Breaking Down the Barriers of Intolerance

By Arline Bolvin

Ann C. Cruz strides confidently and purposefully as she packs her presentation materials in the car, her smile and demeanor conveying warmth but also poise and style.  At forty-seven Ann travels a road many women travel, but few survive and flourish as well as Ann has.

Working with women in recovery from domestic violence and mental illness is what gives Ann purpose today. Having lived the experience both as a child of a single, bi-racial, and mentally ill parent, as well as becoming mired in an abusive marriage herself, there aren’t too many sides of these issues Ann hasn’t experienced herself.

Her strong faith in God enables her to see beyond the destructive patterns of relationship abuse, drug and alcohol abuse and addiction and family dysfunction that often cripple children and families, to the person who needs help and sustenance that only an experienced and trained advocate can give.

Born in Milford, Massachusetts in the early sixties, Cruz lives in Woonsocket now. Her three children are grown: 26-year-old Aaron, 25-year-old Alex, and 20-year-old Aundrea. Graduating from Framingham Keefe Technical High School, Cruz was voted “Most Likely to Succeed”  by her class.

Married in 1983 at 21, Cruz worked until she and Al started their family with the birth of Aaron. Alex followed one year later and with the post-partum depression that followed Cruz was sinking, but ever so slowly.  Early in their marriage Cruz had no trouble keeping a neat, tidy home with the cupboards full and the meals hot. She organized the laundry and the housework was a cinch.

With the birth of the boys and the onset of post-partum depression the Cruzes’ relationship began to change.  Cruz became aware of infidelity in the marriage and this further eroded the relationship. The Cruz family began to attend a Christian fellowship in Milford, MA where they put down roots. As Cruz fought to maintain the marriage, Al became abusive and controlling, and he moved out of their home in 1999. The children were 15, 14, and 9 at the time. Family and friends cared for the children while Ann was hospitalized intermittently for depression during these years.

It was during her last hospitalization that Cruz became homeless through an “ex-parte order” granting her husband temporary custody of the children and the family home. Released into a homeless shelter the following day, Cruz spent the next seventeen months fighting to regain her independence and establish a place she could call home.

Ann Cruz has used her time wisely these years since an apartment opened up in Woonsocket for her to begin her recovery from a life that has known little respite from the cold. Her biggest strength has come from her faith in God and the ministry she has been called to and has most heartily answered.

Cruz is in recovery not only from her illness but also from living in the shelter system, and as a domestic violence survivor. It is here she has found her strength and is able to use her talent and voice to help others in recovery. She attends the Community College of Rhode Island as an associate of science candidate in social work.  Her work with domestic violence survivors began when she worked at Sojourner House in Providence for three years in the early part of this decade.

Ada Nunez of the Sojourner House drop-in center in Providence credits Cruz for breaking that “cycle of violence” and giving back to the community by working with women as they struggle. “Ann gives a strong example of empowerment as she uses her experience to demonstrate how women can gain control of their lives,” said Nunez, and then added, “She is very open and dedicated to her work.”

It takes certain bravado to work closely with folks who have so much to learn about healthy relations, but for Cruz, “It’s easy. I don’t get angry with people. I’ve developed the perspective that when I’m engaged with a client it’s not about me; it’s all about them. People who have been controlled by so many others or their spouse need some sense of control and often they’ll exert that control when I first start working with them. In time as I set boundaries we strive to achieve a balance that works for both of us.”

Cruz works mainly in northern Rhode Island now, where she belongs to different fellowships that give her the opportunity to meet and work with women who are grateful for the help. In 2001, the Wellspring Christian Support Network began out of these fellowships. Wellspring is a network of caring women who provide support for change.

“My identity is totally in Christ – the type of ministry I’ve moved toward is more Bible-based and Christ-centered.” It was through one of these fellowships that Cruz met Gil Perez, a retired Family Services caseworker who is a well-known advocate in the northern Rhode Island community through his involvement on various boards and committees stretching back over the decades. Of Cruz, Perez has this to say: “Ann is very concerned about people who’ve been abused and people who are mentally and/or physically disabled. Her faith is carrying her through and she knows how important encouragement is to people in need.”

Another thing Cruz has in common with Perez is her love of writing. Perez has authored one book and Cruz is working on her book, “This is my Song: Breaking Down the Barriers of Intolerance”.

“Gil was instrumental in getting me the training to do this work and he introduced me to leadership in the various faith-based communities in northern Rhode Island,” said Cruz when talking about her gratitude to her mentor.

Right now as Cruz is spearheading the development of a video series around the theme of “family and relationship issues,” she is grateful for how much progress she and her children have made toward reconciliation. Her oldest son, Aaron is in the army based in Texas. He recently sent Cruz a beautiful Mother’s Day card and phoned home.  Alex works in the construction industry, while Aundrea attends the Massachusetts Bay Community College in Wellesley, MA.

Cruz is open to invitations to speak at colleges, organizations and the faith-based community on her experiences as a survivor and as an advocate of domestic violence and homelessness issues. To contact Cruz write to PO Box 2131 Woonsocket, RI 02895.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. For more information or help with domestic violence issues contact Sojourner House, 386 Smith Street Providence, RI 02908. 24-hour helpline @ 401-658-4334 or www.sojournerri.org

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