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Detroit's domestic-abuse dilemma

Unbelievable fact about Detroit: There is one domestic-abuse shelter in the city. And it only has 65 beds available.

Totally believable fact: The city police department's Domestic Violence Unit has reported a 7 percent increase in cases this year.

Want some more numbers? The unit is staffed by a paltry 17 people. And they have handled more than 8,000 cases so far this year.

That's just plain pitiful. Thank goodness there are people like Kalyn Risker to help.

Risker is the founder of Sisters Acquiring Financial Empowerment, a non-profit organization in Detroit. SAFE helps survivors of domestic violence through specialized training focused on gaining or building the skills they will need to reenter the workforce.

The goal, Risker said, is to help these survivors find good, paying jobs and manage their finances. That way, they can maintain their independence from their abusers and, possibly, break the cycle of economic abuse.

When she founded SAFE in 2006, some thought it was a strange niche. Focusing solely on a domestic abuse survivor's financial status seemed too narrow, they said.

But we all know the one thing couples fight about the most is money. And, right now, Metro Detroit has a severe problem with money. So those eight hours an abuser was formerly out of the house are gone; now, there is no reprieve.

“Now, they're calling on us,” Risker said. “My phone is always ringing.”

Risker knows of which she speaks. In 1998, her then boyfriend gave her the beating of her life. He shattered her left eye socket so badly she needed reconstructive surgery.

“I'm extremely grateful to be alive,” Risker said, but she was devastated emotionally and mentally.

Risker had daily doctor's appointments for a time. She didn't want to leave her apartment. Her doctor would not give her a return to work note and she needed to start earning money.

It was time to rally. So Risker quit her job and started working at a payroll company. Plus, she a daughter to worry about (her second daughter was born in 2002.)

The resourceful Risker also found a scholarship program for women who survived domestic abuse. That allowed her to earn a Bachelors of Business Administration/Human Resource Management from Davenport University. (By the way, she's now working on Masters of Science in Human Resource Administration. Not too shabby.)

While she was working in human resources for a small HMO in southwest Detroit, she came across many employees who also suffered injuries at the hand of a loved one. There was the worker being stalked, so they had to hire additional security. Or the janitorial applicant who needed the job to maintain financial independence from an abuser.

Around this time, Risker came up with the idea for SAFE. She saw the resumes with holes in them or the interviewees who couldn't look anyone in the eye.

So she decided to help them rewrite those resumes. To help them get their self-confidence back. To level the playing field.

Risker also works with companies to help them assist employees who may be in abusive situations.

“I absolutely love it. I love what I do. I very fortunate on a lot of levels,” Risker said, even if money is tight in her own household. SAFE doesn't pay her a salary. Her daughters, now 7 and 15, seem to understand.

Still, SAFE is gaining ground. Risker recently won several awards, including the Spirit of Advocacy Award from the National Network to End Domestic Violence, and has been asked to speak this before before Congress on domestic violence.

Just so you know, October is nationally recognized as “Domestic Violence Awareness” month. To that end, SAFE is holding its annual Health and Wealth Expo on Oct. 24. The Expo is a free event open to all members of the Metro Detroit community.

Last year, more than 250 people attended the event. This year's Expo includes lunch workshops, community outreach tables and resources which will highlight topics such as healthy living on a budget, stress reduction, job seeking tips and personal finance.

Yes, Risker is looking for sponsors – even a few bucks make a major difference. Every time she needs something for SAFE, divine intervention seems to step in, Risker said. Maybe we all could be her guardian angels this time around.

For more information about SAFE, go here.

To find out about the Expo, head right here.

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