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Dianne Samoff

Putting Her Best Foot Forward to End Domestic Abuse

Extraordinary Profiles

Shoes, shoes and more shoes. They wear them in style and with attitude, but these ladies are doing more than just wearing stylish pumps. They may be “dressed to charm,” but they are literally putting their best foot forward to help victims of domestic violence. Diane Samoff, a victim of domestic violence for several years during her first marriage, knows firsthand the devastation that it can cause, both physically and emotionally. After escaping from her own devastating experiences, Samoff was encouraged to start Society of Women Who Love Shoes and Fashion in 2005. Having to start her life over, Samoff was faced with finding a job. She was given a suit and a pair of red shoes. This act of kindness gave her a sense of pride and great hope that she would once again become whole. As a result, she wanted to share that same sense of hope with other women who have experienced domestic violence. As founder of this great organization, Samoff’s dream is to allow her vision to take root around the world. She has inspired hundreds of women to share her vision -- their love of shoes to help women escape the clutches of domestic violence. Samoff says, “We all know that when a woman feels like a woman, there is POWER!” The Society of Women Who Love Shoes and Fashion is a non-profit organization that collects shoes and other items for victims of domestic violence. The organization promotes change and raises awareness through networking and social events.

It was a pleasure to speak with Samoff and her current husband, Roger concerning her vision to change and improve the lives of women worldwide whose lives have been drastically altered because of domestic violence. Monica: What type of abuse did you experience? Was it physical, emotional or mental abuse, or was it all of those? Dianne: A little bit of all of it. My former husband was an alcoholic. At first it occurred only when he drank, and then he started doing it even when he wasn't drinking. But he was a pretty angry alcoholic and it lasted until I left him -- ten long years. It started on the third day we were married. We dated three years, and my father was pretty strict, so I had to be in the house early. So I never saw him when he was drinking heavily. After the third day we were married, my aunt visited me and we were talking and laughing about something. He was in the kitchen, and I guess he didn't hear what we were talking about. After she left, I took a nap that afternoon. He had gone out to a club. When he came home, he woke me up and began pushing me against the wall. He said we had been talking about him, and he hit me in my mouth. Monica: I'm sure that came as a surprise to you. Dianne: Oh, absolutely. I mean here's this man I dated for three years. He had never hit me or anything, and then all of a sudden, I'm being hit. It was pretty bad. I found out later during our marriage all of the men in his family hit their wives except one brother.

Monica: I see. Did you have children at the time? Dianne: Yes, I have four children, three boys and a daughter. I'm very lucky. I married a wonderful man years later. None of my sons hit their wives, so I'm lucky because usually it runs in the family. It's hard to break that cycle. Monica: What was the breaking point that gave you the courage to escape the clutches of domestic abuse? Dianne: You know, going through it for 10 years, while you're living through it -- let me say that first -you're just surviving. I have had people during the marriage say, “Well, why don't you get out”? You're just trying to survive, especially when you have children. I know that sounds odd to people that haven’t had to deal with it. When I finally left, my youngest son was five, and I just decided it was time to get out. To be honest with you, Monica, it's almost like I woke up. I was living in Louisiana, and it seemed like I just woke up that one day. The good Lord just helped me to get out of it. I went to Dallas where I now live. I got a job and saved a little bit of money for a couple of weeks. I went back to my home in Louisiana, got my children from my parents and moved them to Dallas. It was just the grace of God. That's all I can really say. Monica: Were you working during your marriage? Dianne: No, because he was one of those who thought that if you worked, you were obviously flirting with people. One time we were walking down a sidewalk, I just happened to look

January-February 2012 | Exceptional People Magazine | 67

Extraordinary Profiles

trying to make it, you do the best you can. Roger: The one thing I've learned about women, Monica, is that probably the most important thing to most women is security. I think when you get into these situations you find your security is breached. You don't know who you can trust. Monica: I'm glad you have overcome it all. Now you see life and yourself from a brand new perspective. What words would you use to describe how your life has changed since then?

up, and there was a man. He hit me in the face right there on the sidewalk in a shopping center. So, no, I wasn't allowed to work. I could barely speak to my male cousins because he accused me of flirting with them. He was a very jealous man. Roger: First I will tell you the nightmares for her ended about two years ago. After about 26 years her nightmares finally stopped. One of the things she didn’t mention in the past about working is that they were separated several times. During those times of separation, she was able to begin work, typically odd jobs because when you have four kids and you can't afford childcare, you have to work out something with the hotel where you're the night clerk or something else. But she has always been extremely ambitious to do multiple things to try to make ends meet. Dianne: That is right. I stayed at a hotel one time, and I worked at night when I was separated from him. I put my children in a room close to the office. When you're single and you're

Dianne: Overwhelming. My life is totally different. It took me awhile. Even married to a good man, I still, for a while, wouldn't trust him. I got a job and if I was a little bit late coming home, Roger would worry about me being in a large city like Houston. We didn't have a cell phone then, and he would be standing outside worried to death about me. I took that as jealousy. I would get angry because I thought that the situation was going to be repeated. But I learned he was just a caring man, not being jealous. Roger: Just from an observer's point of view, what I noticed with Dianne over the years is what she told you in the beginning, that she was kind of shy and timid. I think a lot of that timidity came from just a lack of support for a number of years. What I have noticed over our years is that she's begun to regain her confidence. She has begun to blossom, take risks and become very successful with the things that she's done. And I think it's the thing that's made the biggest difference in her ability to lead the Society of Women Who Love Shoes and grow that group like she has so far.

