Battered mothers find refuge, education opportunity at Magdalena House

Magdalena House serves as a long-term transitional housing for battered women

SAN ANTONIO – There’s a home on a busy San Antonio street that serves as much more than a normal residence.

Four mothers live in the four-bedroom home called the Magdalena House. Mothers who fled their abusive life and have now taken refuge as they pursue their academic goals with their children by their side.

But the story starts with “one dollar” to spare for the lease and a vision of “A place to begin again.”

“I knew the need for women to have a shelter where they can live a long time because it takes a long time to get your life back together,” said Denise Barker, founder and executive director of the Magdalena House. “This was just a calling on my heart (and) I was in seminary to become a pastor and felt instead of working in a local church, I wanted to work in the community to serve women and children."

Jazmin, who was born and raised in West Texas, had been in and out of foster homes since she was 8 years old.  

She was on the path of juvenile detention when her last foster mother, who she lived with for six years, showed her tough love and instilled in her the importance of education.

(WATCH: Jazmin's emotional story and Denise Barker's story about founding Magdalena House.)

Years later and with that in mind, she learned about the Magdalena House through one of her friends when she became pregnant with her first son at the age of 23. 

“I knew I wanted to be the best mom that I could be for this child that was in my belly but I didn’t know who to ask for help,” Jazmin said. “I don’t want them (my kids) to go through what I went through and so, by educating myself I’ll be able to provide that.”

With four classes left, Jazmin is on pace to finishing her associate’s degree in community health and hopes to help others soon after.

The Magdalena House opens its doors not only for area mothers, but for mothers across the country and around the world.

The home has guided battered mothers from other countries such as: Iraq, Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and Brazil.

Under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a battered non-citizen must be the spouse of an abusive U.S. citizen or permanent resident and can apply for immigration status without the knowledge or involvement of the abuser. 

Most of the women who live or have lived at the Magdalena House were brought to the United States by their husband and fell into the abusive trap of, “You can’t leave me because you’re not a citizen.”

“I came to the United States to be with my kid’s father and it didn’t work out as I projected,” said Carine, who is from the African country of Cameroon. "And one day he asked me to leave his house and I didn’t know anybody in San Antonio, I didn’t know where to go.”

Carine found the Magdalena House after her four-month stay at another shelter came to an end.

She has been at the home for four years and is on track to graduate from the UT-Health Science Center with an associates degree in dental hygiene in May 2016.

(WATCH: Carine's amazing journey to Magdalena House.)

Mothers can stay at the home as long as needed as long as they continue the path of achieving their academic goals in attempt to better the future of their family. 

The home is currently at its capacity with four families living inside. However, the Magdalena House receives on average about three to seven calls a day from battered mothers who want to leave the abuser in their life.

With limited space, Barker and her staff have no choice but to turn away those mothers, share information and send a prayer their way. But there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Last year, Barker said they were able to purchase the 5-acre property from the previous owners after having paid them only $7 for the past seven years.

Denise said contractors have started to clear the land and they plan to build a gated subdivision with seven homes that will serve up to 28 families by early next year, all in hopes of not turning away more mothers in the future.

About the Author: