In August 2017, Paula started over. She boarded a Greyhound with her two young children, taking just a few bags of luggage. They were leaving their life in Michigan—their house, their friends, their possessions, and Paula’s abusive boyfriend, the father of her children. They were headed to Phoenix, Arizona, a place they had never been. For nine years, Paula had tried to break away from her abusive boyfriend, turning to domestic violence shelters eighteen times. “But I always cycled back, I always thought he changed and we could make it this time,” she explains. “Then one day, the physical violence was so bad that I just knew it was time.”

“Women come out of these cycles of poverty and abuse, and it’s so hard to learn to live again. It’s so hard to break away from these things and still have faith and hope.”

It took Paula three days to devise the first step of her plan. Among dozens of shelters across the country, she found an opening at Phoenix Rescue Mission. Paula reasoned, “It was so far away, I thought he couldn’t find me but also I couldn’t go back to him even if I wanted to.” 

With the distance between her and her previous life, Paula needed to figure out the next step. She was now a single mother in a city where she knew no one, had no car, no home, no job. “I needed a new life, a good life,” and she was prepared to work for it.

Paula began classes at Pima Medical Institute within months of moving to Arizona. Unfortunately, Paula suffers from numerous, debilitating physical ailments including arthritis, lupus, and fibromyalgia, as do many domestic violence survivors. In January 2018, just months into her classes, Paula had to go on medical leave. Staff at Pima provided her with a list of organizations that assist women, and she started making calls. Live and Learn answered, and, in less than a week, she was able to interview with Ruby and was accepted as a client.

Live and Learn has helped Paula provide for her children, heal emotionally, and form strong social bonds. “They took away all of my excuses to stop and give up.”

While Paula lives with her children in transitional housing and pursues her education, Live and Learn is able to provide financial support. Over the summer, Live and Learn helped Paula with childcare costs. While completing her externship, Live and Learn helps with rent. If needed, Live and Learn can provide a bus pass or a grocery credit. Financial dependence is a powerful factor for many abuse victims who return to their abuser, and Live and Learn’s financial support ensures that Paula’s hard work is not derailed by the cost of necessities.

Emotionally, like most domestic violence survivors, Paula lost her sense of self-worth and her self-esteem. For nine years, she was emotionally, financially, and physically abused; she was drugged, human trafficked, and robbed of everything she earned. Ruby, her Live and Learn Client Coordinator, helped Paula gain back the self-confidence she needed to carry on. “Ruby always answered my texts or calls, and she was always positive, she always has something nice to say about me even if I don’t believe it yet.”

“If all I do is succeed with my kids, give them a better future, that is my purpose.”

Paula was matched with a volunteer mentor as part of Live and Learn’s Mentor Program to help her begin to form strong, healthy social bonds. Survivors of domestic violence often must learn to recognize and foster positive, trusting friendships, and a strong, supportive social network lowers the risk of cycling back into an abusive relationship. Paula’s mentor is also a survivor of domestic violence and understood many of Paula’s struggles. The pair meet regularly and talk daily. “She and I connected right away. She’s helping me learn how to talk and just have a friend again.”

Just a year after fleeing her abuser, Paula has created the new life she dreamed of on that Greyhound bus. In September 2018, she completed her coursework to become a Medical Administrative Assistant. She begins her externship this fall and will graduate in December. Guided by a deep faith, Paula credits “God and Live and Learn for keeping me moving forward to a good life.”

 Plans for the Future

Paula is extremely focused on her short-term goals at this point. She will begin applying for jobs when she gets closer to finishing her externship, but she already has one promising lead with a local chiropractor’s office. Once she has achieved financial self-sufficiency, her main priority is to move into permanent housing and give her children a “nice, safe, and stable home.”