Board Members Explain Why They Work With a Domestic Violence Shelter

Thanks to Minneapolis Foundation for enabling us to continue deeper content and discussions about gender-based violence in 2024. Our gender-based violence stories and conversations won a 2023 community service leadership award from the Minnesota Newspaper Association. 

 

Quilts are created by community members for residents of the Louise Seliski Shelter. When individuals end their time at the shelter, they are invited to take a quilt with them. (photo by Sarah Whiting)

 

During listening sessions in Brainerd with Congressional candidate Jen Schultz, we visited the Louise Seliski Shelter and the nearby Alex & Brandon Child Safety Center, both led by the Relationship Safety Alliance. Leadership board members talked to us about why they were involved with the shelter. Here are a few of their stories.

Board member Shelly Pewitt: I’m the parent of five children. I want to see a new building that offers services not just to women but to men and the LGBTQ+ community. I was a client here at the women’s shelter 15 years ago. I left home with my 15-year-old son and my 15-month-old daughter on Easter weekend; we stayed in a hotel. On Monday I called the shelter and explained what was going on. I met some wonderful people. I lived there for two and a half months. It was a hugely traumatic event. My son had to live with another family so he could continue going to school. That was hard for me; he was the youngest of my first four. It was a horrible time, psychologically and emotionally. The services are important after you leave the shelter as well. For me, it’s been another 13 years dealing with an abusive ex and an abusive father. So this place is near and dear to my heart. It saved me, and offered food, shelter, and safety. They helped me understand what I was going through.

Board member Jan Lambert: My late husband was a police officer for the city of Brainerd. Many of his injuries were due to domestic violence. Being involved here has really opened my eyes. I’m very thankful to be here.

Board member Kalsey Stults: I’m a transplant to this community. I grew up in Tennessee. I grew up in a really tough childhood home with a parent who is an abuser; my parents did not model good behavior when I was growing up. It was really hard [to navigate] as a teenager, wanting to be in a relationship. I did not know what a healthy relationship looked like. I made some poor decisions about who I was seeking out.

My dad is an active addict right now. My mom is bipolar. It has led me to have a lot of compassion working with my clients in county services. Sometimes our systems are very punitive. My role is to give people the resources and the love that they need to be the best person that they can be.

Board member Jim Grant: My sister was living in Oklahoma. My dad wasn’t able to rescue her from an abusive husband. He asked me to go. I set up the time to go get Mary. We had it all set up to get out of the house. A day or two before we were supposed to do this, she called me to say, “I love him. He loves me. I’m gonna stay.”

I couldn’t do anything for her at that time. But she came to her senses after he dragged her out into the front yard, without clothes on, and beat her. He also threatened their little boy, who is now a drug addict. I have never quite forgiven myself — I originally introduced them. I [had] sold a car part to him, and he had seen a picture of her. Even today, all these years later, it bothers me.

She’s got one son who’s doing great. A daughter who has a lot of trauma and physical problems. And the third son is a convicted felon. I decided I needed to try to do something. I am tired of bullying across all spectrums.

Board member Mike Kuck: I was asked to emcee a few events for the Women’s Center. But I didn’t actually realize domestic violence was going on in our own community. I shielded myself from all of it, living in my own bubble. I started coming to the events and seeing people that I knew who were survivors. That really opened up my eyes, and [I] started diving in a lot deeper. I started asking questions and realizing how many people are affected.

Board member Angel Zierden: For me, it comes down to the policy side. We put Band- Aids on a lot of the problems in our society instead of looking at the root cause. What environments are children being raised in? How do you break the generational cycle — violence, mental health — and create a safe place to grow up? How do we make sure that we are taking care of our community? That’s where the biggest change will come from.