Giving Back Awards 2013

Sponsored by Old Point National Bank Honoring The Region’s Outstanding Non-Profits

(page 4 of 9)

Letting The Light In

Joining Samaritan House For A Vigil Commemorating 
Victims Of Domestic Violence Provides A Personal Look 
At The Organization’s Inspiring Work
By Melissa M. Stewart

Danielle Knarr, age 25, was pursuing a degree at Old Dominion University when her boyfriend stabbed her to death with a foot-long hunting knife. Cheri Washington, 17 and five months pregnant, was duct taped and beat down in a domestic dispute that killed both her and her unborn baby.

As I drift around the room, I am simultaneously heartbroken and lured in by each of these tragic stories written out on yellow shields fastened to wooden, red silhouettes that stand throughout the student center at Tidewater Community College’s Norfolk campus. Part of the Silent Witness Project, each figure commemorates a local woman who was murdered in an act of domestic violence.

I shuffle around a thickening crowd of supporters who have come out on a wet and murky fall night to participate in the Day of Unity, Night of Remembrance Candlelight Vigil. The vigil happens annually on the first Monday in October (domestic violence awareness month) to showcase a commitment to ending domestic violence and remember those who have lost their lives. This year, seven local organizations have joined to host the event—Garden of Hope, Transitions Family Violence Services, YWCA, Genieve Shelter, Navy Fleet and Family, HER Shelter and Samaritan House.  

Representatives from each group have set up in the hallway to provide educational literature and information about their programs. I make my way back to the Samaritan House table to talk more with Larissa Sutherland, education and outreach coordinator, and Shereese Floyd-Thompson, marketing coordinator; to assist them with handing out purple ribbons; and to listen as they answer questions about the hard work they do day to day to help victims of domestic violence.

Those tireless efforts include operating a hotline for families in crisis and providing emergency shelters, transitional housing, support groups, employment training, a victim advocacy program and more.  

Soon, it’s time for the program, and I grab a candle and take my seat to hear Norfolk Vice Mayor Anthony Burfoot welcome those gathered. After an address by the Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Linda Bryant and a powerful spoken word performance by Teens With a Purpose, Brian Dunn steps up to the microphone and delivers the most poignant speech of the evening—a personal testimony about his mother, domestic violence victim Patricia Nobles.

Dunn explains that his mother, a middle school teacher in Hampton, was killed exactly three years ago today. He says he received a call from a neighbor and raced to her home to discover she had been gunned down in her driveway. In the wake of this horrific event, Dunn turned to Samaritan House, determined to help others and give back to the community by assisting other families and victims. Here, he met Floyd-Thompson, who joins him tonight along with Sutherland to unveil his mother’s Silent Victim silhouette to the crowd.

As Dunn describes how he coped with Nobles’ death by “doing something” and “letting the light in,” we all turn our lights on for a reading of the names of this year’s local domestic violence victims.

Though Dunn’s story is somber, his mood isn’t, and he leaves me feeling grateful as I look down at my candle and think about all the inspiring efforts made by Samaritan House, along with all of the other organizations represented tonight.

“To see a family come in with nothing and help them get on their feet is a job well done,” Samaritan’s Floyd-Thompson told me. “It is such joy witnessing the glow of change or knowing our services gave a child an opportunity. Our business is humanity, and that makes every day worth it.”

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