From left: Executive Director Sharon Wroblewski, Assistant Director Donna Braunscheidel and Volunteer Donna Kogut brainstorm ideas for “Nite of Laughter,” the upcoming fundraiser for the Kathleen Mary House.
The sunny colored dining room of the Kathleen Mary House, complete with flowery curtains and a painting of an outdoor tea party, makes it clear to guests that they have entered a place of warmth and safety.
“They come here and realize there is hope,” said Donna Braunscheidel, assistant director of the KMH, which offers transitional housing and services for victims of domestic violence. “It really is a place for new beginnings.”
Since its first resident in September 2006, the Southtowns shelter has housed close to 60 women and 80 children while providing programs such as child care, counseling and life skills workshops.
“Our goal is to get them ready to go out on their own, to become independent, self-sufficient and confident women,” Braunscheidel explained.
While other transitional homes have a strict limit of how long residents may stay, KMH understands that the road to healing depends on time and the help of others.
“They can stay until they are ready to go,” said Executive Director Sharon Wroblewski. “I think the ones we have now would stay forever.”
Although a safe place to sleep is a blessing to victims of domestic abuse, the directors and volunteers at the KMH offer residents so much more.
With the help of volunteers, a child’s birthday never goes unnoticed at the house.
“Some of these children have never celebrated a birthday or holiday before,” said KMH Volunteer Donna Kogut.
Wroblewski and Braunscheidel describe themselves as “mother bears,” and go to great lengths to support and help the victims, including attending residents’ court proceedings.
“We tell them, ‘when you walk in here, you are not alone anymore. You have an army behind you’,” Wroblewski said.
This army includes officers from local police departments, who according to Wroblewski, go “above and beyond” to assist and protect domestic violence victims.
“These are our girls, and I’m telling you, there is nothing or no one coming after them,” Braunscheidel said.
Yet while the KMH directors are notably tough, they are equally kind and full of good humor.
“No matter what happens here, after we cry, we make sure to find something to laugh about,” Wroblewski said.
Supporters of the KMH will find plenty to laugh about at the house’s sixth annual “Nite of Laughter” fundraiser, which will be held on Saturday, March 3 at 7 p.m. at SS. Cryil and Methody Macedonian Hall, 4785 Lake Ave. in Blasdell.
For $25 per person, the event will feature opening entertainment from Tom Makar “The Wild One,” and will feature comedian Nic Siracuse, who has written bits for “The Tonight Show.”
There will also be 50/50 split clubs, basket raffles, a premium raffle and the chance to win a “Buffalo Night Life” package, valued at $500.
Attendees can partake in pizza donated by Blasdell Pizza, beer, wine, pop, snacks and desserts.
Having been held for many years at the Lake Erie Club, the new venue was chosen for its ability to accommodate more guests.
“We really needed a bigger venue,” said Braunscheidel, who added that last year people tried to crash the sold-out event. “In the beginning we weren’t sure if it was the comedian that was brining people in...but we have now come to realize that people are coming because they believe in what we do. They support our mission.”
She and Wroblewski also mentioned how grateful they are to the local businesses that donate to the fundraiser.
“We are so blessed,” said Braunscheidel. “ I really believe that the community does not know what an impact they have on these victims’ lives.
“It takes a lot of courage to walk away from that (abusive) life. But they feel so good knowing that people out there believe in and support what they have done.”
Proceeds from the annual “Nite of Laughter” help pay for utilities, child care and victims’ legal and medical expenses.
Kogut recalled the moment she saw one long-time resident smile for the first time since her arrival.
“She was so excited to show me her new teeth,” said Kogut, who explained that the victims’ teeth had been knocked out by her abuser. Funds from the “Nite of Laughter” was able to provide the victim with a set of dentures. “She looked so happy,” Kogut said.
The KMH stresses that domestic violence does not discriminate by race, gender or socioeconomic background.
“People think you have to be poverty level or illiterate to be abused,” said Braunscheidel. “But that’s not true. (Victims of domestic violence can be) the best of the best.”
For more information, for help, or to donate to the KMH, visit www.kathleenmaryhouse.org.