November 19, 2010

VU Community Giving campaign’s impact profound

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Ruth Freeland knows firsthand what it means to be helped by the agencies supported by Vanderbilt’s Community Giving Campaign. (photo by Jenny Mandeville)

VU Community Giving campaign’s impact profound

In June 2000, Ruth Freeland traveled from her homeland of Australia to the United States to follow her heart and the man she loved.

He led her to Music City. But the road was bumpy.

Within six months she fled her home. Her new husband's daily rants had grown progressively worse.

“Our relationship had been somewhat emotional,” recalled Freeland.
“I had always chalked it up to career frustration and things like that. But after I got here and I was removed from my family and my support systems, things got incredibly worse.

“It was mental and verbal abuse 24/7, which eventually resulted in physical abuse. On that ill-fated day, I left my house and ran over to my neighbor's. I didn't even have shoes on.”

Three weeks prior to leaving, she made her initial call to the YWCA Crisis Line. A counselor helped her create a safety plan, if necessary.

“When you are in this kind of a situation you can sometimes second guess yourself,” Freeland said. “And that's dangerous.”

By January 2001, Freeland and her then-15-year-old daughter, Holly, were living at the YWCA domestic violence shelter. It became their home for the next six months.

The YWCA is an agency of the United Way of Metropolitan Nashville agency, which is one of the four campaign partners in Vanderbilt's Community Giving Campaign.

This year's campaign hopes to raise $1 million, while increasing the number of employees who donate to the annual workplace giving effort. The total raised to date is $761,474.

In the United States, it is estimated that one in three women will experience domestic violence.

The statistics are sobering:

• Each day, three women die at the hands of men who say they love them;

• Tennessee ranks No. 5 in the nation for the number of women killed by men;

• This year, 20 percent of Metro homicides are domestic violence related.
In 2009 the YWCA Weaver Domestic Violence Center provided 15,753 nights of safe shelter to women and children. That equates to 233 women and 187 children.

It is one of the largest centers in the state providing counseling, case management, programming for children, addiction treatment, legal advocacy, limited on-site medical care and other support services.

Freeland, now 54, said the time spent in the shelter was a period of renewal.

“I felt humiliated and demoralized. I felt as if I had nothing,” she said. “When we went to the shelter, it was an intense, learning experience for me and Holly.

“I attended support groups and found that it was an invaluable experience to sit in a room with other women who had experienced what I had. I discovered that my case was not unique.”

Vanderbilt University Medical Center's Theresa Markum, administrator for Disaster Recovery, serves on the board of the YWCA.

She is one of more than 100 Vanderbilt volunteers who give their time to support the various programs administered through the YWCA network.

“I think it is a fantastic organization because it is not just there to pick you up when you stumble, but to help with prevention,” said Markum. “The YW is one local organization intervening at the middle school level to help break the cycle of teen pregnancy, domestic violence and substance abuse in our community.

“The problem is abuse is still taboo,” she said. “Many people don't know what to do if they are in a domestic violence situation. That is why we need more awareness.

“What I appreciate about the YW — it is such a great steward of people's time and money. It's an organization that knows how valuable people's resources are,” Markum said.

The YWCA's connection to Vanderbilt is very strong. It has been a volunteer option for many groups at the University and Medical Center campuses for years. Most recently, more than 600 people attended domestic violence presentations and training with future sessions in the works.

Freeland, a former attorney, is now a business development manager for Waller, Lansden, Dortch and Davis and volunteers any chance she gets for the YWCA.

“There is so much abuse out there,” sighed Freeland. “It is devastating for children too, no matter what their age. The counseling Holly received was crucial.

“As a society, we have to overcome the preconceived ideas of abuse. It affects all of society regardless of age, gender, social class, race, education, faith. A family may have a happy image on the outside, but on the inside, behind closed doors, there can be a totally different picture.

“The YW is reaching out and providing a resource and place of safety,” said Freeland. “It's a vital service, and for many it's life-saving.”

To make a donation to the 2010 Community Giving Campaign go to

To reach the YWCA Crisis Line call: 242-1199 or (800) 334-4628. q