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Forsyth County Family Haven holds luncheon benefit

FORSYTH COUNTY --In a room piping with people in purple, pictures of two young south Forsyth brothers and their mother who were shot to death by her boyfriend appeared on the projector.


Rebecca Manning, her 8- and 9-year-old sons, Jared and Jacob Smith, and the names of two other women, Sharon Wilkins and Nicole Thomas, put names and faces to statistics that show domestic violence is too common.


They and the three women who die every day at the hands of domestic violence are the reason places like Forsyth County Family Haven Inc. exist. The nonprofit domestic violence shelter raised $11,000 at its second annual Purple Purpose Luncheon at The Metropolitan Club in Alpharetta Wednesday.


Family Haven, which has been in Forsyth County since 1989, uses 86 percent of every donated dollar directly for serving victims and families. Services include a 24-hour crisis line, a 27-bed shelter for women and children, free counseling and support groups, 12-month housing plans, legal advocacy and bilingual services.


The event welcomed people from all over the community to honor survivors of domestic abuse.


“I wish I knew about Family Haven 30 years ago,” said Aurea McGarry, the luncheon’s keynote speaker.

She spoke about her seven years of abuse she faced while being married to a pastor’s son before becoming not a survivor, but what she calls a “sur-thriver.”


“God doesn’t have grandchildren,” she said. “You’re not a Christian because your parents are. I couldn’t look at another man. I couldn’t have a male doctor. He didn’t want me to have a job … I kept thinking I could fix him. That he’d get nicer as soon as he gets to know me.”


She soon realized you cannot change people.


“The verbal abuse took longer to get over than the one black eye I got,” she said.


She said she was stuck because she had no money to support her and her 4-year-old daughter if she were to leave.


Though her story is her own, one in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime, according to information provided by Family Haven. Verbal and financial abuse is often harder to escape because the victim feels trapped.


That does not mean physical abuse is better.


About 20 people per minute in the United States are physically abused by their intimate partner.

Georgia ranks ninth in the nation for its rate of men killing women and has the country’s highest rate of teen dating violence.


McGarry became a Mary Kay saleswoman in the hopes of winning a car through an employee program.


Six months later, she was making her own money and had her own car parked in the driveway.


Her husband came home one day, screaming at her about a window sill not being finished.


“Kids really do take after what you do, not what you say,” she said, “and I needed to show my daughter that was not love.”


After two years and a restraining order, McGarry said she wanted to laugh again.


That’s when she met her Prince Charming. Brian McGarry sat next to her the whole luncheon as she laughed and talked to a table of purple-clad women – the color represents October’s National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.


“He hasn’t raised his voice at me once,” Aurea McGarry said.


Her mother died two months after they met, and he was by her side the entire time.


When she was diagnosed with cancer, it took a year and a half to find the right doctor.


“I would be dead right now if I had stayed with my ex-husband,” she said. “Not even necessarily from the abuse. [Brian] wouldn’t let me stop going to doctors until we found out what was wrong with my chest pains. You think my ex would have done that for me?”


She had to get surgery on her vocal cords and was told she would never talk again.


McGarry has been cancer-free since 2000 and has made it her mission to tell her story to anyone who will listen.


“We’re going to be married 20 years this Valentine’s Day,” she said. “There is hope and love after domestic violence.”