FAIRFAX, Va. (WUSA) - "When I came here, it was 2008. Was with three kids at the time and it was very scary, very scary. Never been by myself. My ex was trying to take the kids, it was just one thing after the other."
Four years ago, Kayphia Valentine, 28, took the first step away from a life of domestic violence.
"My husband kicked me out. I have three kids, I'm going to a shelter, and they kind of placed me in NOVACO's hands, because that was a domestic violence situation. At the time I didn't know that was the name of it. I just explained what the situation was."
Valentine got referred to NOVACO, a non-profit organization in Fairfax County dedicated to helping domestic abuse survivors become self-sufficient.
More than 3,000 calls for help were made to Fairfax County's Office of Women and Domestic and Sexual Violence Services in fiscal year 2012.
NOVACO (Northern Virginia Coalition of Churches and Businesses) celebrates what life can be and should be for survivors.
"People end up often times getting into a cycle of abuse without even realizing it and then it escalates," said Kim Roman Corle, Interim Executive Director and Vice Chair of the Board for NOVACO.
"So it doesn't go away. Somebody doesn't walk down the hall and walk into a house and hits somebody. It usually starts with yelling, screaming, manipulation, different abuse tactics."
The abuse may go on for many years before the cycle is broken. Corle describes it as the "dripping faucet theory."
"So if a faucet drips one day, it's no big deal. Twenty years later, the pipes are rusted out. So it kind of eats away at you on a day by day, bit by bit basis. And so a lot of times, these women feel that they are victims and they don't have any power, and then they start to get physically abused and then at that point, that's when things usually escalate."
NOVACO provides transitional housing to their clients in the first step toward breaking the abuse cycle.
"They gave me a place to live, not somewhere that I am sharing a house or have a roommate or anything. It was my own apartment. It was a three- bedroom apartment, living room, dining room, two bathroom," a smiling Valentine recalls.
"So coming from a shelter with just one room, to an apartment with three bedrooms for my kids and me to maneuver in, that was a big step. I was screaming the first time I saw my apartment."
NOVACO's wide network of church and community sponsors provide many classes and counseling for female survivors and their children. The demand is high.
"We only serve about 20% of the need so we're constantly looking for volunteers and donations and ways to help and grow so that we service more clients," Corle said.
In three years with NOVACO, Valentine learned many life skills like financial literacy and career planning.
"They helped me find a house, they helped me get my kids, they helped me learn how to drive. They help me get a car. They help me through school, they help pay for school, they help me with the knowledge of how to go about getting program or financial aid for school."
Valentine now lives in a place with all five of her children. The working mom plans to going back to school for a career as a nursing assistant.
"Don't stay in a situation that is not going to benefit you or your kids. Don't stay in a situation that is, you're thinking if I leave I'm going to lose everything. Because your life and your kids are more important than your material stuff," Valentine said.
About one-third of the graduates from NOVACO own their own homes.
NOTE: Gannett Foundation has given a grant to NOVACO.
Written/Produced by: Elizabeth Jia
9NEWS & WUSA9.com