- Associated Press - Sunday, November 23, 2014

FLORENCE, S.C. (AP) - Mae McFadden’s job is more than just work to her.

For 25 years, the Pee Dee Coalition’s Domestic Violence Safe Shelter has been her calling.

“It’s more like a mission,” McFadden said.

McFadden had been working at the YWCA’s safe house in Sumter for seven years when the Pee Dee Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Assault called to offer her a job at their new shelter.

“At first, I said no,” McFadden said. “I had an old car that barely ran. I never even traveled outside of Sumter really, so at first I turned them down. But then they called again and offered me the job again. And I thought about it, and this time, I decided to take it. It was a big adjustment for me, but everything just fell into place. I knew then this was going to be my mission.”

This year, McFadden and the shelter celebrate 25 years together, and McFadden said she still finds her role there just as fulfilling as she did in her early years.

“It seems like I’ve always been in a caring role, helping people who have problems,” she said. “It seems like I’ve always been put into that role … problem-solving and helping people. It started with YWCA when they were just getting started.”

The Pee Dee Coalition’s Emergency Safe Shelter is a place mothers and children who are in danger of family violence can go to be safe from fighting and violence.

The shelter is staffed with people like McFadden who understand the confusion, pain and shame, as well as love, that trap partners in a cycle of violence. Staff members listen without judging and offer practical help, such as information referrals, transportation and counseling.

“They’re our babies,” McFadden said, smiling. “We call the residents our babies, because some may lean to me more, some may lean to Shonette more or to Shawn more. So we start calling them our babies, those who lean toward us more . and I have a lot of babies.”

That’s no surprise in a state that ranks second in the United States in women killed by men. The shelter’s door is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and McFadden said there is always someone available to talk to a woman in need.

On Aug. 14, Maxie S. - whose name has been changed to protect her safety and that of her children - was one of those women.

A native of New York, she moved to South Carolina with her husband and five children. The couple planned to start a new life in the slower-paced South, but home had quickly become a battleground.

“I was brought here, led to believe that we was gonna set a better form of life for the children,” Maxie said. “But when we came out to South Carolina, it’s like he got worse. I never left the house. I wasn’t allowed to. The only time I could leave the house is if he was with me. I don’t get a chance to do nothing. I can’t even take a walk or bring my kids to school. He took that power away from me.”

Maxie said her husband never physically abused her, but his emotional abuse was escalating, so much so that she felt she had to get her kids and herself out of the house. The situation came to a head one night while Maxie was on the phone with her sister.

“Whenever I feel like a situation is getting heated, I’d call my sister,” she said. “I told her, ‘He’s starting again, and I feel like something’s gonna happen.’ I brought my children in the room to pray. He bust through the doors and then, he was like, ‘You praying? You not a child with God. God don’t stand beside you. You a liar. Your prayers don’t mean nothing.’

“So I said, ‘Guys, let’s all remove ourselves.’ So I took them in my room, and I locked the door. My heart was telling me, ‘This is it. We’re gonna have to go.’ I told my sister, ‘I think he’s gonna take it to the next level.’ From 0, he’s gone to 50 and from 50, he’s gone to 70. Something bad’s about to happen.”

Maxie called the Pee Dee Coalition’s crisis line and eventually called the police. She and her children were taken to a local motel, where they spent the night, and then they moved to the shelter.

“When I called the police that night, I said, ‘Can you please take me and my children out of here? I don’t feel safe here, and I’m tired. I’m so tired,’” Maxie said.

“When I came to PDC, I felt happy, and I felt relief, but a part of me felt sad and hurt, ‘cause it came to this stage for me to feel at peace and freedom,” she said. “But I had to do something, because my kids - they’re innocent. They don’t deserve this. I don’t want my daughter thinking it’s OK for your man or your husband to come at you like that and you accept it. Because me, my mistake, when I left the first time, I went back, so there was no lesson learned. And somebody like that, you can’t help. They have to learn to help themselves.

“So when I came to the Pee Dee Coalition, I got my independence back. I got my voice. I got my freedom. They helped me put my kids in school, and I could finally hear myself think.”

Maxie said she’s using her time at the shelter to truly get back on her feet and start a new, productive life for her family. For starters, she’s working on getting a driver’s license - something her husband never allowed her to have. She also attends group meetings and counseling regularly, which she said has been extremely helpful.

“The meetings . every time I leave the meetings, I feel like Superwoman,” she said. “It’s like a phone that needs to be charged. You know, if you leave a phone off the charger, it starts to die. But then you put it on the charger, and it recharges, and it’s good. That’s how the meeting is to me.

“I’ve gotten to know a couple of other people here. Listening to their stories, no matter how bad you think you have it, somebody else has it worse. So my theme is, respect everybody. I didn’t get that respect. It’s all I wanted. I made that choice August the 14th that this is gonna stop. I appreciate each moment of life, and I’m gonna take it. I’m gonna achieve that goal.

“I have to do it one way or another, because my kids are watching me.”

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