Virginia ~ Survivor of Domestic Abuse and one of the 12 original models for the Choose Courage Foundation

Rhonda: So here we are 6 years later from your original photoshoot and you have been involved with Choose Courage ever since. What motivates you to stay involved with our nonprofit? 

Virginia: I remember when you had just 12 of us and now there are hundreds! The fact that it is helping people become aware of the issue of domestic violence. It’s not about the stigma, it’s about how do we bring awareness to it and stopping it. I’ll be with it as long as I can. 

Rhonda: What has been the biggest change in your life in the last 6 years?

Virginia: In the last 6 years my youngest daughter has grown to a handful and my oldest daughter is now in high school. Being a mom and watching those 2 girls grow-up and trying to protect them, that has had a big impact. I found love again and unfortunately lost him to illness. It was an amazing relationship. It was a healthy relationship. It was one of those relationships you want for everyone out there, It was just healthy. 

Rhonda: What one word would you use to describe your emotions the day of your original photoshoot?

Rhonda: I mean.. other than hot.  It ended up being a weirdly really hot spring day! 

Virginia: YES. hot!  One word for my emotions was… nervous.  I was just nervous. I didn’t want to fail you or let you down. 

Rhonda: Interesting you didn’t want to let me down.

Virginia: Yeah… I was just nervous. 

Rhonda: What about one word to describe your emotions after you saw your images printed at the first charity art show “Emerge”?

Virginia: Encouraged. I was encourage to know that something I took a chance on (that I was so nervous about) turned into something amazing. I was encourage to know that good things could come from something that was a bad experience.

Rhonda: That whole night was just pure magic.

Virginia: It was! The entire night was magic. It was surreal.

Rhonda: Did you have any fears or reservations about being a part of a public domestic abuse campaign? 

Virginia: The night of Emerge? No, I really did not.  I didn’t have any doubts or anything. Before that night I was curious about how it would all come together.

Rhonda: I think it was also more difficult because you were one of the originals. It was an idea… now we have something to show survivors and a visual of the vision. You had to go more on faith. 

Virginia: For sure. Unfortunately things can turn a different way or people perceive things a different way. I was nervous about that. I still have the first book from that night, I was hopeful it would be perceived well.  And the night of Emerge I knew it was going to be OK. 

Rhonda: What motivated you to say yes back then 6 years ago?

Virginia: I think 6 years ago the stigma of domestic violence was still on the victims. The focus wasn’t on solving the problem. A lot comes when you go through the entire experience.  Forgiveness, self confidence… so much.  6 years ago there wasn’t anything like the Choose Courage Foundation that brought awareness in a way that was kind. It wasn’t about blame or what you could have done. It wasn’t’ about the negative. It was about kindness, celebrating survivors and where they had come. It was not focused on the back story.  The Choose Courage foundations brought kindness to an issue that needs to be addressed. And you still catch more bees with honey!

Rhonda: After everything came out did that change anything for you? We didn’t tell your story per say but we celebrated you as a survivor of domestic abuse.

Virginia: After doing the photoshoot, and the Emerge Art Show, more of my family, friends, and coworkers saw what I was a part of. I was surprised at how many people reached out to me through social media to say “hey can we talk”?  I think they just needed to know they weren’t alone, and that’s been my message from the beginning. They are not alone. I know when I went through it… it wasn’t one moment I thought I was alone it was the entire time. Since being a part of the Choose Courage Foundation I’ve had many more people reach out to me to talk. I’m here for them. I want everyone to know that what you are going through you are not alone. 

Rhonda:Fast forward to today. Do you feel any difference or changes in this issue on a bigger scale in the last 6 years? I feel there is a shift. Do you feel that?

Virginia:I do! I do feel there is a shift. That stigma that was there 6 years ago… it was about blame. It’s now about help and seeking a path to becoming stronger and empowered. And to know that whoever goes through this that they have so much strength.  It is a different way of looking at it. 

