For months, Darlene's husband hit her and threatened to kill their 4-year-old daughter when she tried to leave. Finally, the battered Southern Maryland mother and child escaped -- embarking on a journey that led them to a Baltimore County "safe house."
"We're Towson's best-kept secret," said Grace Fendlay, executive director of Active Coalition for Transitional Services Inc. (ACTS), a nonprofit organization that operates three homes for survivors of domestic violence.
Clients and their children can stay for up to two years at the shelters, which offer counseling and support for the victims.
But, in the present climate of state and federal budget cuts, the group needs money for clothing and household items for the families -- who often flee with only the clothes on their backs -- and to maintain the houses nestled in conspicuously in Towson neighborhoods.
Tonight, a fund-raiser for ACTS will be held from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Outback Steakhouse's newest restaurant at 4215 Ebenezer Road in Perry Hall.
"There is more need for our services and less money available to do our work," Ms. Fendlay said. "We couldn't survive without private contributions from individuals and organizations."
The ACTS program houses eight women and 10 children, who attend local schools and day care centers while the women work or go to school. To protect the families, ACTS does not release the location of the shelters or the full names of the women.
"We keep a low profile and keep the homes furnished and the lawns cut. Neighbors often don't know we're there," Ms. Fendlay said.
Darlene, 37, says ACTS saved her life.
"Everything I've gotten is through donations. I'm safe. I have self-esteem. I've built a life I'm proud of," she said.
She now lives in the county, works as a secretary and volunteers at ACTS, helping other abused women. "I wanted to give something back," she said. "When you live with a bunch of women and their children, it can be crazy. There is a lot of adjustment in addition to the fear and uncertainty of the future."
For information about the fund-raiser, call 825-8773.
A $10 donation at the door includes an open bar and food.