She stood tall, shoulders back, head high. She had the most radiant smile.
She started saying goodbye, giving giant bear hugs to the staff and volunteers who had gathered in the foyer. She was thanking them for saving her life.
It was a scene I'd witnessed many times before. The day a woman leaves the shelter is emotional for everyone, full of gratitude and optimism for a better, safer future.
Suddenly I heard a commotion out in the fenced parking lot. Her two sons, aged 7 and 9, excited they were leaving, were having fun -- running aimlessly, yelling, being typical kids full of rowdy boisterous life.
The sight of them made me catch my breath, and I thought, "This is what hope looks like."
Just a few months ago, life for these boys was so different. Home was a battlefield; they saw their mother scared and bruised and bloody, they saw their father angry and violent. Their school work would likely have suffered from the weight of keeping this secret from friends and teachers and from worrying about what would greet them when they returned home. Feeling safe would have been a luxury; the future, something to dread.
But on this day, watching them in the sheer abandon of play, I was overwhelmed with the realization that their future had fundamentally changed.
As of today, they could be ordinary kids.
This change was made possible thanks to two things: their mother's courageous decision to escape the violence, and the safety and support she received from community services like the shelter.
Though some people still seem to think leaving an abuser is easy, more and more Canadians are beginning to realize the act of leaving is actually fraught with danger and full of "out of the frying pan and into the fire" kinds of choices.
A recent study by the Canadian Women's Foundation found that three-quarters of Canadians believe having children (75%), economic dependency (74%) and having nowhere to go (73%) may influence a woman's decision to stay in an abusive relationship.
In reality, the most dangerous time for an abused women is when she attempts to leave her abuser. And although Canada has more than 400 emergency shelters, in some communities women and their children are regularly turned away because the shelters are full.
Women need help to escape the violence and build a new life for themselves and their children.
We are in the middle of Canada's largest national fundraising campaign to end violence against women, presented by the Canadian Women's Foundation in partnership with Rogers and Winners/HomeSense.
Over the last nine years, Canadians have come together to raise $10-million for emergency shelters, counseling for children who witness violence, loan funds to help women rebuild their lives, and programs that help teens break the cycle and stop the violence, for good.
If you believe hope is greater than fear, here's how you can help:
Follow Sandra Hawken Diaz on Twitter: www.twitter.com/cdnwomenfdn