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Breaking in those dancing shoes
Dancing with the Statesboro Stars takes stage Oct. 3
W 091213 DANCING WITH STARS 03
Francys Johnson and Jackie Tyre rehearse their dance routine in the breakfast room at the Statesboro Quality Inn & Suites.

    When the curtain closes on this year’s Dancing with the Statesboro Stars fundraising event, the real stars will be the women and families who benefit from the people and programs at Safe Haven.
    Dancing with the Statesboro Stars is even bigger in the event’s third year of raising money for Citizens Against Violence, the organization behind Safe Haven. Safe Haven’s facility houses the victims of domestic violence — up to 60 people at a time, most of whom left an imminently dangerous situation with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
    Courtney (not her real name — details changed because of ongoing potential danger) held onto the Safe Haven card for months after slipping it quietly into her jacket one evening. She was at the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair looking through the exhibits up front when she spotted it.
    No one was looking — that was important — so she took it. When her children started receiving the same physical treatment she was getting from her husband, she picked up the phone.
    “The fear of staying became greater than the fear of leaving,” Courtney said, thinking back on the day she finally made it out. “I didn’t value myself enough, but I didn’t want my kids to go through what I went through.”
    The average domestic violence victim tries seven or more times to leave. Courtney had tried to leave — packed her bags, the whole nine yards. She even got up the courage to get in the car, grab the kids and go — until he blocked her on the road.
    “You don’t see a way out.”
    Like so many families that go through Safe Haven’s programs, Courtney was brought in under protection from local law enforcement.
    “The first night, I didn’t know what to expect. The kids are screaming and crying. I had no financial resources,” Courtney said. “You don’t know who you are anymore, but a case manager helps each step of the way.”
    Safe Haven’s victim advocates quickly set up protective orders, file custody paperwork and get children into counseling and registered in school. They even attend court hearings, where the victims must face their abusers.
    “It can be terrifying,” said one of Safe Haven’s case managers, who asked to be unnamed. “But Courtney is a shining example of how people can use our programs and come out the other side a truly changed person.”
    Dancing with the Statesboro Stars is now the main fundraiser for Safe Haven since the state cut more than $85,000 from the facility’s annual budget three years ago. Executive Director Mary S. Harden said that’s a tough gap to fill for an organization that helps hundreds of women, children and families each year.
    “This year’s dancers are serious about raising some funds,” Harden said. “And we are so grateful for their efforts. Safe Haven is serving greater numbers and more women than ever before, while prices are rising and the state threatens to cut another 10 percent.”
    Dancing with the Statesboro Stars features 12 local celebrities paired with 12 professional dancers, all of whom have put in long hours and tended to numerous blisters. They are attempting to become this year’s Judges’ Choice Winner, which is given to the best routine of the night. In addition, competition is heating up between the teams as they try to win the Community Choice Award, given to the couple that raises the most money — money that helps out scores of families just like Courtney’s.
    Courtney has been with the program a while now. She’s working, saving money, going to
college and is on track to create a new life over which she has control. She’s even made some of her life decisions based upon her newfound respect for law enforcement, which she said was seriously lacking before she made it to Safe Haven.
    “(The Bulloch County sheriff’s deputies’) interaction was so important to me. If I can make a difference in someone’s life like they made in mine, I will feel like I’ve given back,” she said. “There’s hope. You’ve got to want better for you and your family. There are plenty of resources available, and help will be there to see you through.”
    Dancing with the Statesboro Stars is set for Thursday, Oct. 3, at 7 p.m. at the Georgia Southern University Performing Arts Center. Tickets go on sale Monday and are only available through the PAC box office or online at etix.com. To purchase, call (912) 478-7999 or visit www.georgiasouthern.edu/pac. All seats are $20 and are reserved. Tickets must be presented the night of the event for entry.
    The fundraising goal for Dancing with the Statesboro Stars is an ambitious $75,000. To vote for your favorite couple or to find out more information about each pair of dancers, visit www.dancingwiththestatesborostars.com.

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