Full Circle: From Survivor to Supporter
The fall of 2019 was an especially difficult time for Samantha Dommer. After making the courageous decision to leave a domestic abuse situation, Samantha and her young daughters bounced between the homes of family members and friends. As she expected, the stays were short-lived.
Lack of resources or support, and struggles from the past kept Samantha in her abusive situation for longer than she might otherwise have stayed. Feeling trapped was an all-too familiar theme.
After high school, she’d moved to Portland to attend college. In addition to going to school full-time, she worked as a dancer. What she believed to be dancing for extra cash turned more sinister, but also more lucrative.
Young and trusting, Samantha found herself unexpectedly enmeshed in a sex working operation. She quit school and worked long hours, drawn in by the false sense of financial security she was finally able to obtain. But it came at a high cost: she suffered being beaten, stabbed, and run over by a car. She has a metal plate in her jaw from one of the encounters.
This period of time led to legal issues which she knew she had to address before being employable. When she decided she had to escape, it wasn’t easy.
And now, years later, in the fall of 2019, although Samantha and her family were safe after leaving the abuse, they were also without a permanent home. The frequent moves were chaotic, and the uncertainty of the future weighed on Samantha. She wanted something better for her daughters than she had had as a young adult.
In October, Samantha’s abuser died, but it didn’t bring the sense of safety or relief she expected. Instead it brought homelessness. She was no longer qualified to live in a women’s domestic violence shelter because she was no longer at risk of being abused.
A New Path Forward
While looking for resources and her next step, Samantha discovered Guided Path Homeless Shelter in Bingen, Washington, part of the Housing Services program at Washington Gorge Action Programs (WAGAP). Samantha and her children found housing in the shelter, and Samantha was connected with community health worker, Tonya Willett.
Tonya worked with Samantha and her children while they lived in the temporary shelter for those experiencing homelessness. With the help of Tonya and WAGAP, the family was eventually placed in permanent housing. Samantha continues to live in Bingen, and WAGAP uses parts of the property for housing of at-risk community members.
“They definitely do some magical things – I am so grateful for WAGAP. I am a product of the organization working. It just takes a participant who’s willing.”
With the connections made through her community health worker, Tonya, Samantha has been able to access:
- Housing assistance
- Counseling for herself and children
- Domestic and sexual assault assistance
- Energy and utility assistance
- Food and household items
- Diapers for her daughter, and other hygiene items
- Access to a second-hand store for clothing
- Help accessing survivor benefits for her children
Samantha began working for a merchant processing company, and was feeling at home in Bingen. Her daughters were adjusting and feeling safe in their new home and with their childcare providers.
That’s when an opening for a community health worker position with WAGAP came to Samantha’s attention. She felt she simply had to apply. She couldn’t imagine a more rewarding place to work. “They definitely do some magical things – I am so grateful for WAGAP. I am a product of the organization working. It just takes a participant who’s willing,” says Samantha.
“I really like the fact that I’m helping people, that I’m doing what I’ve sought out to do. I’ve definitely learned a lot, and I’m using the tools I’ve been given to make every day a better day.”
Samantha’s lived experience, her passion, and her knowledge of the programs with which WAGAP can connect people made her a clear asset to the organization. She got the job.
Helping Others Succeed
Samantha says that her current work is an important part of her continued healing and growing. “I really like the fact that I’m helping people, that I’m doing what I’ve sought out to do. I’ve definitely learned a lot, and I’m using the tools I’ve been given to make every day a better day.”
While 2020 has been a year of unprecedented obstacles and challenges for most people, for Samantha, it’s been a year of hope that she didn’t have a year ago.
“This year has taught me that family isn’t always blood. It is community and support. I know I didn’t have that support – and I got it from WAGAP. I want to be able to provide that to others.
“I’m working with three women – one is getting out of a treatment facility and I will be working closely with her. She’s open and honest and ready to succeed. I can see her being very successful and begin to live a healthy life. I love this!”
Samantha says, “I feel like I’m finally on the way to having the circle complete – setting goals, working toward a healthier and more stable life. I think my daughters have adjusted – they call this place home; they don’t ask about our former life.
They ask when I pick them up from daycare: “Mommy, what did you do at work today?” – I can say “I helped people – what did you do at school today?” It puts a smile on my face – just being able to say those words.”