One woman was attacked while she was homeless and living in the brush.
Another was left with feelings of failure and frustration after an abusive relationship.
Along with a safe place to stay, both women said they found renewed focus and hope after being taken in at Women Helping Women's domestic violence shelter.
State Sen. Roz Baker (from left), Women Helping Women Executive Director Stacey Moniz and supporter Jo Ann Chou listen as Deputy Director Monique Yamashita talks about kitchen operations during a tour Friday of the nonprofit organization’s domestic violence shelter.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Women Helping Women is hoping to raise funds to renovate its domestic violence shelter’s deck area, where Moniz, Baker and Yamashita stop to talk Friday.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
There, they have received counseling, help in navigating the court system and referrals to other agencies and resources, as they work toward finding housing and jobs and making changes in their lives.
"Being here has given me hope in believing I can and will accomplish my goals," said the second woman, who has been at the shelter for about a month and is working on a plan to develop a business. "Coming here really gave me the support to look to my future rather than the past."
The two were among 11 women and six children staying at the shelter Friday, when small groups of visitors were given a rare tour of the facility and a glimpse into the services provided for its residents.
The private open house marked only the fourth time in its 35 years that the nonprofit organization opened the doors of the shelter, which is in an undisclosed and secure location.
On the eve of Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October, Women Helping Women Executive Director Stacey Moniz said the organization wanted to invite in government leaders, supporters and others who might be curious about the shelter and its work.
"A lot of transformation happens here," Moniz said.
"For all of us, it was a very horrible incident that brought us here," she said. "It's a huge step. Women are actually in more danger when they leave. It's safer to stay."
She said donations, including the services of an interior designer, have helped create the living and working space painted in soothing colors and decorated with artwork.
In addition to housing women and children in crisis in five upstairs and one downstairs bedroom, the shelter has an office that's the hub of activity, said Monique Yamashita, who is in charge of shelter operations as deputy director. A 24-hour domestic violence hotline rings with an average of 60 calls a month. There's an office couch where women entering the shelter are welcomed and others make a final stop before leaving the shelter.
The shelter also has a children's room filled with toys and a large back yard for play. "They really can be kids here," Yamashita said. A children's program provides activities for children while their mothers participate in counseling and other programs or go to work.
With more state funding as well as increases in Maui County and Maui United Way funding this year, Moniz said the organization is in a better position than it was last year, when employees were laid off, even as use of the shelter increased. Yamashita, who was among employees laid off because of budget cuts last year, returned to the organization in May.
"It may be a sign of the times getting better," Moniz said. "It also is a sign, I think, that the state and the county really recognize that domestic violence services are essential. Having our shelter available is critical to our community."
Since January, the shelter has provided 5,430 bed nights, a measure that combines the number of people housed and the number of nights they stay.
The shelter has 26 beds, its official capacity, although there have been times when it has taken in more, Moniz said. "We've got couches," she said. "We just moved a family out of the living room last night."
She said the shelter may be full, but shelter residents will "rearrange themselves" to accommodate new arrivals.
The highest number of shelter residents was 60, including two sets of twins, during the holidays one year, Moniz said. But a couple of Christmases later, there were only two women and no children staying there, she said.
The average stay is 28 days, with a 90-day limit for emergency shelter, Moniz said. That average has doubled since 1997, when the average stay was 14 days, she said, with reasons tied to the housing market and no room on a federal housing subsidy waiting list.
In August, the shelter had its lowest number of bed nights this year while hotline calls jumped to 111, the highest number.
The shelter has spent nearly $12,000 on food this year.
Those visiting the shelter Friday included state Sen. Roz Baker, who has worked with the West Maui Domestic Violence Task Force, and Council Member Mike Victorino.
Victorino said he could tell he startled one woman who wasn't expecting to see a man in the house. "They have already had trauma in their lives, and I show up here," he said. "Anytime a male shows up here it's a little more difficult for the residents."
While it was his first visit to the shelter, Victorino said he was aware of its value.
"We're trying to make sure programs like this are funded as best we can, so these women feel there is a place to go when their significant other becomes abusive," Victorino said. "I'm a large supporter of this."
Baker worked for passage of a state law that took effect this year requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodation to domestic violence victims so they can stay employed and safe at work. She said the law has drawn inquiries from other states. "It's kind of a first."
After the tour of the shelter, including a deck area temporarily covered with plywood and in need of renovation, she said she was thinking about fundraising possibilities."They always need funds," she said.
Noting that the shelter is housed in a 150-year-old building, Moniz said handyman services are always in short supply.
One year, U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye was visiting the shelter when his foot broke through a portion of the floor, Moniz said. He worked to secure federal money for a new roof and other renovations before the shelter reopened in 1997.
An open house last year led to a West Maui fundraising effort that garnered donations of pillows and clothing, as well as money, to help keep the shelter running during what Moniz looks back on as the hardest year.
After supporting the organization for years, artist Jo Ann Chou visited the shelter for the first time, seeing one of her paintings on a living room wall and visiting with another resident who is an artist.
"I think it's beautiful," Chou said. "We need to support each other."
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.