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Article Published March 4, 2021

Strength-4-Survivors Challenge Offers Support, Education, Hope

By Pem McNerney/

The Umbrella Center for Domestic Violence Services (UCDVS) is offering the Strength-4-Survivors challenge starting Saturday, March 13.

Participants in the challenge, which will support and honor victims and survivors of domestic violence, will every morning starting on March 13 be sent an email challenge to finish. The challenges will include mindfulness activities, creative endeavors, and physical activities, with options for modifications.

Participants are asked to raise money through sponsors, which will go to the UCDVS, helping victims, survivors, and their children. More information about the challenge and how to sign up is available at

Danielle Morfi, the development coordinator for UCDVS, which is part of North Haven-based BHCare, says it’s no mistake that strength is part of the title of the challenge.

“I believe victims and survivors are some of the strongest people we know. It takes a victim about seven times to successfully leave an unhealthy or abusive relationship. In fact, the most dangerous time for a victim is when they actually leave,” she says. “This is where we see extremely violent and often fatal incidences occur, because the abusive partner has lost control of their victim and will resort to desperate and erratic behavior.”

She says it’s often true that victims are isolated from their support systems, and/or cut off from their financial independence.

“They may have been gaslighted or convinced that they must rely on their partner for financial support, or threatened with violence, against themselves or their loved ones, or threatened with deportation or custody battles,” she says.

More Important Than Ever

“It is more important than ever to sustain our services during the pandemic. Domestic violence is a public health issue that has been deeply impacted by the COVID-19 crisis,” Morfi says. “Stay-at-home orders and pandemic restrictions added another layer of distress to the trauma experienced by victims and survivors. Victims are being confined with their abusers, sustaining abuse until it becomes intolerable. This past year, calls to The Umbrella Center for Domestic Violence Services and the HOPE Family Justice Center have been steady. We’ve received pleas from the shower, public bathrooms, and basements because victims are desperate to grab a minute to call for help.

“We’ve also seen an increase for basic needs, such as housing, food, baby items, and relocation costs. Food insecurity, financial instability, and the threat of homelessness is on the rise among our clients. Across the state, there has been an increase in domestic violence-related shootings, stalkings, strangulations, and hospitalizations with severe injuries.”

Often About Control

She adds that domestic violence is about control.

“We see victims of every age, gender, educational background, ethnicity, and financial standing. That is what is so pervasive and insidious about it. So I centered the challenge about strength because strength comes in so many forms,” she says. “We want to acknowledge and celebrate the strength within that comes with not only surviving domestic violence, but supporting someone who has experienced it. And in far too many cases, honoring those who lost their lives to it.

In past years, the UCDVS has offered a Bowl-2-Benefit as a fundraiser. Because of the pandemic, that’s no longer possible, so Strength-4-Survivors was born out of a need to create a meaningful and empowering event during an unprecedented time, she says.

“We have seen extraordinary strength, generosity, and compassion this past year. This challenge is intended to empower not only participants, but to honor survivors and victims,” she says. “We hope to not only raise funds for our free and confidential domestic violence programs, but also raise awareness of domestic violence and the deep and lasting effects it has on our society as a whole. Each challenge that is sent to participants will be accompanied with and tied to a statistic that we hope people will connect to on some level.”

Isolation is Deliberate

Jessica Holman, coordinator of Community Education and Volunteer Programs for UCDVS, says that people in abusive relationships often feel all alone, like there is no one to help, and that a key problem is the isolation they often feel.

“Unfortunately, people who cause harm to other people often work to isolate their partner, the survivor, from communities of support, such as friends, family, and coworkers. This isolation is deliberate; the isolation can make survivors feel all alone, like there is no where there to help,” she says. “Often times, isolation is a piece of the power and control dynamic in intimate partner relationships; the person who causes harm manipulates their partner to believe that they are not worthy of love and support.”

UCDVS and the affiliated Hope Family Justice Center (HFJC) provides services to nearly 8,000 victims of domestic violence and their children each year throughout Greater New Haven and the Lower Naugatuck Valley. UCDVS provides emergency safe shelter, 24-hour crisis services, counseling, court advocacy, support, and other crucial services. The HFJC consists of a multi-disciplinary team of professionals who work together, under one roof, to provide free wraparound services for domestic violence victims and their families. If you need help, call the UCDVS 24/7 crisis hotlines at 24/7 Crisis Hotline at 203-736-9944 or 203-789-8104. To reach HFJC for coordinated and cohesive services, call 203-800-7204.