The Story of a Star City Survivor

"Last December right before Christmas, I had a plan to end my life. 

I was still forcing a smile, so no one knew anything was wrong.

I wasn’t going to tell them. 

I was simply going to do it, and leave an apology note for my kids."

The brave woman, who will remain anonymous for her  protection, used the resources provided in collaboration with Family Service and TAP Domestic Violence Services (TAP DVS), to restart her life after years of emotional and psychological abuse.

"From the outside looking in, abuse isn’t always easy to recognize. It doesn’t always show up in the form of black eyes and broken bones. Sometimes, it shows up in the form of a smiling face and a woman trying way too hard to convince myself, and the rest of the world, that everything is ok."

TAP DVS, Salvation Army Turning Point and Family Service of Roanoke Valley partnered to provide multiple support groups for survivors of domestic violence.

Star City Survivors  supported 18 women through three closed groups and over 40 through open groups held at the shelter. The trauma-informed services helped women recover from the deep emotional wounds caused by domestic violence.

The group began in Spring 2016 and concluded in January 2017. Star City Survivors was made possible thanks to the support of the The Earl D. and Carrie Leigh Doran Fund of the Foundation for Roanoke Valley,

"I stayed in my marriage, because I remembered the man I fell in love with, and refused to believe that this, was truly who he had become."

She spent 15 years in the marriage, with emotional abuse escalating to a dangerous point. While she attempted to change the locks on the house they co-owned, her husband attacked her. She had enough and promptly pressed charges. The resulting court battle ate up her mental and financial resources, when she finally, desperately, googled domestic violence assistance in Roanoke. She found TAP DVS.

As soon as she contacted them, she was given access to counseling services, as well as case management and court advocacy. Even when court verdicts did not go the way she wanted them to, the fact that she had an advocate by her side and a group of people who supported her was reassuring. 

That support came from the Star City Survivors. A TAP employee provided childcare while the client was in group, making it easier for her to attend.

"There was something about sitting in a room filled with women who had stories so different, but exactly the same as mine that was validating.

For years, I questioned whether or not what I was going through was considered abuse. I allowed my husband to convince me that I was crazy, and emotionally unstable, and that I was the one with the problem; who needed the help. It was freeing, and healing. I stopped blaming myself for all of the things that he had done, and I started seeing things for what they truly were.

I had never been punched, or kicked, or left with any major physical scars, but I had, in fact, been a victim of abuse."

Since her last court date, the client has obtained a full time job that will provide benefits for her and children. Her wages have significantly increased and she has not needed anymore financial assistance.   In addition she has gone back to school, sought additional, higher education and is set to soon graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in Counseling.

Her story is only one of many that was made possible

by Star City Survivors.

Governor McAuliffe puts more emphasis on mental health

In his State of the Commonwealth address on Wednesday January 11, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe expanded on the increased spending on mental health he first proposed in his budget last year. 

When he proposed his amendments to the 2016-2018 budget in December, Governor McAuliffe included a $31.7 million dollar expansion on state spending on mental health and substance abuse, according to a press release from the Governor’s office. This includes a total of $17.7 million to provide better service within the state’s existing mental health system.

McAuliffe stated that he wants to use these funds to address overcrowding in state mental hospitals, as well as to provide same day service at community boards and conduct mental health screenings at jails. 

These efforts are a step in the right direction, according to Ruth Cassell, who is the Chief Development Officer here at Family Service of Roanoke Valley

. In an interview with WFXR/Virginia First, she said identifying individuals within the criminal justice system who need mental health support is especially important. Without additional resources, the criminal justice system is not adequately equipped to process these individuals. Mental health screenings of individuals within the criminal justice system could identify individuals who need additional help and reduce instances of repeated offenders.

While this is definitely a necessary step, Cassell expressed a desire for more funding to be put toward preventative services that help individuals before they reach a crisis and end up in the criminal justice system. By spending money on preventative measures, she said in the interview with WFXR, the state could save taxpayer money by identifying individuals who need mental health services and not letting them end up in the criminal justice system in the first place. 

The governor also proposed $5.3 million to help combat opioid addiction, which the state officially declared a public health crisis last November. Once the statistics are finalized, there are expected to be over 1,000 deaths from opioid overdoses in 2016. 

Finally, there was an additional $4.5 million allocated to assess mental health services across the state. McAuliffe received pushback on this item, with critics pointing out that there is already a Joint Subcommittee in place to study these same issues. McAuliffe defended his budget when pressed, stating that the government itself needs to conduct the evaluations.

Find the full text of Governor McAuliffe’s address here and the original interview with Ruth Cassell here.

Our Annual Report is Out!

In 2016,

Family Service of Roanoke Valley reached its

115 year anniversary

of providing service to our community.

Our annual report details our achievements this year. These achievements are only made possibly by generous donations from our community members, so thank you to everyone who donated their time or money this past year.

In 2015-16, Family Service kicked off Mental Health Awareness month with the second annual Celebrity Tip Off, which raised $47,000. Special thanks to our Menu Sponsors, MemberOne Federal Credit Union and Davenport & Company, and all the sponsors, attendees and tippers who made it another successful year!

This past year, Family Service wanted to expand on it’s acclaimed Play Therapy program, by establishing the Play Therapy Institute. Thanks to help from the Virginia Department of Social Services, we were able to make this happen and expand our capacity to help traumatized children.

