LIVERMORE -- Years after the abuse ended, Christina Kuper still bears scars.
Burn marks on her hand and stomach, which she said were caused by an ex-boyfriend, still prompt questions from her three young boys.
Over a decadelong, on-again, off-again relationship that began when she was a teenager, Kuper says a boyfriend abused her, first verbally, then escalating to physical attacks.
Blaming herself for the treatment, Kuper said she lied to her family until she "couldn't continue to hide certain things." One incident brought her to the breaking point.
"There was a tussle," she said. "I was pushed down on the couch and punched in my face and across the jaw. ... It wasn't the first time, it was just the last time I could deal with it."
She was left with bruises, swelling and scratches. Kuper's father called police, and not knowing what to do next, searched online and found the Tri-Valley Haven, a Livermore shelter for battered women.
"I was scared," she said. "Without them, I don't know what my father and I would've done. ... They helped me with everything."
Kuper's initial fears were eased by a member of the Haven's legal team, who prepared a restraining order and accompanied her to court. The Haven reimbursed Kuper for medical expenses, and allowed her to use the shelter until she could get on her feet.
But the story didn't end there. Even after counseling, she eventually reunited with her boyfriend who remained, she said, "abusive in every form."
"I thought I loved him," she said. "It wasn't until I had a son with him (in 2004) that I realized I can't do this anymore. ... I couldn't continue to take the yelling and the arguments."
Through it all, she kept in touch with the Haven's counselors. They explained that, although some women return to their abusers, she needed to break the cycle. Their help enabled her and her son to move away from Dublin.
Years later, Kuper returned to the area to be with her current husband, with whom she had a son; and a third son she welcomed from her husband's previous marriage. Inspired by her experience, Kuper, now 32, is pursuing a law degree and attends Las Positas College. She often volunteers at her sons' school and is working on a relationship between her oldest son and his biological father -- who has since completed domestic violence counseling. She says they are on "cordial terms."
Finally in a positive place, Kuper credits the Haven for giving her strength to move on.
"When I was weak, they were there to help me. ... Without them, I wouldn't have had the guts to follow through the way I did."
Founded in 1977, the Haven serves thousands each year with counseling and legal services, a 24-hour hotline, self-defense classes, a food pantry, a homeless shelter and the area's only rape crisis center.
"Our services are pretty intensive and comprehensive," said Executive Director Ann King.
The nonprofit depends on contributions. An anonymous donor recently made a $125,000 pledge that must be matched by June's end.
The $6,000 Share the Spirit grant will go for gifts and food for families at the Haven's "Holiday Warehouse," which serves about 800 needy clients.
"It's such a huge undertaking," King said. "We have families like Christina's every day."
Kuper said her experience with the Haven made her want to give back and teach her sons about helping others. Each month they collect food, clothing and toys for the Haven and other groups.
"It fulfills (the feeling of) being able to give back to people that may have been in a place I was years ago," she said.
Contact Jeremy Thomas at 925-847-2184 or follow him at Twitter.com/jet_bang.
The Share the Spirit campaign, sponsored by this newspaper, benefits nonprofit agencies in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. To help, clip the coupon accompanying this story or go to https://volunteer.truist.com/vccc/donate. Readers with questions and corporations interested in making large contributions may contact the Volunteer Center of Contra Costa, which administers the fund, at 925-472-5760.