kept telling her things would be all right. "I would tell myself, 'You can do it, you can do it.'"

Once she left the shelter, Brown had a new way of thinking -- she believed in herself and knew she could make it. When some anxiety came over her, she was calmed by knowing that she had the phone number of St. Martha's Hall. "They were always there for me," Brown said.

"I truly have a Cinderella story. I have a totally different life. It's because of the confidence they put in me. It's because of them caring enough to let me come and have a bed."

Today, Brown owns a salon and spa. She purchased a home, remarried 10 years ago and has another child. She has seen her two oldest children graduate from high school -- a daughter recently completed cosmetology school and a son has a job and is considering attending college. Brown is on the board of directors of the transitional housing program she entered after leaving St. Martha's Hall.

Best of all, she said, her son has respect for women and her daughter does not let men disrespect her.

Jessica Woolbright, children's program coordinator at St. Martha's Hall, met Brown in 2000 while working in the St. Louis prosecuting attorney's office, assisting women file for orders of protection. Brown stood out because of a 24-hour ordeal of physical and emotional abuse that most people would not have survived, Woolbright said.

A year later, Woolbright was working at St. Martha's Hall when Brown called the crisis line. The violence had escalated, and she feared for her life as well as the lives of her three children and unborn child.

"When she entered the shelter, she was exhausted, terrified and had yet to realize the enormous strength that dwelt deep inside her soul," Woolbright said.

While at the shelter, Brown gave birth to a healthy baby girl and continued to nurture and support her three children, working hard and moving into transitional housing to make a life of her own. She stayed in touch with St. Martha's Hall, continued with counseling and began working full time.

"It is an understatement to say Tanisha discovered that inner strength," Woolbright said.

Brown refers people to St. Martha's Hall when she hears of someone who is being abused. Of the staff at the Catholic Charities agency, she said: "I love them with all my heart. I know if it were not for them I would not be here today."

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