ABC House: Ana’s Story

Staff at ABC House in Albany pose for a photo with their canine employee, Xander. Photo by Sarah Brown

Tami and Mike Speten had donated to ABC House from time to time, but until they found themselves in a situation where they actually needed help from the nonprofit, they didn’t fully understand what the organization did.

Tami, who now works for ABC House as a human resource coordinator, shared her family’s story, a story about a young girl who hid her secret for seven years and began to blossom as ABC House surrounded her with support.

The Spetens are a blended family with a total of 12 children between the two of them, six of which were still living with them when they married. The parents had only been married six months when Tami’s stepdaughter, Ana, 14 at the time, shared she was sexually abused by her older brother when she was approximately 7 to 10 years old. He is about 10 years older than her.

Prior to that revelation, Tami said she and her husband felt they were prepared for anything, given the fact they’ve raised so many kids and have a long history of working with youth and the community. They didn’t sleep very well that first night, but Tami said she noticed Ana was visibly different the next morning.

“I had never seen her seem so free and happy,” she said. “For her, the burden had been shifted; there were more people carrying it.”

But there was still a long road to go. For them, the journey to healing had only just begun. First, a detective and a representative of DHS came to their house to interview the family, but after that they really had no idea what would happen next.

“There’s no solid thread you can grab ahold of and go, ‘Okay, this is gonna show us the path,” Tami said. So they just waited.

Later, staff from ABC House contacted the family and invited them to their facility in Albany.

“It’s like from the second you walk in as a family in services, there’s this sense of people enveloping you and wrapping around you,” Tami said, still emotional from the experience.

She described the four-hour process as “well-choreographed” in a manner that made the family feel safe. It was during this time the family heard for the first time the details of what Ana had gone through.

“That’s not anything any parent ever wants to hear,” Tami said.

At the time, Tami thought Ana’s situation had a lot of unique variables – according to her, a pastor refused to report the abuse (because the abuser expressed he was sorry), some family members didn’t support Ana’s decision to talk, the abuser said she initiated the acts, and there were other victims. But now that Tami works at ABC House, she has since learned these kinds of variables are not uncommon.

Despite fallouts and ripple effects, Tami reported that several years later Ana is thriving. She praised ABC House services for continually reaching out to check on the family and providing resources that helped Ana work through her “stolen innocence.”

“You feel like this is just going to be a legal process – he’s going to be prosecuted or he’s not going to be prosecuted – but the fact there was an organization that exists solely to kind of wrap around our family and help shoulder the burden, that was incredibly helpful to our family,” Tami said. “It was like somebody holding a flashlight at the end of a very dark tunnel, and realizing there is a path and, whatever it looks like, we’re gonna go down that path together.”

ABC House was an instant community where Ana felt safe and comfortable, Tami said, not to mention the fact there is a canine employee (Xander) who comforts the visitors. And even though it’s been a few years since they first tapped into the organization, staff continue to provide support whenever questions and concerns arise.

Still, “Ana’s story, like a lot of others, doesn’t have a tidy little bow at the end,” she said.

While the abuser was never formally prosecuted, the Spetens were able to secure some regulations he would have to abide by. According to Tami, Ana’s sole focus was to make sure there were no more victims.

“Still to this day, (Ana) says, ‘I wanna use my story to help people. I want people to know they’re not alone, because I thought I was alone.’”

While staff at ABC House continue to provide fee-free support for after-the-fact situations, they are also proactive about educating the community and raising awareness in an effort intended to reduce abuse cases.

“The training really enforces how vital it is that you be the person that steps forward to protect that child and speak up and say something if you see something that looks off,” Tami said. “Just watching the people here and the incredible heart for what they do, and just the fact that they show up day after day is so impressive to me. These are the people that run into the burning building day after day after day no matter what the cost to themselves.”