Mary wasn't real sure she knew what was happening in her home, but she did know her mother seemed constantly nervous and unhappy.
Tania (not her real name) wasn't sure what was happening either, but she knew her partner bullied her, calling her names and insulting her abilities. She worked hard to keep it away from Mary (not her real name) and Mary's younger brothers.
"I had no idea what domestic violence was," Tania said through an interpreter this week at WomenShelter's resource center. "But I had a friend who was a previous client here, and she told me I should go here.
"I started classes and realized that what was happening (to me) was really domestic violence. I found out it wasn't my fault, and I began to understand that I had worth."
Tania completed a series of classes without her partner knowing she was going to WomenShelter. It gave her the courage to take her children and strike out on her own, though.
"I left on Oct. 11," she said. "I'm smiling. I smile a lot now. WomenShelter opened my eyes, let me know I'm capable of being my own person."
Mary, a teenager, helped her mother move and is now in counseling at WomenShelter as well. In a report prepared for WomenShelter's Sponsor-A-Family program, she said she had found herself in the same situation her mother faced — verbal and emotional abuse — and through the counseling was able to find the strength to leave the abusive relationship.
"(I've) become more confident with who I am and what I want for my life," Mary wrote, "and not repeat the cycle of violence. It ends here."
"I want to go back to school," Tania said. "I want to continue in health care. One thing I know — I'll be part of WomenShelter from now on."
Tania works as a caretaker for elderly people, and says she's lucky to have a job. Still, it's tough to start a new home with three children — including one with special needs — on her small salary.
Which is where the Grunion Gift Card Drive comes in.
For the 16th year, Grunion readers are being asked to donate gift cards to WomenShelter to help domestic abuse victims. In addition to creating a Christmas for struggling families where there would otherwise be little or nothing, the cards are used all year long to help victims set up new homes, provide clothing and more.
WomenShelter uses the gift cards all year long, Executive Director Mary Ellen Mitchell said, to fill in the gaps that other aid doesn't reach. That's why cards from stores like Target and WalMart are particularly appreciated, because they are so versatile in what can be purchased — although cards from groceries and retail stores are gratefully accepted as well.
Grunion readers have been very generous in past years, raising about $320,000 since the drive began. Grunion Publisher Simon Grieve said this year's goal is $20,000.
"We've proven that's doable," Grieve said. "I'd really like to bust past that and get to $25,000."
Here's how to help. Purchase some gift cards, drop them by our office at 5225 E. Second St., or mail them to that address, attention Gift Card Drive, c/o Harry Saltzgaver. The zip code is 90803.
To donate on line, go to www.womenshelterlb.org/grunion/.
There's the potential for a Christmas treat for donors, too.
The Aquarium of the Pacific is donating two tickets to donors who give $50 or more until the tickets run out, and everyone who donates will be entered into a drawing for 10 $50 gift certificates to Sevilla in downtown Long Beach.
Just be sure to include a self-addressed, stamped envelope if you mail a donation and want aquarium tickets, and give us an email for the drawing.
For more information, call 562-433-2000.