By James Gilbert, @YSJamesGilbert

For Heather Griffith, the violent attacks from her ex-husband were an almost daily occurrence that left her in fear of her life. Able to eventually break free of that abusive relationship, she is now sharing her story through the Purple Purse Challenge on behalf of the Healing Journey.

"Most women feel like they are stuck in the relationship and there is no way out. There is no hope," Griffith said. "Hopefully sharing my story lets women know there is a way out and they can make it on their own."

At the time of the relationship, Griffith was a Marine stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma. Although she left her ex-husband several times during her marriage, she would always return, only to experience more abuse, including once being hogtied and having her clothes cut off.

Her abuse finally ended six years ago when a Child Protective Service worker -- who was scheduled to visit their Foothills residence -- showed up during one of the attacks and called the Yuma County Sheriffs' Office.

He was arrested by deputies and charged with aggravated assault per domestic violence and eventually sentenced to 136 days in jail and a year of probation. After being released he moved back to Mississippi, but continued to call Griffith, a violation of an order of protection.

After several violations, U.S. Marshals went to Mississippi, arrested him, and brought him back to Yuma for prosecution. He was later sentenced to another 30 days in jail and a year of probation. Then, in 2015, he was convicted of murdering his aunt and sentenced to 16 years in prison.

Today Griffith volunteers at the Healing Journey and is pursuing a Bachelor's Degree in criminal justice at Arizona State University through Arizona Western College. She has already earned her associates degree in the same field.

Now also in a safe, stable relationship, and having regained custody of her children, Griffith said she wanted to do something for the Healing Journey, because the agency helped her get her life back.

"It has been hard, no walk in the park," Griffith said. "I still experience some anxiety and get flashbacks, but if I'm able to help someone else, it is worth it."

Director Estrella Fitch explained that, in conjunction with Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October, the Healing Journey has been selected to participate in the Allstate Foundation Purple Purse Challenge that will help the agency raise money for the services it provides to survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault, as well as be eligible for money from the foundation.

"We are one of only four agencies in Arizona selected to participate," Fitch said. "I think the reason we were chosen is because we don't concentrate on having been a victim. We concentrate on survivors moving forward and making a difference."

The Purple Purse Campaign has raised nearly $5.5 million for more than 160 national, state and local nonprofits and the survivors they serve.

Fitch is asking for the community's help by making a donation to her agency during the campaign at a homepage designed for it at www.crowdrise.com/HealingJourney-PurplePurse2016.

At the end of the campaign (Oct. 25), the Allstate Foundation will award grand prize grants to the top five organizations, based on the amount of their operational budget, that raised the most funding.

"Our budget is small, but we do a lot with it," Fitch said. "Every penny goes to our direct services."

The first-, second-, and third-place participants nationwide will receive cash prizes in the amount of $100,000 (first place), $50,000 (second place), and $25,000 (third place). In addition, the fourth- place winner will receive $20,000, and fifth-place will receive $15,000.

Griffith's 14-year-old daughter, Dakota Barnett, has also moved from being a participant of the services offered by the Healing Journey to being a fully-trained peer mentor for other girls seeking support from the agency.

"I started coming here and didn't want to leave," Barnett said. "I felt like there was a lot I could do."

James Gilbert can be reached at jgilbert@yumasun.com or 539-6854. Find him on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/YSJamesGilbert or on Twitter @YSJamesGilbert.

Article courtesy of the Yuma Sun, originally appearing at:

http://www.yumasun.com/news/healing-journey-to-join-in-fundraising-challenge/article_32c8c66c-8f50-11e6-ae31-d7234a5d34ea.html