Proud to be from Pittsburgh: A local woman survived domestic violence, now helps other victims
Pittsburgh – Domestic violence occurs in our neighborhoods. You may not know it, but there are neighbors who are afraid to leave and ask for help.
A local woman on the run is now using her professional talents to help other victims feel more comfortable once they have the courage to leave.
“I am your safe place. I can make one for you,” Jennifer Zimmerman said.
Everything you choose when you design a room, from pillows to books to candlelight, Zimmermann chooses carefully.
“Blankets are important to me because they represent safety,” Zimmerman said.
“The artwork is meant for me, too.” One of the paintings on the wall says: I will make you feel proud of yourself.
“I want to help people create sanctuaries, a place to heal because that’s what I had to do,” she said.
For years, Zimmerman was in both physically and mentally abusive relationships.
“I was beaten in public. I remember I was all on all fours, it was summer, I was wearing shorts and I could only feel the pebbles on my hands and knees and it hurt,” Zimmerman said. “And as severe as those assaults were, they were worse behind closed doors. “
She knew there were shelters where she could find safety for herself and her children.
“I chose not to go because I didn’t know what I was facing when I got there. Sleeping in a strange bed was scary for me,” Zimmermann said. “When my son was so small, I didn’t want to make him put his little head on someone else’s pillow.” .”
Leaving was difficult.
But seven years ago, after she finished her third round of chemotherapy, something changed about Jennifer. With a second chance at life right in front of her, she left.
“I have an obligation now to share my story,” Zimmerman said. “When you share your story, it creates a safe place for people to talk and share their stories so they don’t feel alone.”
Zimmermann created one of those safe spaces right before our very eyes. She transformed part of a conference room in the victim center office into her view of a bedroom in their shelter. She volunteered her interior design talents to transform seven of them into their emergency shelter.
As I mentioned, all the pieces are intentional. Some come from her children, like a broken balcony pole that her son turned into a lamp and a painting her daughter drew.
She told us a story about a conversation about paint color that really strengthened her advocacy for domestic violence victims.
“He asked me,” Zimmerman explained, “Do you think colors really matter to them? “The problem is that they care about the paint on the wall, but they don’t think anyone else does. But I do.”
“Her perspective is very valuable because she understands what it feels like to be in this space,” said Bethany Wingerson, director of domestic violence services at the Victim Center. “These soft touches and a warm, comfortable environment provide sleep with a sense of security.”
Between 300 and 400 men, women and children find relief in emergency shelters each year. Wingerson says that since the pandemic, people are staying there longer because it’s difficult to get permanent housing.
“Which was difficult. The crisis and emergency services program was supposed to be implemented at a very fast pace and quick response times, and it was not,” said Wingersson.
She says the families used to stay for 4-6 weeks and now it’s approaching 6-8 weeks.
“We work with people through those challenges, and we support them through the pressures of that length of time because being in a shelter is definitely not anyone’s first choice,” Wingersson said. “It’s hard, it’s stressful, so it’s hard to stay there longer than usual.”
But Wingerson hopes the touches Zimmerman will put in bedrooms will help them feel right at home.
“The generosity you can feel from her, the real desire to give back, to give someone a little peace, which you realize is not so easy to find in those moments, is incredible,” Wingersson said.
“I want to go to these places and I want men, women, and children to know it’s OK to leave,” Zimmerman said. “You will be taken care of and you will be safe.”
The project is part of a group I created called (r I se). Helps support men, women and children who have experienced sexual or domestic violence. You want them to know that there is light after darkness.
“Now I’m filled with so much joy, pure joy, I can’t contain it! I want people to understand that you can have it too. There is hope and there is help,” Zimmerman said.
Click here for more information on (r I se).
Click here for more information about the Victim Center.
© Cox Media Group 2022