Women’s Center changes lives, impacts futures

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Women’s Center in Marquette is celebrating its 40th annivesary in 2013. In a four-part series, the center’s history, present and future are highlighted. In today’s third installment, a woman whose life was changed profoundly by the center shares her story.

MARQUETTE – Diane Betts had just moved to Marquette in 2003 and didn’t know a soul in town.

Betts had spent 36 years of her life in Dayton, Ohio, and now she and her husband had two children, ages 2 and 3, and had moved to Marquette from Crystal Falls.

She was enrolled at Northern Michigan University but was in misery, the kind she – like so many other women – was reluctant to share with anyone.

“Thanks to a phenomenal woman at Northern, Dr. Karen Suksi, I was able to trust,” Betts said. “I was able to share my story with her.

“I was being abused.”

Suksi listened as Betts described her situation.

“The abuse wasn’t on the outside. It was on the inside,” Betts said. “It wasn’t bruises and bleeding. It was emotional abuse, mental abuse, financial abuse. It was being made to feel like I was worth nothing.”

Betts told her story, then Suksi offered a suggestion.

“She encouraged me,” Betts said. “She told me to come to the Women’s Center. I found programs here, for free, that helped me so much.”

One in particular stands out in Betts’ memory.

“The Tuesday night group for women,” she said. “They have a program for kids at the same time, so you’re able to share your anger. You have an outlet and you know that you’re not alone.

“I found out it was not my shame to be treated as I was. It was on my husband. It was on him, the guilt and the shame, for hurting me,” Betts said. “The Women’s Center helped me get my voice back.”

Looking back, Betts said, she knows she’s a different woman than the one who turned to the Women’s Center a decade ago.

“The old me felt like I had no self-worth, no self-esteem, no voice. I was broken,” she said. “The Women’s Center helped me put those pieces back together. The center helped make me stronger, healthier than I ever was before.”

The programs at the Women’s Center did even more for Betts.

“Suddenly, I had goals and dreams because someone believed in me before I believed in myself,” she said. “I was too scared, too frightened, too timid and shy. But deep inside, I knew I had to do for my kids.”

WIth encouragement from the staff at the Women’s Center, Betts went to NMU full time while working part time at Kohl’s, all the while raising her daughter and son.

“I even went on for my master’s in social work,” she said. “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with that, so I started volunteering at the Women’s Center.”

That volunteering led to a staff job at the center, where she has now become associate director.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be so confident,” she said. “But Dr. Karen Suksi and the Women’s Center believed in me. And that helped me to believe in myself.”

And her children, now teenagers, have gained some valuable life skills through the Women’s Center.

“They learned a great deal about bullying. The Women’s Center offered them a safe place to talk,” Betts said. “When my son was 6, he told me he was glad he had a place to talk about things and not make me sad.”

Betts said her daughter recently listened to a classmate who talked about having domestic violence issues in her home.

“She told her friend to call Harbor House (the domestic violence shelter) to get help,” Betts said. “My children are empowered by their experiences here.”

Coming Thursday: A look at the present and future of the Women’s Center.

Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.