Stitching Families Back Together

Family Tree helps fight domestic violence, child abuse and homelessness


FAMILY TREE served 25,820 people last year through programs and support including the Next Gen Council. Courtesy

Missy was 24 years old when the abuse, physical and verbal, began.

A black eye here, a bruised arm there and angry tirades from a husband with a fiery temper broke her spirit and made her children lethargic and depressed. They’d take refuge under a bed, behind the sofa or in a closet whenever the fighting started and were increasingly reluctant to come out even after Dad had stormed out of the house.

But with no job, two children younger than 5 and an always-empty cookie jar that was supposed to contain money for groceries, rent and fuel for the rattletrap car that didn’t start half the time, she felt as if she had no choice but to stay. Her family lived in another state, and her friends in Colorado were in no position to offer shelter—her husband knew who they were and where they lived—nor did they have money to lend Missy so she could rent a motel room or apartment.

One of them, however, proved to be a lifesaver. This friend had recently shopped at the Treasure Trunk Thrift Store in Wheat Ridge and learned that it was part of Family Tree, which for 40 years has provided services to end child abuse, domestic violence and homelessness. The friend told Missy she should check it out—and she did.

Now Missy has a job, a roof over her head and the support of trained professionals who are helping her children heal from the trauma of witnessing their mother’s abuse. And one day Missy may echo the words that Family Tree alum Ria offers in a video account of her own experience: “Family Tree was my first step to happiness, and my children’s first step to happiness.”

Founded by a group of Jefferson County residents wanting to help at-risk kids make better decisions—to keep them from ending up on the streets, becoming addicted, committing a crime or being sentenced to a correctional facility—Family Tree quickly expanded to seven counties.

Just as quickly, the Wheat Ridge-based nonprofit’s staff realized that domestic violence, child abuse and homelessness are connected, and that a successful outcome depends on addressing all three.

“There weren’t a lot of shelters or programs back when we first opened,” says Rhonda Sheya, Family Tree’s director of marketing and communications, “so we didn’t have a lot of statistics to go by. But as our clients came to us, we kept finding the interconnectivity: that a mom who is escaping domestic violence more likely than not would be homeless as a result. Most likely, she would be leaving the home with no money and just the clothes on her back.”

“Family Tree is changing how individuals, families and communities see, respond to and overcome” these issues, says chief executive officer Scott Shields.

“It’s not enough to just put an abused mom in a shelter,” Sheya adds. “You have to look at the big picture, to recognize that it’s child abuse for a kid to witness violence and that child abuse can lead to the bad decisions that continue the cycle—drug and alcohol abuse, dropping out of school, etc.”

In addition to emergency shelter, Family Tree provides a crisis hotline; a domestic violence safe haven; legal advocacy; parenting classes; visitation management; a “kinship” program where, if the client cannot care for minor children, Family Tree will find and assist relatives who can; hotel vouchers; in-home counseling; and help with résumé writing.

Last year, Family Tree served 25,820 people and provided more than 19,000 nights of safe shelter to families and individuals who might otherwise have been homeless.

The organization operates on a $6 million annual budget, with 90 full- and part-time employees. Financial support comes from corporate and individual gifts; the Forty or More Club (those donating $40 or more per month, or an annual gift of at least $1,000, are rewarded with invitations to special events); and fundraisers including Climbing for a Cause, the Celebration of Achievement and Girls Night Out: No Room for Domestic Violence.

SUPPORT: Girls Night Out: No Room for Domestic Violence, an evening of shopping, fashion, food and wine, October 18 at 6 p.m. at the Lamar Street Center, 5889 Lamar St., Arvada. Denver-area boutiques, including Mariel, Goldyn and A-Line, host pop-up shops; guests can buy clothing worn by the celebrities and former clients who model in the show. Tickets are $50 or six for $250. Family Tree also operates the Treasure Trunk Thrift Store, 5892 W. 44th Ave., Wheat Ridge. Clients receive vouchers to shop there for free; the public also can buy clothing, furniture, toys and household goods donated by Family Tree supporters.
Cash donations: Send checks to 5892 Marshall St., Wheat Ridge, CO 80033, or call Cherie, 303-422-2133.
Volunteer opportunities: Find listings on the Family Tree website, or send queries to [email protected]
Crisis hotline: 303.420.6752
Homeless programs hotline: 303.467.2604

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