Place residence

Domestic violence survivors have a safe place at Newton’s The Second Step

Thirty years ago, a group of dedicated volunteers found themselves at a crossroads when their local efforts to create transitional housing for domestic violence the survivors came to rest.

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Neighbors of a Woburn house that the volunteers were to renovate objected to the location for fear the attackers would show up in their town.

“We were discouraged,” said Dr Lisa Giudice, one of the four founders of The second stage non-profit, after the failure of the Woburn house.

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The organization helps shelter, offer therapy and create safety plans with survivors, among other essential services.

When the realization of their dreams seemed highly unlikely after Woburn’s decision, an offer of accommodation was made in the 11th hour from an unexpected source: the town of Newton.

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At the time, housing survivors of domestic violence in a mostly affluent suburb like Newton was groundbreaking, as many in the community thought, “It’s not happening here,” Giudice said.

“Newton has been an incredible community…really opening their arms,” ​​she said.

The city launched The Second Step as a lifeline three decades ago when the Housing Authority asked Giudice and her three fellow founders Margaret Grometstein, Nancy Doutteil and Ellen Schoendorf if they would be interested in a home zoned for the community life. Catholic Charities was using half of the building to help drug-addicted women, and the city told members of The Second Step they could apply for the other half.

They have been helping individuals and families in need in communities across the region since 1992.

Answer to a need

In the 1980s, Giudice, Schoendorf, Grometstein and Doutteil met while training to do crisis work for survivors of domestic violence at a shelter in Waltham.

Back then, resources for survivors were even more limited than they are today. Giudice remembers driving her own car to pick up women and drive them to the shelter.

Even if a survivor could make it to a safe facility 30 years ago, she (and the vast majority were women) usually could only stay for up to six weeks, Giudice said — not enough time to get out. a dire situation and create a new life.

Giudice and his friends’ goal was to create transitional housing where people in need could go to school or enroll in job training and other essential services so they could build a life for themselves. better.

The founders didn’t want to see survivors “get stuck in this system where they could only stay six weeks,” she said. Staying in homes longer would help survivors avoid multiple moves, often traumatic for children, compounding the problem.

Actual job

Susan Ross, acting executive director of Second Step, said in a recent interview that the nonprofit is continuing its mission, even during the COVID pandemic.

“It’s been really difficult,” she said. Fortunately, there was no epidemic in the residences and the organization was able to keep many services in operation.

However, it was difficult for survivors to stay isolated and go to court online and for their children to go to school via zoom.

The need for services remained stable. Between 2009 and 2021, an average of 237 survivors per year have been assisted by The Second Step, the vast majority of them women, according to Ross.

However, surviving men were also housed in Newton.

“We now know that men are abused in heterosexual and homosexual relationships,” Ross said, adding that they are underserved.

While providing shelter is an essential service, The Second Step also helps survivors meet other challenges.

Because domestic violence often involves control and coercion, Ross said, “the goal of the nonprofit is to get [survivors] to a place where they can make their own decisions.

To that end, the nonprofit organization provides services, including support groups, and connects survivors with advocacy groups, lawyers and counsel.

When people end up leaving the shelter to live on their own, they often still need help. So the non-profit organization developed a community program to provide emotional support, as well as job and parenting skills, to name a few. Ross said the program now includes those who did not live on the Newton property.

The Second Step funds its annual operating budget of approximately $2 million through a combination of 40% government grants, 33.3% donations and grants, 24% events and sponsorships, and 2.7% donations. other income, according to the organization.

About 250 adult survivors are served through community programs and 500 child survivors are served each year, Ross said.

To donate to The Second Step, visit