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40 Years of Turning Hopelessness to Self-sufficiency

October 17, 2018 GMT

LOWELL -- If Olivia Marchand were still alive today, she would be 26 years old.

Her mother, Jody Marchand, can’t help but wonder where Olivia would be and what she would be up to if she hadn’t been murdered on Feb. 1, 2010.

Then 17-years-old, and a senior at Westford Academy, Olivia was shot to death by her father Brian Marchand. The murder happened in front of Jody inside their Westford home.

“Everyday it’s a nightmare,” Jody said.

Jody married Brian when he was 28 and she was 19. He was always emotionally abusive, often mocking her in front of friends and asserting control.

With their daughter getting older and her time away at college around the corner, Jody decided it was time to escape her decaying marriage. She requested a divorce.

It was a Monday night, a couple weeks later, when Brian snapped.

Jody came home late from work and Brian was passed out on the couch. Brian awoke, and began to choke Jody. She recalls him then just letting go and walking away. Jody called 911, but immediately hung up out of fear of how Brian would react.

That’s when Olivia walked inside their Makepeace Road home.

“I said, ‘We got to get out of here,’” Jody recalls telling her daughter. They went upstairs so Jody could change.

Brian then walked into the room with his 9mm pistol and shot Olivia. He then turned the gun on Jody, firing one shot that grazed her face, then another that passed through her jaw and stopped in her shoulder. Brian then turned the gun on himself.

Only Jody survived.

Jody shared her story Monday night after being honored during Alternative House’s 40th anniversary celebration at Lenzi’s in Dracut. During those four decades, Alternative House has offered help to victims of domestic violence.

Jody regularly presents her message to children, police academy cadets and domestic violence awareness groups, through the Live for Liv Foundation, created in honor of Olivia.

“I’m now here as a survivor and my mission is to help victims anyway I can,” Jody said. “I tell people, ‘Get out.’ You got to get out because what happened to me could happen to you.”

Through the organization, she also provides support to Alternative House, formed in 1978.

“They have taken away homelessness and provided a safe haven,” said former state Sen. Steven Panagiotakos, who served as Monday night’s master of ceremonies. “They have taken away helplessness and generated self-sufficiency. They have taken away hopelessness and rekindled that spark of hope all of us need. In short, they have been the alternative to a life of physical and emotional pain, and a life of fear and shame.”

The initial focus of Alternative House was to create an emergency shelter and 24-hour crisis hotline. In the 90s the organization began domestic violence community education and outreach. Then-Lowell City Manager Brian Martin -- also honored Monday night -- created the the Task Force on Domestic Violence, after being approached by Alternative House and Lowell District Court.

“There was a need to make the community and families aware of the resources that were out there and the support available for all of them,” Martin said.

Alternative House has since expanded. Today, they continue to operate a 24-hour crisis hotline -- which gets 2,000 calls a year -- and an emergency shelter. The agency’s Executive Director Kathy Kelley, who has held her position since 1994, estimates they take in around 100 to 110 victims in the emergency shelter each year -- a number that does not include the children involved. The organization additionally offers a transitional housing program.

“It creates some stability,” Kelley said. “The kids can stay in school. Mothers can go into a training program, or get a job and save up some money, and they are also applying for permanent affordable housing at the same time.”

“It’s very courageous for somebody to make a decision to leave an abusive situation,” she added. “It becomes a dangerous time. I see them as very courageous to make that decision to say, ‘I’m going to leave. I’m going to leave a home or an apartment and I’m going to go live in an emergency shelter with people I don’t know. I’ll be living in one room for awhile -- probably with my kids -- until I can figure out where I’m going.’ Our staff is there to help that victim take some baby steps.”

Diane Cantin, a survivor of domestic violence, was another woman honored Monday night. Her past experiences created an understanding with survivors she encounters daily with Alternative House as an overnight advocate. She was married for 18 years, and 10 years of “it was a nightmare,” she said. The relationship changed for the worse when she became pregnant with her first child, which seemed to trigger the violence against her.

“I’m still here standing,” said Cantin, now 65-years-old.

Also honored during Monday’s ceremony was Lowell resident Lela Boykins Hall, who began working with the Middlesex Sheriff’s Department in 1987. She volunteers with her church, providing emotional support to women incarcerated in Framingham State Prison. Hall became involved with Alternative House in the 90s, currently serving as the agency’s board president.

Cecile Swiderski, born and raised in Lowell, was also honored by Alternative House. Swiderski began coordinating the agency’s Holiday Gift Giving project in 2007, providing gifts to survivors of domestic violence.

For more information on how to help Alternative Housing, visit their website at alternative-house.org . To learn more about Live for Liv Foundation, visit liveforliv.org .