Chapters in Courage

Chapters in courage: Durant women forge bond through crisis

By Maria Moore Kass
For the Democrat

Maybe you’ve heard before the comparison of life, when likened to a book has many similarities. How each of us composes our own book of life that at times we are authors of ourselves, while at other times, are seemingly written by someone else entirely. 

Each chapter of our book tells the stories that make up a life and each will document both our challenging and difficult stories, as well as those that bring joy, happiness and God willing, triumph over the hard parts that can’t be skipped over as if found on a page, too unpleasant to continue. 

Also, there is often a vast array of colorful characters depicted in our story of life, and it is in these relationships and friendships we forge along the way with those that enter, or sometimes even later exit that tale, that make them more interesting, compelling and sometimes simply survivable. 

Those are the friendships we hold in our hearts as dear and treasured as some first edition, rare and priceless piece of literature to be handled gently, with love, care and kindness. For two Durant women, this story of crisis and coincidence would bring them together as new characters in each other’s stories of real life. Faith, friendship and strength would bond them and ensure that for both, the pages would continue. 

Eileen Meadows and Stephanie Luke are both highly visible women in the community and well known and respected for their work in victim advocacy and raising awareness of the crimes and illness that created the tragic or painful situations with which both women have gained experience. Each is very active in work, their special interests and family ties. Both women also have family roots extending deep in Bryan County. 

Meadows, 54 moved to Bryan County with her family at the age of 9 and attended Calera Schools until her sophomore year in high school when she moved to Northeastern Oklahoma with her father following her parents’ divorce. It was there she later graduated and began her life. 

Meanwhile, as Meadows married and began her own family, her mother, Norita Walker, still a resident of Bryan County, began noticing a need locally for women in emergency need of help that had nowhere else to go, often leaving violent home lives suddenly with nothing but the clothes on their back and the children in their arms. Women and children escaping, sometimes for their lives, with no one to turn to in hopes of turning their own page and beginning a chapter and a life, anew.

On the advice of some area citizens, Walker began a grass-roots effort and soon rounded up the necessary community support with the help of several citizens and her husband, then Calera Chief of Police, Jack Stockton. Though starting with nothing, Walker secured funding and opened some 32 years ago, the area’s first Crisis Center for women and children victimized by domestic and sexual abuse and trauma.

A blessing to so many, the need multiplied with every passing year after the center opened its doors. The call for services unfortunately continued to grow and the small shelter employing just three women at its inception, would have to expand to fully serve the needs of the community. 

After hard work and dedication and once again, strong backing from the community and private citizens, a new fourteen bed facility was opened ten years ago expanding the facility not only in size but in services offered. With each passing year and more work to be done however, it soon became apparent to Meadows that her mother now aging past retirement, would need her assistance to run operations. 

It was four years ago that Meadows, who had since herself endured a situation of domestic violence, returned to Bryan County to work alongside her mother as Lead Crisis Advocate. Together with their staff totaling ten, they work tirelessly providing a range of services for domestic violence victims, rape survivors and women targeted by stalkers. On average, over 400 families a year pass through the facility doors in need of help. And Meadows and the team turn no one away. If all beds are full, they make as many calls as necessary to insure no woman or child is forced to make the decision of having nowhere else to go but the street, or return to their violent abusers. 

The center offers everything from immediate provisions like shelter, clothing and food to counseling by extensively trained staff. Court advocacy assistance is offered during civil and criminal proceedings and sexual assault victims can find a caring hand to hold by a center escort that will accompany them to a hospital to undergo forensic testing for forthcoming criminal litigation against the attacker charged in a case. In speaking with Meadows about the center and her role, it is obvious that there is a great deal of pride and satisfaction felt when discussing the center’s place and need in Bryan County. 

She feels that God has led her to this work, as he has led her in so many other areas of her life. The difficult and challenging work requires hard labor, commitment and a willingness to give 110% around the clock, regardless of the personal challenges that present themselves in that book of life. 

And Meadows was about to face her biggest challenge yet with a diagnosis that came from out of nowhere. To her good fortune, she knew just who to call. Stephanie Luke would be the first call Meadows would make when she found the tell-tale lump in her breast while showering one day. 

Although still fostering a relatively new friendship, these women had already experienced a lifetime of anguish together and with another diagnosis, this one given to Luke.