The abuse began at age 3 when Shannon Dietz was molested by a family member. As a teen, her boyfriend was killed in an auto accident. At 17, she was raped, then raped again as a college freshman.
“At the age of 27, I’d run from God as far as I could go,” said Dietz. “I found myself at the bottom of a life that was no longer tolerable. I had no place to go but up.”
She looked to heaven and no surprise, that’s where she found peace – and a purpose for her own life.
“God blessed me by turning my life around and creating something beautiful,” said Dietz.
Today, Dietz is so much more than a survivor of abuse. She’s a wife, mother, friend, daughter, author, speaker, a Kingwood resident, and founder and executive director of Hopeful Hearts Ministry, a nonprofit organization that she started in 2011 to give a voice to survivors of abuse.
“Shortly after I realized I had no place to go but up, I felt a distinct calling to share my own struggles as a teen and begin teaching teens at church,” Dietz said.
That calling not only allowed her to tell others how God had changed her personal tragedy into triumph, it allowed Dietz to explore her own faith. Within four years, Dietz’s youth group was voted one of the top five Catholic youth groups in the United States. She was invited to speak at World Youth Day festivities twice and wrote a book, “Exposed: Inexcusable me … Irreplaceable Him.” By then, Dietz had found her passion, her joy and her calling, Hopeful Hearts Ministry.
“I think it’s time for survivors to recognize that they do matter and they are not alone,” Dietz said. “It’s my goal to be a voice for them and encourage survivors of all ages, genders and races to speak out and begin to talk about the abuse. The more we talk about it, the better chance the cycle will be broken.”
In her journey, Dietz discovered that survivors of abuse tend to be socially isolated without a strong support network because it is difficult for them to be intimate and trusting. Survivors may even have difficulty forming close relationships with their parents and their own children, she said.
Under Dietz’s watchful eye, Hopeful Heart Ministries offers individual and group peer support sessions and peer support sessions through videoconferencing. The program now shares office space with a Christian counselor who provides more in-depth counseling support for clients who need it.
“We currently refer 20% of our clients to counseling from her or from other licensed professionals within their insurance network,” Dietz said.
Hopeful Hearts Ministries has also produced nine videos of abuse survivors sharing their experience “… without shame …” and two more are in production.
“Our services are different from anything offered by other organizations focused on survivors of abuse,” Dietz said.
“Our trained peer support specialists are themselves survivors of abuse who are equipped to help other survivors process their trauma.”
One of Dietz’s clients praised the professional counseling and peer support she received from Hopeful Hearts.
“I’ve lived with the effects of abuse for 25 years and been in counseling for five,” the client said. “My counselor was not sexually abused but my Hopeful Hearts peer supporter is able to offer insight and perspective that comes only from a survivor.”
The peer supporter doesn’t set into the role of the clinical counselor, Dietz points out, but rather helps the victim navigate a difficult path.
“Since we’re both survivors,” the client said, “we walk it together.”
Hopeful Hearts, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit, is supported by donations.
“We have a gala every February and we’re also asking for volunteers to host breakfast, tea or a happy hour in an effort to get the word out about us,” said Dietz. “A core group of supporters offer monthly donations, we get matching donations from supportive companies, and the sale of my books and speaking engagements helps fund us as well.”
In addition to increasing the number of supporters, Dietz is expanding Hopeful Hearts into Dallas/Fort Worth this year, and, because of a special opportunity, perhaps Washington state as well. Ultimately, she’d like a presence in every state, which is why she’s looking for someone with legal experience to help register the ministry in every state.
“Being that one in three of us has been abused in our lifetime, there is no doubt that every person has some kind of personal experience or knows someone who has been abused,” Dietz said. “Hopeful Hearts Ministry is working to make their voices heard.”
To learn more about Hopeful Hearts Ministry, to meet other survivors who found their voices, or to donate, visit hopefulheartsministry.org.