These days Linnea Lindstrom holds the position of executive director of the Mystic Chamber of Commerce, but at one time in her life she was struggling and in debt after a difficult divorce, with no family to turn to for support.
While she was not physically abused in her marriage, Lindstrom vividly remembers all the obstacles and hardships of those times and has now created in her region a service designed to match women who are victims of domestic violence with employers sympathetic to their scheduling and child care conflicts.
"We've often heard that anyone who wants to work already has a job, but this statement is untrue," said Lindstrom. "There are women out there who would love to get a job but can't get through these obstacles."
The service in this old whaling port is called the Quay program, borrowing the nautical term for a safe place for a boat to berth and signifying the safe landing Lindstrom wants domestic violence victims to have when leaving a harmful relationship.
Mary Mcinerney, associate executive director of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said domestic violence victims face several obstacles to finding a job when leaving an abusive partner.
"Probably the first big barrier to anything else is this person has been living in isolation and doesn't know what's out there (for help)," Mcinerney said. "Leaving abusive situations may often mean losing your ability to work. The whole world thinks that once you step out of that, you are OK. But it takes time to recover."
Mcinerney painted a grim picture of the obstacles faced by women who leave abusive relationships. The batterer may not have allowed the woman to gain valuable skills necessary for a job, she said. The abuser also may damage the woman's vehicle, forcing her to find other means of transportation, or may harass her with threatening calls or stalk her once she does land a job. And because of the isolation, the woman may not know where to turn for child care.
Victims often feel too uncomfortable or afraid to tell their employers about their predicaments, which makes it difficult for them to keep their jobs, Mcinerney said.
"If you are getting lots of phone calls at work, how does that look in the office?" Mcinerney asked. "Employers who are sensitive to the issue will help get them through. But how many (employers) are willing to go the whole way?"
Mcinerney said she has not heard of any other program like Quay in Connecticut. But some corporations, such as Polaroid, do go out of their way to accommodate victims of domestic violence, she said. For instance, Polaroid will allow an employee who is harassed or stalked at work to transfer to a branch in another area.
In fiscal year 1999-2000, the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence helped 36,281 women in 18 domestic violence shelters across the state. Coalition members say this number does not include thousands of domestic violence victims who are treated at hospitals, seek help from police or never publicly disclose their situations.
Since it began in March, just one local woman has benefited from Quay. But Lindstrom is convinced that Renee Wells' testimony is sure to inspire others so that at least a handful of women are helped each year.
Extreme low esteem left Wells, who lives in nearby Waterford, with little courage to search for employment. But the Southeastern Connecticut Women's Center in New London referred her to Quay, and she soon took a job at the Holiday Inn in New London.
Wells' struggles did not end there. In her first week at work, the mother of two learned she had to take time off to have her gall bladder removed. Lindstrom said domestic violence victims often lack the confidence to ask for sick days, even in emergency situations, and would rather quit than make the request.
To make matters worse, when Wells returned to work after surgery, she missed a few days of work again when the court date for her final divorce proceedings kept being rescheduled. She also had difficulty finding child care, and she had to wait six weeks before the state subsidized her children's day care.
Throughout Wells' ordeal, her manager, Mike Harrison, supported her.
"Special concessions were made to accommodate her employment that we were happy to make," Harrison said. "The program is a win-win for everybody. It helps the young lady in whatever situation she's in, and it also benefits the hotel."
Harrison said the hotel was grateful for the referral because it needed workers to help with the busy summer season.
In addition to the Holiday Inn, five other employers from the chamber have officially joined Quay, including Mystic Color Lab, Residence Inn, Days Inn and Comfort Inn, all of Mystic, and Hi-Tech Profile in Pawcatuck.
Low unemployment rates in southeastern Connecticut have many businesses struggling to find workers, Lindstrom said, and Quay is one small way to help meet that demand.
Meanwhile, Harrison said Wells recently left the hotel for a more convenient and higher-paying job. She was making $6.50 per hour.
"Even if we help only one woman get back on her feet, it will be successful, and we've done that already," Lindstrom said.