The woman said her boyfriend had slashed her arm with a knife and that she had a police report to prove it.

She faced eviction from her apartment, so she called Cindy Williams, founder of Women Are Dreamers, Too (WADT), a Norcross-based nonprofit that helps abused women. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. Maybe not. The woman who called Williams obviously had, and she lived in Burbank, Calif.

“They call us from all over the country,” Williams told me. “We check out the things they tell us to make sure they are legitimate. Most of them are sincere. And they need help.”

In 1998, WADT started as a volunteer job placement service for Atlanta-area women who lived in homeless shelters. When Williams would dig into the clients’ lives, she uncovered a recurring theme.

“Domestic violence. Domestic violence. Domestic violence,” Williams said. “They all were reverting back to the same cycle of abuse. And they were coming to us in droves.”
Williams, an economics professor on leave from Georgia Perimeter College, knew such cycles had to be broken. In order for that to happen, the women needed to be self-sufficient. Independent.

Empowerment, Williams reasoned, might be the best way to keep women from returning to an abusive mate. So WADT expanded on programs to make its clients employable.
Better yet, it trained them to be employers. And that’s what WADT has been doing for the past decade out of rented office space in Gwinnett.

The organization has a network to put abused women in contact with resources and social service agencies that can assist with jobs, shelter, food and medical assistance if necessary.

It collects used cellphones and gives them to clients.

And about twice a year, the nonprofit offers a free 12-week entrepreneurial program on business ownership. Participants learn how to start a business, from idea to reality. They learn the ABCs, everything from record-keeping to Web page design to marketing.

“I want them to create jobs to touch lives in their neighborhoods, so we can have viable communities,” Williams said. “The society I dream of and perceive of can be realized if we break the dependency, get women in these situations on their feet. If these women and their children don’t become contributors to society, we have to pay the taxes and provide the welfare that deplete the system.”

WADT’s directors want to buy the Gwinnett building the nonprofit rents in, and turn it into a comprehensive training facility for like-minded nonprofits.

It would offer 24-hour service that includes pantries for food and clothes. The first floor might be converted into mini-apartments for families.

After-school and summer programs would be offered to children.

Of course, all this takes money. WADT has launched a capital campaign that concludes with a black-tie gala May 9 at the Ritz-Carlton in Atlanta. Raffle ticket buyers have a chance to win a 2009 Mercedes C300W.

“The need is growing,” Williams said, “so we have to change our paradigm.”

Before I leave the office, she tells me she has to call the young woman from Burbank who had contacted WADT. She wants her to fax the police report of the alleged knife incident. The woman has already given Williams her landlord’s number.

“I am going to ask them to give us 30 days to find her some resources and help before they evict her,” she said.

“I just can’t cut these women loose. These women are my passion.”

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