Cousin of slain Apollo woman found at U-Haul facility works to help those suffering from abuse

A survivor of domestic and sexual abuse offers her decorating skills to help other victims find comfort after fleeing their abusers.

Jennifer Zimmerman, 52, from Wexford, said she escaped years of mental and physical domestic abuse.

Today, she’s focusing her styling skills to transform seven rooms at the South Side Victims Center into fully decorated and inviting rooms, complete with plush bedding, lighting, and homey touches such as artwork and blankets to create “safe spaces” for men. , women and children.

Zimmerman is still reeling from the death of his cousin, Apollo’s Kelly Steele, who was found fatally shot last month in a storage unit at a U-Haul facility in Lower Burrell. Police charged Steele’s husband, Alfred, with homicide.

Determined to honor her cousin’s memory, Zimmerman paints shelter rooms inside the Victim Center blue, Kelly’s favorite color.

“I want them to be sanctuaries and a place of healing,” Zimmerman said. “We will work to honor Kelly in all future projects.

“My goal is to create safe spaces. Safe spaces for people to share their stories and safe places to rest. I want to break the stigma of staying in a shelter.

The flooring, donated by 84 Lumber, will be installed and the finished rooms will provide a warm and private environment for shelter residents.

Mikayla Marie Steele, Kelly’s mother-in-law, described Zimmerman’s outreach as “brilliant”.

“I think it’s a beautiful way to remember Kelly. Blue was her favorite color – it reminded her of the ocean, which she thought was peaceful. If only that was all her life was, but I hope that others will find safety in these shelters,” said Mikayla Steele.

Courtesy of Jennifer Zimmerman

A safe room decorated by domestic violence survivor and lawyer Jennifer Zimmerman from Wexford.

Zimmerman, interior designer at Newt & Ruby Interiors in Wexford, said it was time to change the stereotypical images that can be imagined in a refuge.

Describing her styles as curated with a mix of old and new, Zimmerman launched her program called Rise last fall.

To date, individual donors and Washington County-based national retailers Tuesday Morning and 84 Lumber have donated to Rise.

Blankets are a staple, Zimmerman said.

“They represent safety simply because of the weight and smell of a clean blanket,” she said. “There’s a reason I think they call it a security blanket.”

More silence

Zimmerman wants those living in fear to know that she has their back.

“We keep it quiet and we don’t use our voices. There was a time when I needed to use these services, but I wasn’t scared because I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived,” Zimmerman said. “I will be your voice.”

The Center for Victims is billed as the largest and most comprehensive service and advocacy provider for victims of all crimes in Pennsylvania. To date, the organization has helped more than 100,000 people through outreach and outreach events and programs throughout Allegheny County, according to its website.

Darnell Drewery, 50, is a trauma education and wellness facilitator at the facility. He said the typical shelter room lacks the level of decor that Zimmerman will provide.

“Sensory stimulation is a big part of healing,” Drewery said. “That immediate gratification is an important place where someone feels welcome and safe. It’s a big part of our journey in the shelter.

For security reasons and to protect the identity of the victims, the tribe was not allowed inside the shelter.

From fear to faith

Zimmerman grew up in Apollo and graduated from Apollo-Ridge High School.

She said she was repeatedly raped by multiple men on the Indiana University campus in Pennsylvania during her freshman year in the 1980s.

Zimmerman did not report the sexual assaults.

“I never followed up on charges because my life was in danger and I felt fear and shame,” she said.

She dropped out of college at 18, eventually told her parents what happened and said she had lived in fear, shame and guilt for decades caught in a cycle of abuse .

“There is such redemption in this story because I was repeatedly asked to go back and speak to the IUP,” Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman is scheduled to speak about domestic and sexual abuse at the IUP this fall.

“I want people to experience the healing that I experienced,” she said.

Zimmerman said she credits God for her recovery, worshiping at Petra International Ministries in Penn Hills and A Remnant of People Ministries in Homestead.

Encouraging victims of abuse to share their story and begin the healing process, from the comfort of an inviting space, is rewarding, she said.

The feedback has been “magnificent,” Zimmerman said.

“It’s absolutely my mission,” she said.

Joyce Hanz is editor of Tribune-Review. You can contact Joyce at 724-226-7725, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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