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Rita Canning puts a spotlight on the courage of abused women


Rita Canning

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Updated: January 8, 2013 1:04PM

Nearly a third of all Americans know a woman who has been physically abused by her husband or boyfriend or girlfriend. Studies report that before they seek help for the first time, women typically are abused 35 times. Illinois’ most recent report states that in 2007 there were more than 115,000 offenses in the state, noting that most incidents go unreported so the actual number is much higher.

To provide support for some of the Chicago area women who have experienced domestic violence, Women In Need Growing Stronger (WINGS) provides safe, secure and pleasing homes for women to live with their children. While living in one of our homes for as long as two years, they take advantage of the myriad life-building programs that WINGS offers. Our staff members, volunteers and donors dedicate themselves to helping abused women write the next chapter in their lives.

That’s what happened for Sarah, who was pregnant with her third child when, not for the first time during their four-year marriage, her husband brutally attacked her. As a consequence, her labor was premature and Sarah’s newborn son died. The day of his funeral, she drove away from her abusive marriage, taking her other two sons, ages 1 and 2. They lived in her car for the next 2 ½ months.

A northwest suburban church put Sarah in touch with WINGS. Upon entering the Safe House, she recalls, “I felt like I was in heaven.” It provided many comforts, including a large, private bedroom for her family, a playroom and a kitchen with a full pantry to share meals with other families.

In addition to providing a safe place to live, WINGS welcomed Sarah with respect. Caseworkers connected her with a variety of services: therapy, employment counseling and job mentoring, legal support and access to medical care.

WINGS gave Sarah a veritable continuum of care spanning two intensive years. But most important, the team helped Sarah restore her self-esteem and gave her the gift of hope.

Sarah’s children also benefitted from the nurturing environment, though as toddlers they were too young to take full advantage of the playgroups, art therapy, counseling services and computers for doing schoolwork.

As a client in the transitional program, Sarah soon found a purposeful path that enhanced her educational and career opportunities. “WINGS believed in me more than I ever believed in myself,” she says. Now, with her boys thriving, she enjoys a good job and rents her own apartment.

Once back on her feet, Sarah was determined to help others. With a $50 check, Sarah honored her infant son’s memory and created Romeo’s Fund to benefit the WINGS Safe House. She organized an alumnae group and more recently joined our board of directors.

It’s important to realize that this holiday season often prompts women to stay in abusive situations because they do not want to disrupt their children’s lives. At WINGS we hope that stories like Sarah’s provide hope for other women who are involved in a situation they perceive to be hopeless.

Rita Canning’s husband, John, is an investor in Chicago Sun-Times parent company Wrapports. The Sun-Times Foundation and The Chicago Community Trust will match donations to WINGS up to $50,000 from now until Dec. 31, 2012. Donate at

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