Center of hope

Kenai's LeeShore facility offers more than just shelter for women

Posted: Sunday, September 11, 2005

They come from half a world apart, one from a village in the Aleutians and one from the Ukraine.

Though their individual circumstances differ somewhat, both arrived at the women's crisis shelter in Kenai scared and with little more than the clothes they were wearing and a few small possessions in hand.

The women feared the unknown. What is it like to live in a shelter? Is it safe? What are the other women like?

But they had no choice. Their situations were such that a women's shelter was their only hope.

The story has been heard frequently at the LeeShore Center in Kenai over the years, and Monday, for the 21st time, the nonprofit center will conduct its annual radiothon on KSRM Radio seeking pledges and donations to enable the center to continue helping women who arrive at their door month after month, year after year, often with nothing more than a pack on their back.

The woman from the Ukraine, who wishes to be referred to only as Natasha — even that is a fictitious name — is 24 years old and has been living at the LeeShore Center one year and five months. Her roommate, Carolyn, is 38 and arrived at the center from King Cove 2 1/2 weeks ago.

Natasha had met an Alaskan in the Ukraine shortly after completing university training in banking. The two became friends, fell in love and eventually came to Alaska where they were married.

Two months later, Natasha learned what a mistake she had made.

"Everything he told me was lies," she said during an interview at the LeeShore Center on Friday.

"He smoked marijuana and raised many plants. He had maybe 15 cards in different names. If he had the card, he could raise the plants legally," she said.

In Alaska, people may cultivate no more than five marijuana plants for personal medical use and are required to carry an identification card stating the permitted use.

When the police started visiting the couple's home, Natasha began to realize all the lies she had been told, and eventually the marriage ended in divorce.

Without being a U.S. citizen, nor being married to one, Natasha was now an alien without a work visa, a student visa or a tourist visa.

The Department of Immigration and Naturalization Services has given her temporary permission to remain in the United States, with no guarantee she will be allowed to stay. She would like to get a U.S. citizenship.

The shelter took her in.

Carolyn fled her home in King Cove after being abused by her husband, who also abused her 19-year-old son from a previous marriage and her 11-year-old daughter.

At first, she and her daughter moved into another home in the village, but after a court upped the child support payments, her estranged husband showed up and allegedly beat her and her son again.

She fled with her young daughter to a shelter in Unalaska and arrangements were made for the two to be moved to Kenai, out of harm's way.

Her son also fled King Cove.

"It's not fair," Carolyn said on Friday.

"A lot of women are (at the LeeShore Center) because they've lost their homes.

"The man did this to us. Why didn't they make him get up and leave?

"I had to leave my home, my belongings. My daughter just got a puppy and had to leave it behind.

"There's gotta be some kinda law," she said.

Though dissimilar to Natasha's story, Carolyn's story resembles those told by many women who show up at LeeShore Center's door on a regular basis.

Once there, the women say they feel safe.

They have shelter, they get good meals and they are made to feel as comfortable as possible under the circumstances.

The 32-bed facility has three TV rooms, a supply of digital and videotape movies, supplies for arts and crafts and planned activities for residents.

"My daughter celebrated her birthday here," Carolyn said.

"The have this locker we can 'shop' in. It has new stuff. I picked out a new doll for her for her birthday," she said.

"They also have birthday cakes on our birthdays," said Natasha.

Both women said they are thankful for the center and the assistance they receive from women advocates on staff there.

Mostly funded through grant programs, the LeeShore Center is governed by the state Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, according to Fleur Boyle, vice president of the center's board.

The shelter also is dependent on contributions from the community.

Last year's radiothon brought in $52,000 in cash and in-kind donations, Boyle said.

This year, the fund-raiser starts with a kick-off breakfast at 8 a.m.

The radiothon will be aired at various times throughout the day between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday on KSRM Radio 92.

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