From battered to victorious

SocialSpotlight_0813For Lori Bajares, domestic violence hits close to home. She remembers her personal nightmare all too well.

The bruises, black eyes, cuts, and scrapes all over her body. The desperate cries and screams for help. The emotional trauma of thinking there was no escaping hell’s gate.

As a resident of Texas in the early 1980s, Lori was verbally and physically abused by her then-husband. She endured this tortuous lifestyle for five years.

“When I was seven months pregnant with our baby, he would punch me in the stomach,” says Lori, who today resides in Lake County. “I’d turn around and say, ‘Punch me, but don’t hit the baby.’ I remember always hiding in the closet because I never knew what kind of mood he would be in.”

Her pleas for help routinely fell on deaf ears. “Back in the early 1980s, there were really no laws or repercussions for domestic violence,” she says. “There were times when I’d call the police, but they acted like it was no big deal.”

Meanwhile, her husband controlled every aspect of her life. “He would not let me talk to family or friends. He would not let me work, and he would not let me have money. There were certain clothing items that he forbade me to wear. He always said if I attempted to leave him, he would kill me and my parents.”

But there came a time when she could take no more. In a desperate attempt to save herself and her baby, she fled Texas and drove to her parents’ home in Florida. Her mother wired her gas money so she could make the trip. However, her husband caught her before she arrived in Ormond Beach.

“He beat me, took the car, and took the baby. When police arrived, my body was bloodied. They drove me to a shelter for domestic violence victims. That was the first time since marrying my husband I felt safe.”

A taste of yesteryear

Lori managed to get her baby back and divorce her husband. She has not heard from him in decades.

“I never bothered to go after him for child support because I did not want him near our child,” she says.

Today, she is enjoying a happy marriage with her new husband, Salomon. In addition, she is the proud owner of Hairstranz Hair and Nail Salon, which she opened four years ago in Tavares.

While her life has changed dramatically, she realizes that survivors of domestic violence must pay it forward to help other victims. Her company and other local businesses are sponsoring the second annual Midsummers Night of Romance on August 10th at Shea’s Fat Cats in Mount Dora. Proceeds from the event will benefit Haven of Lake and Sumter Counties, which serves victims of domestic violence and sexual assault by providing shelter, counseling, food, clothing, and educational classes.

“There are many women who reside in Lake County, yet there is only one major shelter for victims of domestic violence,” she says. “There is just not enough space at Haven, and it is in dire need of a child day care, as well.”

Guests will enjoy Rat Pack-inspired outfits and décor during this 1950s supper club-themed event. The highlight is a lingerie-and-evening-wear fashion show with both male and female models. In sticking with the supper club theme, tables will be decorated with tablecloths and lanterns, and attendees can order the favorite drinks enjoyed by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr. during their Rat Pack heyday. In addition, those memorable doll-faced cigarette girls will walk around offering candy.

“We want to make this event as realistic as possible,” Lori says.

Lori will impersonate Academy Award-winning actress Elizabeth Taylor. During the evening, she will make “appearances” with Elizabeth’s seven husbands. In addition, prizes will be awarded to the three guests donning the most authentic costumes from ‘50s era.

“I encourage people to come because it will be fun and will benefit  a great cause.”

Kelly Smallridge, executive director of Haven of Lake and Sumter Counties, said money raised from Midsummers Night of Romance will be used to purchase food, new underwear, soap, and shampoo for victims at the shelter. “It is wonderful what Lori is doing, and I thank her from the bottom of my heart,” Kelly says. “With the economy and unemployment the way it is, donations have not been coming in as rapidly. Events such as these go a long way in helping us fulfill all the needs of abused women we serve.”

Paying it forward

In addition to Midsummers Night of Romance, Lori will organize a second event in November, also to raise money for domestic violence victims. To be held at Ruby Street Grill in Tavares, the event is affectionately called “Purple Passion”  because purple is the color of Domestic Violence Awareness. Purple Passion will feature a silent auction, giveaways, and guest speakers.

Lori also provides free haircuts, manicures, and pedicures for women who are currently being served by Haven.

“Going through what I did made me stronger, so I feel obligated to give back to victims of domestic violence because I understand the hell they are going through,” she says. “You have no self-esteem. You get to the point where you feel like you deserve the abuse. The abuser is very manipulative, but you are scared to death to leave. I want to help victims get through this and persevere.”

Tickets to Midsummers Night of Romance cost $20. For more information, call Lori at 352.343.4237.

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