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As the Thursday sun set beneath the horizon, candlelight brightened the sky above the Midland University Amphitheater as members of the community gathered for a candelight vigil to remember those who who have lost their lives to domestic violence, and to honor those who have survived it.

“The vigil is a night to remember those who have lost their lives because of domestic violence — we also remember their children, their family and friends who have suffered these horrific losses,” Marcey Darmento, board member of The Bridge, told the crowd at the vigil. “Tonight is also a celebration for those who have survived, many are unable to be here with us tonight, and for some its not safe to identify themselves as a survivor. Our hearts and thoughts are with all of you as we celebrate your courage.”

The annual vigil is held by local organization The Bridge, which has provided help to victims and survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault in Dodge and four neighboring counties for over 30 years.

The event serves as a way to draw awareness about domestic violence locally through bringing the community together and providing a platform for survivors and allies to share their stories.

“This is something that is very difficult for me, I’ve never spoke about this publicly before,” Tina Walker, director of Keene Memorial Library said. “But this is something that is very important in my life and it’s one of my passions to make sure that people really understand what really goes on and knows how to stop it.”

During the vigil, Walker shared her personal story of living through domestic violence throughout her childhood.

“My story is one many people have heard before, but unless you have lived it you cannot understand the emotional impact domestic violence makes on your entire life,” she said. “In a nutshell, I grew up in a household where my father was an alcoholic, drug addict and an abuser. Since my earliest memories I can recall emotional and physical abuse to my sisters, my mom and myself.”

Walker bravely shared her emotional story in front of a crowd of more than 100 in attendance, as she recalled memories of her father physically and emotionally abusing her mother, her sisters and herself.

“I remember once my dad beat my sister so badly that she was black and blue from her calves to her waist and could not sit down at home or in school for weeks,” she said. “She got in trouble for refusing to dress out in P.E. and skipped class altogether — nobody noticed and nobody cared, nobody asked why she was misbehaving.”

Along with stories of extreme physical violence inflicted by her father, Walker also shared of emotional abuse as a child.

“I never heard the words ‘I love you’ until I got a boyfriend in high school and I honestly still didn’t know what that meant because I had never heard it before,” she said. “It wasn’t until my mom was on her deathbed that I heard those word for the first time from either one of my parents.”

While it took Walker 42 years to share her story, she said she realizes it’s worth sharing if only to help those who have never experienced domestic violence understand the toll it takes on those who live through it.

“I recognize my story is worth sharing—if not to show survivors that they can move forward—but to be able to help others understand some of the psychological impacts and reactions that occur following the domestic violence issue,” she said. “Even though I’ve suffered some pretty horrific things in my life I know that with therapy and support from family and friends I can get through whatever issues and demons I am fighting. I have used the emotions I had to fuel my desires for a better life and to never succumb to that type of behavior again.”

Joining Walker at Thursday’s event were retired Fremont Public Schools educator and counselor Doyle Schwaninger who shared his experiences of hearing from students, and a family member, who were victims of domestic violence.

“This naive man from small town Nebraska soon began to hear stories that were, to me, almost unbelievable,” he said of his early years as a guidance counselor. “One of the first things I learned was the importance of truly listening and believing what the kids were telling me.”

In conclusion, Schwaninger shared three simple steps to supporting victims of domestic assault.

“You need to listen if someone is willing to open up to you, second believe what they haveve to say and third refer them to help,” he said.

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