A Second Home

The Windward Spouse Abuse Shelter gives battered women more than just a place to stay.

Windward Spouse Abuse Shelter looks a lot like any other home in the neighborhood-a
two-story, plywood house, with a barbecue grill on the länai, where every birthday
and holiday is celebrated. Cubbyholes painted red, blue and yellow are stacked
near the front entrance. Herbs and vegetables grow in wooden boxes in the backyard.

It’s called Hale Ola, “House of Life,” but it’s more than a house. It’s
a safe haven for the more than 3,500 abused women and their children who’ve stayed
here since its opening 14 years ago. The shelter, which is located in an undisclosed
neighborhood in Windward O’ahu, isn’t just a place to stay. The organization offers
numerous services, including counseling and help in applying for domestic-violence
funds and welfare assistance.

Its executive director, Avis Alokele Jervis,
makes this shelter feel like a home. Everyone calls her “Aunty Avis,” even if
they are older than her 56 years of age.

“It feels like a typical house-we
take turns making meals in the community kitchen, we all clean up,” Jervis says.
“As soon as someone walks in that door, they are my ‘ohana,” Many Hawai’i residents
will recognize Jervis as the ex-wife of Gerard Jervis. She talks freely about
her publicly problematic marriage to the former Bishop Estate trustee, who was
her second husband.

Fewer residents know that this outspoken advocate for
battered women was once a victim herself. Married and pregnant at age 14, she
endured years of abuse from her first husband, until he was killed by another

Ola executive director, Avis Alokele Jervis. Photo: Macario

helped found Hale Ola in 1991, in response to the growing need for a second shelter
in Windward O’ahu. But in 2003, the organization lost its state funding and, naturally,
its staff. That’s when Jervis volunteered to take over as executive director of
the shelter. Now, it’s basically a two-woman operation, with Jervis’ twin sister,
Alyce Sua, helping run the shelter and answer its 24-hour hotline seven days a
week. With the demanding, round-the-clock position, Jervis even bunks at the shelter
herself, sleeping on a mattress wedged into one of the shelter’s closets. The
meager accommodations, even if they are a far cry from the Lanikai home she once
owned, don’t bother her.

“I’ve been inundated with tragedy in my life,
and now I am truly a survivor,” Jervis says. “My job on this earth is to make
sure no one ever comes close to my personal experiences of abuse. What could be
more important than helping them?”

Horror stories abound in this household.
A few months ago, a woman who was nearly stabbed to death in front of her 5-year-old
son arrived at the shelter in bandages. Her wounds were so fresh that they ruined
one of the shelter’s 26 twin mattresses.

Other victims come to the shelter
with less obvious injuries-missing teeth, bumps under their hair, bruises concealed
by clothing. Bev (clients go by first names only here) arrived more than two months
ago. The 36-year-old accountant suffered through eight months of abuse from her
then-boyfriend. But when he punched her 5-year-old daughter, she fled their home.
Her daughter now stays with her at the shelter.

“It started out with little
things-he’d ask me why I was coming home at 6, if I got off at 4, or who was I
talking to when I was on the phone,” Bev says. “The first time he hit me, all
I thought was, ‘What did I do wrong?’ He was apologetic every time, bought me
gifts. But as soon as he decided to pound my child, I got out of there. That’s
when the lightbulb went on.”

A pastor at her church referred her to the
Windward Spouse Abuse Shelter.

“When I first got here, I was afraid to talk
to anybody or do anything; I was constantly crying,” Bev says. “But because of
Aunty Avis, I’ve really come out of my shell. I know I don’t need to go back to
that situation.”

“We take care of them all,” Jervis says. “What I notice
about all the women who come here-they sleep. Sometimes three, four days. They’re
in a strange environment, and there are kids running around, but they just sleep.
Because for the first time, in a very long time, they feel safe.”

Jervis took over operations in 2003, the shelter has felt more like a second home
for the women and children who stay here. Once there, women rarely leave, for
safety reasons. So Jervis cooks for every single birthday, even rounding up a
cake with candles. She helps the children plant seeds in the box garden out back
and harvest the vegetables and herbs left by children who’ve stayed here before.

Spouse Abuse Shelter
24-Hour Hotline

Avis lets us know that we can talk to her anytime of day or night, even if we
have to wake her up, she’s here for us,” Bev says. “It really helps to be around
women who know exactly what you’ve gone through.”

The community pitches
in, too. Everything the shelter has-food, clothing and supplies-comes from private
donations. Local doctors and a psychologist volunteer their services. A massage
school sends students to give free massages. A salon donates cosmetics and hair
products for makeovers.

Other community members and organizations help
these women find jobs or apartments, even furnishing their rooms if necessary-anything
to keep victims from returning to their abusive situations.

“It’s not about
how many people work here, how many beds we have, how many clients,” Jervis says,
“it’s meeting every individual’s unique needs.”

Even though Jervis’ hands
are full playing aunty, counselor and cheerleader, she’s got a bigger dream for
the shelter-financial stability. She’s working with local rapper Stephen Takamori,
who recorded a song about domestic violence. All the proceeds from the CD, titled
“Please,” will benefit the shelter. That’s why Jervis wants national exposure
for the CD, even sending the song to Oprah Winfrey.

“When I die, I want
my headstone to read, ‘Changed One Woman’s Life,'” Jervis says. “It’s my passion.
It’s in my gut. That’s all I live for.”

Making a Difference
is presented in partnership with Hawai’i Community Foundation, a statewide grant-making
organization supported by generous individuals, families and businesses to benefit
Hawai’i’s people.

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