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Shelter House gala to offer messages of hope, healing

WILLMAR -- Shelter House Inc. plans to make its first annual Hope for Tomorrow fundraising gala an enjoyable evening, with a message.

Shelter House supporters at the March 30 gala will hear two stories about the aftermath of domestic abuse -- one is a family tragedy; the other, a tale of hope.

For Beth, whose full name is not being used to protect her safety, the turning point in her life came about six months ago. The violence in her home was escalating, and she became convinced that her abusive partner would eventually kill her if she didn't leave him.

"I left with the clothes on my back," she said. She arrived at Shelter House's women's shelter in Willmar with nothing else to her name.

The shelter opened its doors to her and helped her get back on her feet, she said. Advocates at the shelter helped her get new clothes and find a job. They also pampered her a little, with a haircut and a manicure and a trip to the YMCA.

When she was able to find a place to live and move out of the shelter, she left with a van full of donated items to help her get started. She recently got a promotion at her job, and her faith helps her keep going.

"When I came here I was a wreck," she said. "I hate to even talk about it. I want to forget it, but I need to talk."

Beth's ability to tell people about her situation may be helping her move on with her life.

"The people who tell their story are the ones who heal," said Connie Schmoll, director of Shelter House.

For Jan Egge and her family, the healing has been slow and difficult. Her sister Kerri Robinson was murdered on Jan. 30, 2006, the day she was going to leave her abusive boyfriend.

"She had just a few more boxes to move, and she was gone," Egge said. Before she could leave, thought, he shot her in the home they had shared near Franklin. The boyfriend was convicted of first-degree murder and will serve at least 33 years in prison.

Robinson always wanted to help others, Egge said, and she hopes that hearing her story will help other women and their families avoid such a heartbreaking ending.

"This isn't about me; this is about my sister," she said. "We need to get people emotionally involved, or nothing will change."

Robinson had a strong family support system but didn't know much about the system of advocates that might have helped her, Egge said. She plans to continue speaking out in her sister's name to help others find the support they need to leave abusive situations.

Egge and Beth met earlier this week, and they shared their stories. They hugged and cried as they talked. Both remarked on the similarities of Beth's and Kerri Robinson's lives, right down to the derogatory comments made by their abusers.

All of the proceeds from the gala will be used to help provide safety and justice for abuse victims, Schmoll said.

The idea for the masquerade gala at the Willmar Holiday Inn was raised as an alternative to the Night in the Park celebration the Shelter House had sponsored for years at Rice Park.

The park setting made it more difficult to get a message out, Schmoll said.

A major fundraising event is needed, too, as state funding for shelters has been shrinking in recent years. Costs keep going up, so local advocates need to raise more money in their communities, Schmoll said.

The more formal setting will allow Shelter House to deliver its message more clearly and show supporters a good time, she said.

"It's a fun event," Schmoll said, "and it's an opportunity to dress up." The invitation specifies evening or formal attire.

The evening will include a silent auction, a raffle and a live auction of some major items, including a framed original watercolor by local artist Audrey Falk.

The evening will begin with a social at 6 p.m. and dinner at 6:30 p.m. Music will be provided by the Fabulous Bluez Brotherz Rhythm & Blues Review, a nine-piece band including several area musicians.

Emcee Melanie Eckhart and auctioneer Kristine Duininck are donating their services for the evening. Other live auction items include a half-day fishing trip for 10, a themed catered dinner by Mike Kueppers and a pair of Vikings tickets.