Maria Palafox stood up at her Parents Creating Change/Women Over Violence graduation Friday afternoon and announced that she had something to confess.
She initially showed up for the free course for the wrong reasons, she told the two-dozen people in the audience.
“I’ll be honest, it was because I thought, ‘This is better than staying home and doing nothing.’”
But as the classes went on, Palafox said, “I started to discover that there were good things in me, and I’m not going to hide them anymore.
“From now on, I don’t want to be afraid. I’m not going to be intimidated anymore. I am a woman capable of rising above anything and I am now back to feeling good about myself and I’m going to leave all the fears behind me and not let them bring me down.
“A thousand thank yous!”
Then Palafox held her graduation certificate up in the air: “This is for my niño’s,” she said, getting some very loud applause.
Parents Creating Change is a 10-week course offered by the non-profit Orange County Family Justice Center Foundation in Anaheim.
The course teaches women positive parenting techniques. It also teaches them that they have a voice — and that how they use that voice can leave an indelible print on the children they raise.
If a child sees her mother being abused, she might think it’s OK to abuse when she grows up, or she might think it’s normal to take abuse.
“I’m very proud of the fact that these women took the initiative to not only make themselves better, but to make their families better — to help break the cycle of violence,” Anaheim Police Lt. James Kazakos, director of the foundation, said during the ceremony. “It’s very difficult to take that first step. So I applaud you for taking the first step.”
The ceremony was held in a classroom at Thomas Edison Elementary in Anaheim, the same classroom where the women met for two hours every Thursday morning for the past 10 weeks.
Gloria Flores stood to tell how the class was so helpful, that she rode her bicycle 30 minutes each way just to be there every week.
Through a translator, she said she has learned to “reflect on my children and understand them a lot better. Now I am able to talk to my children and not get angry so easily. I am very grateful.”
In fact, she and her junior-high daughter are already signed up for another class that they can take together.
The Justice Center Foundation offers an array of free classes, not just on parenting. Kids Creating Change is one. Real Teens, Real Talk is another. The justice center also has a teen advisory board, college prep classes, a Teen Dating Violence seminar and Women Over Violence classes in English, Spanish and Arabic.
Eman Aboswaeg is the Women Over Violence class facilitator.
“We would like to teach these ladies, because sometimes they don’t have the courage to talk, to recognize domestic violence and raise their kids so in the future they don’t become victims or abusers,” she said.
Teaching the women to value themselves is part of the course.
“Some of the ladies, they say that their husbands never say a nice word to them, and actually they put them down,” says Aboswaeg. “It is not the truth. We are trying to help them see good things about themselves.”
Less than a decade ago, Aboswaeg was one of those ladies.
Growing up in Libya, she says, there was no protection for women who were abused — even women like herself who had a degree in engineering and came from a good family.
When she came to the U.S. in 2008 with her husband and three children, a friend told her that the way her husband treated her was called domestic violence in this country, and it wasn’t allowed.
“One day I had the courage to call 911 and ask for help,” she says.
She and her children were taken to a domestic violence shelter.
“It was like a castle to me,” she says. “That was the first time I slept with the feeling of freedom, peace and safety in 10 years.”
Her mission now is to help others follow her path.
“I am courage now,” she says. “A lot of ladies say, ‘Who’s going to pay my rent?’ I say, ‘No. You can do it. I made it. I’m working now. My children are in GATE classes. They are doing great.’
“I would like to be an inspiration for other ladies.”
The Justice Center has served 30,000 people since opening in 2006. It helps victims of domestic violence, elder abuse, child abuse, adult dependent abuse and sexual assaults.
Counseling is another service the center offers, and it also has the authority to issue temporary restraining orders without having to go to court.
“The Orange County Family Justice Center is not a Police Station,” a statement on the website reads. “But rather a ‘one-stop place’ to secure various social services.”
“Our biggest challenge is letting people know we’re open for business,” Kazakos said. “And we’re free.”