Chandler single mom escapes abuse, makes a life - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Chandler single mom escapes abuse, makes a life

September 5th, 2018 SanTan Sun News
Chandler single mom escapes abuse, makes a life

By Colleen Sparks, Managing Editor

A single mother of three has been honored for her passion and perseverance in furthering her education and building a brighter future for her family after escaping an abusive relationship.

Vanessa Dearmon, 31, recently received the Family Self-Sufficiency Participant of the Year distinction from the Arizona Chapter of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials.

Chandler, Mesa, Tempe, Scottsdale and Phoenix partner to offer the Family Self-Sufficiency Program to help low-income families transition from public assistance to economic self-sufficiency.

Dearmon works full-time at a restaurant and is taking classes to earn her bachelor’s degree in interior design and sustainability from Northern Arizona University while raising her children.

She already has two associate’s degrees from Mesa Community College.

Dearmon lives in public housing in Chandler and is also a member of the Chandler Public Housing Authority Commission and Chandler Housing and Human Services Commission.

The Housing and Human Services Commission makes recommendations to the City Council and Public Housing Authority on the city’s annual Community Development Block Grant from the federal government that is divvied up among nonprofit organizations in Chandler.

Dearmon said she was surprised when she was asked to join the Housing and Human Services Commission and when she found out she received the self-sufficiency award.

“That one came as a total shock to me,” she said of the commission invitation. ‘I was like, really, you guys want me?’ I came in and interviewed. They talked about what we do, how we help with the community.

“Who wouldn’t want to give back to the community? Coming from using these services to being on a commission that oversees these services is amazing. It really touches my heart to be able to give back to programs that I have received.”

Dearmon also is happy to be on the Chandler Public Housing Authority Commission, the governing authority for topics related to the administration, operation and management of the federal public housing and rental assistance programs that the city administers.

She has lived in public housing in Chandler since 2016 with her children: Nahzhim, 8; Nala-Iyah, 5; and Khalil, 3.

“I had no idea I was even a nominee or in the running,” Dearmon said of the award. “I feel blessed. I feel grateful. All these people have come together and helped me rebuild my steps. People I’ve never met are like, ‘I’m proud of you; you’re doing a good job.’ It’s humbling at the same time.”

Through the self-sufficiency program, Dearmon and other residents who live in public housing pay a certain percent of their adjusted monthly income towards their rent.

When a family’s earned income increases from a job, a percentage of that pay raise can be put in an escrow savings account. The family will get all of the money in the account, plus interest, when the program contract is successfully completed.

The contract is completed when the participant reaches personal goals including earning a higher education, maintaining full-time employment and fixing credit card debt.

Families are encouraged to open an individual development account, which is a savings account that lets them save money to buy a home. For every dollar saved in that account, the family will get a $3 match from the IDA program.

Amy Jacobson, housing and redevelopment manager for the Chandler Housing Authority, is one of Dearmon’s supporters.

“I am so proud of her,” Jacobson said. “She has been such an asset to our community and she serves on our Public Housing Authority Commission and our Housing and Human Services Commission. She brings the perspective of a public housing resident and she has been doing great things. I encourage her to keep moving forward. She’s wonderful.”

Dearmon has come a long way from a turbulent life a few years ago. Originally from the Bay area of California, she and her family later moved to Nevada, where she finished high school.

During her freshman year of college in Nevada, her mother got throat cancer, which she beat.

After moving to Chandler initially in 2006, Dearmon later moved to Phoenix. She was involved with her boyfriend for six years and he is the father of her children.

“Everything was okay in the beginning,” Dearmon said. “After (our) son was born, it started to go downhill so to speak. It was a slow-moving process. I realized at the end we hit rock bottom. He beat me up and he put me in the hospital. I was 9 months pregnant with the baby (Khalil.)”

She said her boyfriend had been injured and he became addicted to prescription medicine. He was not working and he “turned to crime,” Dearmon said.

She said he started secluding her from her family members, friends and social media.

“He’d say things like, ‘They don’t care about you,’ kind of breaking down my mental state,” Dearmon said. “He’s like ‘I’m the only one that cares about you.’”

She said he also started shoving and pushing her.

“It went from a shove to black eyes, locking me in rooms, all kinds of horrible things,” Dearmon said. “I knew I was going to leave. I just didn’t know how because he’d say, ‘If you leave, I’ll take the kids.’ I didn’t want to put my children’s safety at jeopardy. I wanted to leave but I was afraid. I was embarrassed.”

She said she did not want to admit to her older sister, Yvonne Fawkes, of Chandler, and her mother that anything was wrong.

Fawkes, a nurse, 48, and married mother of three children, said she suspected the abuse but did not know for sure until Dearmon told them.

But after Dearmon had her baby, Khalil, Dearmon’s boyfriend beat her up and she went to the hospital.

“I just said, ‘This is enough,’” Fawkes said. “I told the nurse; I said, ‘We need to move her into a private room where he couldn’t find her (in the hospital.) My mom and I proceeded to try to get the kids.”

Dearmon and her three children moved in with Fawkes and her husband and their kids. Fawkes said she was concerned about the children’s safety and wellbeing.

“My husband and I say that we’re really glad that she came and stayed with us,” Fawkes said. “I think Vanessa has come a long way and I’m super proud of her.”

She said when Dearmon was living with her she told her she needed to go back to school and earn a degree to improve her situation.

“She’s gone from having herself in a position of being in a bad situation to turning it around and then trying to be an advocate for other people in the community that have to go on HUD (Housing and Urban Development),” Fawkes said, adding:

“For other women that come from a situation where they are being abused it is a message that there is light at the end of the road; that you can take a different path.”

Dearmon also feels good about her progress.

“I’m proud of myself because I know a lot of people don’t foresee it to the end,” she said. “I love being involved in the community, especially learning about what really happens, where the funding comes from…seeing that things are looking up for the better.”

Dearmon also enjoys Chandler.

“Everything’s at your fingertips: the police station, the fire station, the school district; I love that,” she said. “I love living in Chandler. This is a great place to live. There’s a lot of help out there. You just have to know where to get it.”

The hectic schedule juggling work, school and taking care of her three children is tiring, but Dearmon is driven to keep it up.

She wakes up at 5 every morning and takes her classes, brings her children to school, works and does homework each day.

“I just keep swimming,” Dearmon said. “My children are my motivation. I have to give them something to look forward to. I’m a mom. Moms, we have this fire that has to keep constantly burning. You’ve gotta get up and you gotta keep moving.”

She hopes her story of leaving an abusive relationship and returning to school will inspire others who are domestic violence survivors.

“I want people to know that you can get away; you can be okay; you can do it,” Dearmon said. “It’s a scary world out there. I’m the master of my story and I’m gonna make it my way.”

Kimberly Carrillo/Staff Photographer

Bonding with Vanessa Dearmon are her children, from left, Nahzhim, Khalil and Nala-Iyah.

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