68 | Exceptional People Magazine | January-February 2012

Monica: You are using your experience in a way that can help women who are experiencing or have experienced domestic violence. You are helping them to find hope and inner strength. Your organization, of course, is called Society of Women Who Love Shoes and Fashion. What is the overall mission of the organization? Dianne: Goals often change as you create something like this. But we want to be an alliance. We want shelters to be able to call us. We reach out to different shelters and ask them what they need. We have a happy hour every month. We knew several shelters needed coats for November, so we had a coat drive. We always ask for shoes. There would also be months we would ask for school supplies or different things that they needed. And we've begun to get phone calls from individuals now. Monica: As far as the people who are in need, do they contact you directly?

Extraordinary Profiles

He wanted to assure me that it would never happen again. He was very comforting. Monica: What inspired the name Society for Women Who Love Shoes and Fashion? Dianne: That has begun. We've always just given to a shelter, which we will continue to do, but we are beginning to get direct phone calls. So there will be a time when we will supply items for those women who reach out to us as individuals. We are hoping next October to sponsor a walk or a run, because October is Domestic Violence Month. We're also reaching out to our board members and all of our volunteers. We're visiting churches, and we're putting something together for the churches. We hope that many of the pastors will preach on domestic violence at least one week during October. Roger: The biggest thing that we're driving, first of all, is awareness. When people become aware of how big the problem is and how many lives around them it touches, they want to become involved. So the first phase of activity of almost everything we’re doing is just to create a high level of awareness. That will hopefully be followed by action. We have a series of programs that will follow over the next couple of years to support that involvement.

them. A lot of women that come to our group are abused at the time. If they take one of our cards home or they come to our event, a lot of times the spouse has no idea it's for abuse because of the name of the organization. You may think it's just a society thing. Just know you are loved, and we do want to help. Go to your church. I know it's hard, believe me, but there are ways. People say, “Well, why don't you get out,” so you get out. If you’re like me, you never had a job. What are you going to do to support those children? You don't have a car. You have no furniture. Some women, when they leave, have a home, car, furniture and clothing. Monica: When you told Roger that you had been abused, how did he react? Dianne: Shocked. He didn't grow up in that. It’s hard for people that don’t live like that to realize that it really happens. He was very calming and compassionate and wanted to hug me.

Dianne: Oh my goodness. You know, when I left my abuser, I didn't have much. I borrowed a suit from someone, and I borrowed a pair of red shoes. And when you put on high heels, it just makes a woman feel so good. We all love shoes and it kind of came together from there. Monica: What is your plan for the organization for the next two to three years? How do you plan to grow it? Dianne: Well, I have women reach out all the time who want to volunteer. And a lot of our volunteers were abused. A lot of them have the same passion I have. As I mentioned earlier, I would love to reach out to the churches and have every church spread the message about abuse at least one Sunday in October. We want to start having runs and walks in October, and we’re hoping to reach out to the schools and start teaching children early on. We're hoping to be able to help women make the transition. There are women who may need to leave town, and they can't afford to.

Monica: What words of wisdom and inspiration can you give other women who are currently experiencing domestic abuse but don't know how to change their situations? Dianne: To know that there are people out there that care, and that's what we're hoping our group will also show All photos by January-February 2012 | Exceptional People Magazine | 69

Extraordinary Profiles

workplace. The reality is, as she mentioned, when you have a woman who's been beaten and she can't afford to miss a paycheck, and her boss says, “Come back when the bruises are healed,” she loses two, three, four weeks worth of pay. Now what? Her life is now dashed. So we want to develop more of a support system and get that in place across the U.S. Mothers Against Drunk Driving did a great job of making the problem visible and taking action. I think she'd like to follow that same model as it relates to those rules. We're hoping to be able to help them relocate. Monica: Absolutely. And so what kind of legacy would you like to leave other women, whether it's personally or through your organization? Dianne: I hope it goes on for years and years after I’m gone. I hope we can change laws and work situations where if a woman has been abused, she can still be paid when she's not working. There are women that are sent home because other people are looking at them. Some organizations do not pay them. They just tell them to stay home until their bruises are gone. We're hoping to change a lot of it.

Monica: It’s wonderful that you are participating in what your wife is doing, trying to make a difference as well. Roger: Well, the simple thing about Dianne -- you asked her a question about her legacy. My wish for her legacy is that the size of her heart and how deeply she cares about people’s situations and takes a personal interest in individuals’ well-being, that that character can be spread to anyone and everyone who is touched by the Society of Women Who Love Shoes.

Roger: Dianne's kind of timid sometimes in saying what she's really put in motion. But one of the things that she's asked me to help with is to work with some of the major human resources organizations, with the major corporations in the U.S., in forming a committee to develop more of a support system from the corporate side. Today most of the organizations have rules around domestic violence to keep domestic violence out of the 70 | Exceptional People Magazine | January-February 2012

Monica: How can others help you? How can we support you? Dianne: We have a website; www.societyofwomenwholoveshoes. org. And anyone that would like to get involved or start a chapter in their city, we would be willing to discuss it. We probably have 23 active volunteers. They do whatever it takes. When I attend an event, I do not have much to do except entertain the guests, because the volunteers take over and they are awesome. We have men and women who volunteer. Roger: We have an existing network of individuals across the country, so we have plans for national growth. We already have a network in place so we can take advantage of that and help individuals to do that. Monica: I want to thank you for all that you're doing through your organization to help abused women. I know you're going to have a major impact on the lives of many women, and I wish you much success with it. Dianne: Thank you so much. 

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