SALT LAKE CITY — When people meet Tiffany Barnes, they have no idea how far she has come.
Now working with A&E's "Flip This House," Barnes started a charity this year — called SHARE — to help others who are going through the situation she once found herself in.
It was 1998, and Barnes was a student at Kearns High School. She had just been kicked out of her home after confronting her stepfather about what she said had been nine months of sexual, physical and emotional abuse.
She said she went to stay with her father for a few months, but ultimately decided to work with a social worker for an emancipation, which was finalized when she was 15 years old.
"Sometimes I got made fun of for it, and other times people thought I was cool for it," Barnes said. "Other times, people would come to me and share their stories of abuse. For a lot of them, it was their first time telling someone."
Although she kept herself busy, graduating at the top of her class and getting involved in basketball and orchestra, Barnes said the time following her emancipation was a difficult one.
"It was definitely a lonely phase. I was suicidal at points. I felt unworthy; I felt if my mom didn't want me, why would the world want me?" she said. "I didn't feel like I had a lot of people I could go to at the time."
It was at that point Barnes realized she wanted to become an advocate for the abused, to help people learn to recognize and report signs of abuse and to "realize it's OK to say something." She said a lot of young people think if they report abuse, they will be ripped from their families.
"I want people to know it's OK to say something, that you can still live in a decent environment, have a good life and have the things you deserve, and that you're a worthy person," Barnes said.
SHARE started out as a club at Kearns High: Students Helping the Abused to React and Empower. Barnes wanted a place where students could come together and "stay on the straight and narrow and work on self-esteem issues." Three years ago, she decided to work on making her dream of starting a nonprofit into a reality, and in 2012, the organization was officially listed as a 501(c)3.
SHARE's first move as a nonprofit was to provide Christmas for a South Jordan family with 11 children, all of whom have been adopted out of abusive situations.
"I remember being a kid and getting Sub for Santa gifts and stuff like that. It helped, but it was kind of weird getting gifts from strangers," Barnes said. "I wanted the kids to know this is the cause, you can always come to us with anything."
Barnes said the biggest hurdle in overcoming abuse is being willing to talk to someone about it.
"A lot of people think, "If I say something to someone, my whole family is going to be broken up; we're going to be separated,'" she said. "But it doesn't have to be that way. You deserve to have a good life and not be getting abused. Saying something is the right thing to do."
That goes for those who may be witnessing abuse, as well, which is why another aim of SHARE is to teach people to recognize the signs of abuse and how to report it. "Don't say it's none of your business. It is your business," Barnes said.
To volunteer with SHARE, email firstname.lastname@example.org.