Rhonda: It seems like it’s shifting from stigma to concern?

Virginia: I agree with you. Before 6 years ago it was more about those 2 people. As a society now it’s not about 2 people, it’s about our community, our society and how we protect our society. I see that it’s more of people wanting to help their community. 

Rhonda: How are you inspired to keep growing?

Virginia: I’ve realized the last few years that I might not be here tomorrow. If I’m not. Then what’s my impact? NO… that’s not the word… What will people remember me by? What will they miss about me? I think what helps me grow is I want people to remember that if I can help someone I don’t even know then they can too. It’s just a domino effect and that’s how I want people to remember me. I keep growing and learning without judgment. If I can do it… they can do it too. Helping others has to make the world a better place. If I’m not here tomorrow will people say because of her (especially my daughters) I want to be kind and help other people?

Rhonda:What has been the most surprising thing about this journey? Is there anything that has shocked you?

Virginia:Yeah… the fear or sadness I had so many years ago when I went through this experience. I am so much stronger and knowledgable now. I’m more forgiving. I think forgiveness comes with a hard taste in your mouth, because It’s hard to forgive someone who hurt you. Through this whole experience I started with forgiving and now through that forgiveness I’ve realized that people might be able to get help. It’s helped me strengthen my forgiveness and my appreciation for healing.

Rhonda: If you could tell a younger Virginia (say in your early 20’s) anything today what would you tell her?

Virginia: There are so many things I would tell her! I would tell her to look at what she’s going through and have faith that she is stronger than the person she is looking at in the mirror. That self doubt, self conscienceness she has when she looks in the mirror.  She’s stronger that what she can ever imagine.  I would tell her YOU are stronger than the woman you see in the mirror. You’re going to be able to do things you never thought you could do. That Virginia couldn’t even imagine all the things she would conquer and come through. 

Rhonda: As a mom of girls what do you hope for them in their relationships? 

Virginia: I hope they find love, companionship, and a partner. I hope they understand that people are not perfect, and with that imperfection comes mistakes. I hope they know that others mistakes are not your fault.  It doesn’t’ mean you can’t wish them well and love the from afar.  Whatever relationship they have it has to be with love and compassion, not with hurt and meanness.  If it doesn’t work out… it will be ok. They will be ok. 

Rhonda: What brings you joy?

Virginia: What brings me joy besides chocolate… laughing. What brings me joy is anything I experience that gives me that feeling that chocolate gives me when it hits my tongue and melts in my mouth. With anything that does that.. it doesn’t’ matter, mowing the lawn, going to the movies with my girls… whenever that feeling is captured.  

Rhonda: What about the future excites you the most?

Virginia: I would have to say I get excited about meeting people. I get excited about people helping people and making the world a better place for my daughters. Or for my daughters’ daughters. I get excited about awareness and that people are going to make things better. 

Rhonda: Ok… What is one surprising thing about you?  Hidden talent or maybe a secret obsession? Something that might entertain us!

Virginia: Hmmm… Let me see….  I taught aerobics back in the day. 

Rhonda: Me too!

Virginia: Yeah I did that. That was probably the hidden talent that I had. We had the steps, the tae bow. All the things! And my girls would say I have eyes in the back of my head.. ha ha. I can crochet a blanket and I can stitch a pattern. That might surprise people. 

Rhonda: Thank you for choosing courage and thank you for having the heart to give back and make a difference. 

Rhonda:If you could tell someone words of encouragement that is in a domestic abuse situation now what would you say to them? 

Virginia: Encouragement? I would tell them find the strength that you don’t think you have, and know that you are not alone. To not believe that it’s you. It has nothing to do with you it has to do with what someone else is going through. You have people you can count on and people who love you. Had I known I wasn’t alone and had I known how strong I really was it would have been a minute instead of the length of time it lasted. If you are going through something just reach out, you will be amazed at how people will help you.