Stories untold: abuse survivors and vulnerable children helped by Season of Sharing

Season of Sharing logo
Season of Sharing logo

They may be women fleeing abusers. Children needing shelter. Or families crumbling under financial strain.

Amid the thousands of families and individuals helped by Season of Sharing each year, there are many who, for reasons related to safety, homelessness or the child welfare system, remain anonymous to the general public.

Season of Sharing help is a lifeline to the silent beneficiaries, too, caseworkers say.

That’s especially true for mothers trying to escape domestic violence, said Sierra Ebersole. She works with Safe Children Coalition as a specialist with the Emergency Response and Assessment Team, or ERAT.

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In the face of the area’s skyrocketing rents, some domestic violence survivors don’t know where to turn.

“It’s a lot of reason why women are going back to their abusers,” Ebersole said, “because they can’t figure out how to make it on their own.”

Amid a crisis in affordable housing so dire that some Florida lawmakers recently asked Gov. DeSantis to declare a state of emergency, many women and children are living in cars or motels, Ebersole and other caseworkers say. Others crowd into the homes of friends or relatives – sometimes exacerbating family tensions, financial strain and the trauma on the kids.

“There are not a lot of options right now,” Ebersole said about housing.

Safe Children Coalition gets called in behind state investigators following reports of household violence, substance abuse, inadequate supervision or environmental hazards. Its caseworkers conduct assessments of families and their situations. They provide or steer them to needed resources, working with them on a plan to address underlying problems, many of which, amid the pandemic and current housing market, are financial.

One of those key resources is Season of Sharing – which often has helped a mother and her children fleeing domestic violence get settled into an apartment by covering first month’s rent or utilities, providing a bit of stability.

But in the current housing market, those affordable units are harder than ever to find.

“The second something opens up, there are like 100 people applying,” she added.

Often, single moms and struggling families are discovering their rents are dramatically increasing, or they must vacate after the homes or buildings they live in are sold by owners seeking to take advantage of the increase in property value.

In those cases, people turn in desperation to motel rooms, she said.

Season of Sharing helps them, as well – temporarily preventing one more family unit with children from needing to sleep in their cars, as many are forced to do.

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Even as Ebersole and ERAT program manager Krystal Cook spoke of these issues in an office conference room on a recent day, both of their phones lit up. One of their caseworkers was calling with urgent questions about Season of Sharing. What documentation was needed, they wanted to know, to help a family in crisis cover costs at an Extended Stay hotel?

Now, given soaring rents and home prices, some women who successfully left a domestic violence situation are becoming vulnerable once more, said Kayla Terrel, director of advocacy services for HOPE Family Services – which runs a certified domestic violence shelter in Manatee County. It provides services to any survivor of domestic violence – men, women, partners in same-sex relationships, and grandparents, too.

“Some wind up back in the shelter or go back to their abuser,” Terrel said “Unfortunately, we don’t know about it until another incident occurs.”

Other times, when a client reaches out again, Season of Sharing is crucial in helping people through a setback to maintain stable housing they have already secured, Terrel added.

“Maintaining their place is big,” she said. It prevents a return to a cycle of physical violence or financial abuse – or often both.

For incoming survivors, Hope’s frontline advocates working with them on safety issues and finances, apply for Season of Sharing assistance seven to 10 times a week, she said. The number one reason is for help getting into housing.

Season of Sharing – in covering the first month’s rent – provides a lifeline, tackling a huge piece of what can seem like an insurmountable challenge amid demands for deposits and utility start-up costs. It gives women time to start a new job and for the first paychecks to start rolling in.

Watching mothers and their children get set up on a new road in life is a gratifying thing to watch, Terrel said.

“It’s incredible. When someone comes in telling us their sad journey, their traumatizing journey, but then we can help them create a really good plan that is not only based on safety, but that they can be financially successful on their own – that is just a tremendous thing to see,” she said.

Small victories accumulate into big changes and leaps in confidence. But many times, it wouldn’t have happened without that first step aided by Season of Sharing.

“Without Season of Sharing, we would have way more homeless people and a lot more abuse going on because if ultimately they don’t have the financial means to leave, they would be staying in that relationship,” Terrel said.

“If we didn’t have that funding for survivors, we’d be in a different place.”

How to help

Season of Sharing was created 21 years ago as a partnership between the Herald-Tribune and the Community Foundation of Sarasota County to get emergency funds to individuals and families on the brink of homelessness in Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte and DeSoto counties. There are no administrative fees and no red tape – every dollar donated goes to families in need to help with rental assistance, utility bills, child care and other expenses.

Donations to Season of Sharing may be made online at, or by sending a check (payable to the Community Foundation of Sarasota County) to Attn. Season of Sharing, 2635 Fruitville Road, Sarasota, FL 34237. Contact the foundation at 941-955-3000 for more information or to request a credit card form. All donations are tax-deductible.

This story comes from a partnership between the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. Saundra Amrhein covers the Season of Sharing campaign, along with issues surrounding housing, utilities, child care and transportation in the area. She can be reached at

This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Abuse survivors and vulnerable children helped by Season of Sharing