Strength and Support

August 2019 View more

By Christie Willhite

The first sign of violence Laurie Knight saw in her husband-to-be was his fist slamming into her eye.

The last time he hurt her, she was pregnant and lying in bed with their 2-year-old and her older son, with a daughter in another room. He punched her head and blood sprayed everywhere. He wouldn’t allow a call to 911 until she said she’d lie that she fell. Then he fled before help arrived.

“I wasn’t really trying to make it believable [to the first responders]. I just wanted help,” says Knight, adding that she “came clean” with police when her children left the room. 

“I pressed charges and I knew I was finally done.”

But unfortunately, being “done” isn’t as simple as pressing charges and filing divorce papers. When Knight wanted help to end the cycle of abuse that began with her father and continued into a previous relationship and ultimately her marriage, she turned to Family Shelter Services.

Survival assistance

With counseling, support, education groups, and temporary shelter, the Wheaton-based agency annually helps about 2,000 DuPage residents experiencing domestic violence. FSS reaches more than 10 times that number through its hotline, community advocacy, and prevention and training programs, says Lisa Horne, domestic violence program coordinator. 

Each year, about 285 people move away from their abusers by staying in the shelter for a couple of weeks or even a few months. The shelter, with 41 beds in 11 rooms, welcomes women, transgender individuals, and men, and accommodates families, Horne says. Men typically stay in a separate part of the shelter.

“We can accommodate families of different sizes,” Horne explains. “We work really hard to give families their own space so they can have the privacy to begin healing.”

Family Shelter Services aims to be “first responders,” providing immediate support. If FSS isn’t able to accommodate a client’s needs, staff and volunteers will find the right help, she says. For instance, in the fiscal year that just ended, FSS wasn’t able to take in 1,700 people who sought shelter, up from 1,300 the previous year, Horn says. 

“Even if we don’t have a bed, we’re doing the legwork for them. We’ll call other shelters to find space or we’ll see if we can work something out,” she adds. “If we provide money to buy groceries, maybe they’ll be able to stay at a friend’s house a few more days.”

Some clients are coping with mental, behavioral, or other health issues, along with healing from the physical abuse. When necessary, the staff will refer clients to other agencies for help, but Horne says FSS doesn’t want to “send clients away with phone numbers.”

Merger agreement

To that end, the local agency merged this spring with Metropolitan Family Services, a regional nonprofit that supports families with behavioral health resources. Starting this summer, the FSS staff began assisting Metropolitan clients with domestic violence issues, while the Metropolitan staff started supporting FSS clients with trauma and substance abuse counseling, Horne says.

“About three years ago, we started noticing clients coming to us with more complex issues,” she said. “The merger allows us to build on what we have and make it stronger.”

Timely, comprehensive support may make all the difference in a client’s life, and that of his or her family. Through support groups, counseling and family programs, Knight says she has the strength to move her life past the domestic abuse she’s experienced and to help her children recover from the trauma of living around violence.

When her ex-husband was released after serving 30 months in prison, he began texting Knight with promises that he would get a job and that they could be a family again. She never responded.

“I think we all have come out stronger,” she says. “If something good came out of this, that is it.” 

Domestic Violence by the Numbers

In 2018, the DuPage County state’s attorney prosecuted:

1,646 felony domestic violence cases

3,594 misdemeanor domestic violence cases

1,644 residents assisted with orders of protection by Family Shelter Services 

113 people arrested on domestic violence charges

10,809 nights spent in shelter

8,500 students educated about healthy boundaries and relationships

Find help

Nationally, one-third of women and one-fourth of men will face domestic abuse in their lifetime. If you are experiencing domestic abuse, you can reach out to Family Shelter Services of Metropolitan Family Service-DuPage ( at the hotline staffed 24/7, 365 days per year: 630.469.5650.

Data courtesy DuPage County State’s Attorney office and Family Shelter Services