Fearing for her life and the life of her four small children, AmberLee Hoagland packed what she could into her small van and fled Louisiana with her children to escape her abusive husband.
The young mom drove all night to the only place she could go — back to the place she calls home, Flowery Branch.
“I married an abusive man,” Hoagland said from a transitional home where she lives with her two boys, ages 6 and 5, and two girls, 4 and 2. “Are my boys going to become abusive? Or are my girls going to have to go through the same things that I went through?”
Hoagland’s transitional home is provided through the Family Promise faith-based and church-supported program. Transitional living is the end phase of three intensive months of learning life skills through the program, along with using those tools to nurture and provide for yourself and your children.
“You do have to get a job in 30 days,” Hoagland said.
The past year has been a whirlwind for Hoagland. She returned home to live with her father. The time she spent with her dad brought back childhood memories of abuse, her broken home and time spent in foster care after her mother left when she was 4.
But she soon got a job and rented an apartment to live in with her children.
She was managing her life and providing for her children when she wrecked her car. With only liability insurance, she did not have money to replace her car. She had no means to get to work and lost her job. Unable to pay rent, her landlord began the eviction process.
Hoagland shared her difficulties during a Bible fellowship meeting at Blackshear Place Baptist Church in Flowery Branch where she was baptized as a young girl. A woman at the meeting said she’d been through similar difficulties, and she told her about Family Promise.
Hoagland called Family Promise, applied and was accepted into the program.
“They have a very select set of skills that encourages us as families to not only be more family-oriented, but to not make some of the same mistakes,” Hoagland said. “They do have classes — parenting, job skills, family development, financial management — all of these things are very beneficial to families that are homeless.”
During the day, Hoagland learned skills at Family Promise. At night, she and the children would sleep at a church partnering with Family Promise. She shared space with two other families with children.
“You move to a new church every week,” she said. “Your cot is moved; your stuff moves. They serve our dinner at church and sleep at church. In the morning you go to work or job search or do whatever it is you have to do to make it.”
Now that her time at Family Promise is winding down, Hoagland thinks a lot about the future and finding a place to live. She now pays $600 to live at the transitional home; she said $300 of that is saved for her to use in finding another place, and the rest pays for utilities. Once she moves out, the transitional house will be used by another family coming up through the program.
Hoagland currently works part time at the Home Goods distribution center in Jefferson. She gets paid $10 an hour receiving and hauling boxes. She understands she needs to make more than that to support a family of five, and with no child support from her husband.
Hoagland has self-published several books that can be found on Amazon, including “Let Me Love You Through It,” a compilation of stories by women who have survived domestic violence. Hoagland ends the book with her own account.
“About 80 percent of boys who witness domestic violence become abusers, and about 90 percent of girls who witness it will choose a man that is abusive to them,” Hoagland said. “I have done so much research and spent so much time with other victims and seeing the cycle. That was the cycle I repeated. I married an abusive man. I don’t want my children to repeat the cycle. That to me was what gave me the strength to leave.”
Hoagland said she connected with the women in her book through social media. She envisions any future career she may have to involve being an advocate for domestic violence survivors.
“These women are some of the strongest women I’ve ever met in my life, and it’s humbling and encouraging,” she said.
As she looks back over the past year, being homeless and having nothing, and looks ahead at an uncertain future, Hoagland said God has been and will continue to be her source of strength. She’s active at Blackshear Place where she sings in the church choir.
“I have to be positive, I have to be strong and I have to make it,” Hoagland said. “I may fall, but I better get right up because there’s no other option.
“I know that the kingdom (of God) belongs to the weak, the poor and to the needy,” she added. “I believe there is something beautiful for my family, and I really don’t have the words, but I know we’ll be OK.”