Family Service is also excited to announce over $280,000 in funds made available through a federal grant to provide interpreter services to victims of crime in the Roanoke Valley. In a partnership with TAP Domestic Violence Services, the Salvation Army Turning Point, and SARA, Inc., Family Service will work to provide these services so that everyone who has been a victim of crime will receive the services they deserve.

To read more about our 2015-16 year, read the full report here.

Our Holiday Potluck!

Each year, Family Service of Roanoke Valley celebrates the holidays with a festive gathering. We recognize staff members for years of service and have a special recognition for those who go above and beyond the call of duty. We share in food and fellowship and have a good time together! We give gratitude to one another and take time to recognize how important our work in the community is for those we serve.

See the crew we are fortunate enough to call a family and all the highlights of our holiday potluck on our Facebook page!

Happy Holidays!

Take care of yourself this holiday season

This is a good thing to keep in mind this holiday season! Our families may have lots of expectations they place on us, and coming home for the holidays can be stressful for everyone.

Remember that the most important person you have to please with the decisions you make is yourself.

Your family means well, but they all have their own ideas about what is important, and you probably can’t satisfy all of them. Concentrate on what you need to do to be happy, and don’t worry about what anyone else says.

Happy Holidays!

Giving Tuesday

Family Service of Roanoke Valley would like to thank everyone who donated on Giving Tuesday!

This year’s donations allowed eight community members to receive mental healthcare on our sliding scale fee. Your donations helped heal the wounds we cannot see.

#GivingTuesday #HandstoHold

Holidays Can Be Hard!

Holidays can be hard! Our expectations are based on movies and media where we see perfect families having the most wonderful meals, wearing the most wonderful clothes, playing football on the lawn and we think this year… this year that’s my family!

I was interviewed on WFXR this week to talk about this very topic! Check it out here.

Basically…if Aunt Mabel is still asking whether you are engaged or not, or Grandpa believes the last good President was Herbert Hoover…it’s time to prepare yourself!!

In some 12 step programs, they use the acronym: HALT, which stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired.  If you are any of these, Aunt Mabel might just be too much to bear. So, take time to stop, breathe, and take care of yourself — and you will be better able to handle your relatives and manage yourself!

Other suggestions:

1) You probably know your relatives and which ones will be the most challenging for you to handle. We can’t change them but we can change what we expect. We can adjust and adapt and remember that when the holiday is over, our real life is waiting and whatever happens around the Thanksgiving table won’t change that.


peaking of adjusting, we can adjust our physical position, keep moving… if Auntie is irritating, note that you haven’t seen Cousin Tom in a long time and you really must catch up with him and get moving away from your irritating Auntie. When Cousin starts in on politics, move on to someone else…

Don’t personalize it: your family probably cares about you but that doesn’t mean they get you. Whatever is most offensive to you is probably coming from their own issues or they are just being careless with their words and not noticing how offended you are.

Be realistic if you know this is going to be a chore, prepare yourself. Think of it as business, not pleasure. (If you are wrong-YAY) but if you are right you won’t be let down!

Plan a Friendsgiving or personal reward like a hike in order to get your own needs met!

Let it be… you can do lots of things but until you walked a mile in their shoes, you just don’t know why people act the way they do. So let it be, laugh it off, change the subject…

Be generous of spirit and plan to spread cheer (even if they don’t act they deserve it!) and maybe my friend was right, and you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar! Just don’t expect to have this cheer returned!

Set the stage: Say, “I know we are all tired of the election and what is going on in the media so I propose we choose to talk about something else. I want to put a collection together of everyone’s favorite holiday memories, so when we talk that’s what I’ll be asking.” Or say, “I know we all want to share our opinions of the latest election. I am going to put on the timer for 15 minutes… when it buzzes, we can move to the table (or to the next stage of the holiday) but let’s promise we won’t talk about politics. Instead, maybe we can share what we hope to be thankful for next year.”

Focus on what you share-football teams, reading, movies, music, etc…

Get active: go hiking, play touch football, take a bike ride…

Mind your manners as my grandmother would say…be polite, be kind, be quiet!!!

Practice self-care: whatever this means to you. My introverted daughter takes time outs and disappears to her room every couple of hours. Take a book, practice yoga, journal, take a bath, run, bike, walk, go to the mall.

Don’t overeat or drink too much.

If all else fails… have a get-away plan. Transportation and an excuse for taking a moment (or more) to yourself.

Holiday suggestions with kids:

If you are traveling-buy something new to do in the car or on the plane… new book, new game, new movie etc…

Try to keep as close to your normal routine as possible

Advocate for your kids… this is not the time to force them to eat all of their brussel sprouts if they normally live on chicken nuggets… (or is that just my kid?) Speak up to other family members about your rules and expectations if they are different from your other family members.

Plan activities but don’t overdo; plan downtime; provide outdoor time and physical activity; do something with just your own nuclear family (hike, movie, mall, etc.)

Give your children an assignment: ask them to find out everyone’s first Thanksgiving memory or favorite Thanksgiving food; let them make the placemats, name cards, napkin rings, center piece or help make the pies… so they feel a part of this whole festivity!

Remember kids are kids… they will melt down at inconvenient times. They will punch their sister in from of everyone. Deal with it all as privately as possible! Don’t give in to embarrassment because everyone’s kids have done it even if your sister in law pretends hers didn’t. Don’t shame your kids but also don’t let them off the hook. Think about what happened and remember that sometimes kids need consequences but sometimes they need to sleep or eat or play or to be hugged!!!