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From Style Weekly, 2002
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From The Gazette, Thursday, Nov. 20, 2008 (Subject)
Brandywine woman helps abuse victims
Laura C. Jackson | Making a Difference

  
While working in an emergency shelter in Richmond about six years ago, Tonya Prince encountered a mother and three children fleeing an abusive home. Although the shelter had plenty of donated clothing, no hair-care products were available to help the children look presentable for school the next day.
“That incident has stuck with me over the years,” says Prince, who lives in Brandywine. “The older teen girl braided her little sister’s hair, but there was nothing for the older children.”
That memory prompted Prince to launch the Braid the Ladder Project, a nonprofit group that’s collecting items for the Family Crisis Center of Prince George’s County. Domestic violence victims need shampoos, conditioners, hair oils, combs, brushes, rollers and curling irons. The center especially seeks products suitable for diverse ethnic hair textures. 
 “When people donate items to the shelter, they often overlook personal care products, particularly those for women of color,” safe house resident manager Kenya Fairly said. “The women and children (both boys and girls) that come into our residential program come with little to nothing of their own to rebuild their lives after experiencing abuse and trauma.”
Personal care items and hair products will help women maintain a professional appearance so they can continue their current employment or re-enter the workforce, Fairly said.
Prince has voluntarily assisted victims of domestic violence and sexual assault for about 13 years, including five years in Prince George’s County. However, providing health and beauty products was a project she hadn’t yet tackled.
“We kicked it off in October during domestic violence awareness month,” she said, “but then the economy went south, so we decided to make this an ongoing project.”
Prince has been impressed with the can-do attitude displayed by county residents who want to end domestic violence. She noted that women such as burn victim Yvette Cade and Mildred Muhammad, former wife of convicted sniper John Muhammad, have been speaking out.
“People are passionate about the issue here,” Prince said.
One drawback, however, is the small number of local shelters, she said.
“Sometimes we try to help people go to neighboring counties, but those county funds support their residents,” she said. “So we ask women whether they can go out of town or stay with a friend.”
Most jurisdictions seem to have limited resources for domestic violence victims, she said. Noting that economic changes can add stress to families, she’s concerned that violent incidents will increase.
“We need more people to speak out against abuse, including men and those in leadership and influential positions.”
Those on the run from an abusive home face a shocking, almost surreal, situation, Prince said.
“That morning the family might have been together eating eggs and bacon,” she said. “By that evening a woman and her kids could find themselves without a home, having to start all over.”
Prince begins the recovery process by asking women to write their thoughts on paper so they can see patterns of violence in their lives. Volunteers also help women obtain housing and employment and create strategies for moving ahead. Strategies might include a safety plan for a woman seeking divorce.
“The most dangerous time for a woman is when she’s leaving because the abuser is losing control,” Prince said.
One abuse victim found a job as a waitress, went back to school to become a social worker and even began writing.
“Because she was in social work, she was able to give the volunteers new information. She’s one of the success stories,” Prince said.
Prince, a sexual assault survivor herself, has gained strength from helping women through harrowing circumstances.
“As women, we can overcome a lot of things,” she said. “Just as the older sister braided her little sister’s hair, there’s strength in women working together.”
Tonya Prince
How she makes a difference: Prince, a volunteer who assists victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, collects hair- and personal-care products for the Family Crisis Center. Products for diverse hair textures especially welcome. Call Prince at 301-792-6399 or go to www.braidtheladder.org.
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