Eagle County: Candles a bright spot for abuse victims | VailDaily.com

Eagle County: Candles a bright spot for abuse victims

Melanie Wong
Vail, CO Colorado
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyChantelle Kiefer, right, and Kristein Lefevre, left, carefully fill their bottles with dried flowers that they will then fill with oil to make candles for the Bright Future Foundation's Light of Hope program.

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” The glass bottles that a handful of women at a local shelter fill with brightly colored flowers and oils are more than an art project.

The candles will help teach victims of domestic abuse the basics of financial independence and running a business.

The candle program began when Gypsum resident Cathy Zeeb donated her business, Mountain Flower Candles, to the Bright Future Foundation and The Resource Center. The foundation changed the name to Light of Hope, and plans to involve women in the shelter’s program in running the company.

The idea is for the women to learn to make the candles, earn some money and learn how to manage their own finances and those of a business, said Resource Center business manager Amy Marino.

“Many women in abusive relationships have never had control of their finances before. Even if they were fairly wealthy before in the relationship, many leave with nothing,” she said.

The candles will be sold at local stores and farmers markets, and be marketed for bridal showers, weddings and housewarming gifts. All the proceeds will either pay the women for their work or go back into the shelter’s programs, Marino said.

For one Eagle resident in the program, Light of Hope has special significance ” a couple years ago, she was an abuse survivor learning how to make it on her own.

The woman, who’s name is being withheld because of the allegations made against her husband, said her husband of 20 years had been very jealous and controlling. He verbally, emotionally and physically abused her, she said.

“I couldn’t even go to the grocery store alone. He was always asking if I was having an affair, when really it was the other way around,” she said.

She left him in 2004. She pressed charges and her husband was jailed for a few weeks, but eventually the charges were dropped.

She stayed at the women’s shelter and at the shelter’s transitional housing. With her two children, she struggled to adjust to independent life.

She had a well-paying job, but her husband had always controlled their finances, she said.

“I had no money (during my marriage.) My check always went into direct deposit, and I never spent money except on gas, at the grocery store and Wal-Mart,” she said.

She recently moved into her own home, but she still struggles with the aftermath of the relationship ” she and her son have post-traumatic stress disorder, and it is still difficult to make her own decisions, she said.

“For many people in these situations, you typically have been sheltered all your life. You may not know how to do anything,” she said. “Teaching them these skills will give them self-assurance and confidence. Many people who go (to the shelter) are just so broken down.”

Zeeb owned and operated the business on the side for six years ” at one point the oil candles sold in 48 stores in the state. When her graduate studies demanded more time, she looked for a place to transfer the business.

“I just didn’t have time anymore, and I didn’t want it to just go to waste,” she said.

She thought the business could teach women a range of valuable skills ” the actual candle making, handling inventory, labeling and corking, finance management, and marketing at craft shows, she said.

The slow, meditative process can be a very therapeutic activity, and the women can choose how they want to be involved in the business, Marino said.

“Some are interested in the business aspect of it, and some just want to make candles,” she said.

Women who join the candle business will also take a monthly financial literacy class.

The program will also have a matching savings plan, where donors would make matching pledges to any money that survivors put in a savings account.

“That’s a great idea,” said the woman who recently moved into her own home, “because while the shelter can help with clothing and food, we can’t help them with their entire future.”

She hopes the candles will be sold all over the valley, not just so the business prospers, but also so people will become more aware of domestic violence.

“Just because it’s pretty and people come here for vacation doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen here,” she said. “There needs to be awareness that this is a huge problem, even in the Vail Valley.”

Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 748-2928 or mwong@vaildaily.com.

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