Nightly News   |  November 12, 2009

Halle Berry, helping women turn lives around

Nov. 12: Making a Difference: Actress Halle Berry draws on her family's painful experience with domestic abuse to help others. NBC's Natalie Morales reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> for yourself.

>>> our "making a difference" series this week has generated huge viewer interest. while we normally focus on perfectly ordinary americans do extraordinary things, this week, as you know, we're looking at some of the names and faces we all know because they're doing good work, too. tonight another global star , halle berry , and how she has chosen to focus her charitable efforts. it's a cause very close to her, so she speaks with credibility to women who need it in this case. her story tonight from our own natalie morales .

>> reporter: she's beautiful --

>> halle!

>> reporter: talented and putting a face on a problem many women hide.

>> so many families are involved in domestic violence .

>> reporter: for ten years, halle berry has raised awareness and funds for the jenesse center, a domestic violence shelter in los angeles that helps more than 8,000 women a year. halle, why is this cause so important to you?

>> my mother was a battered woman , so that was my childhood for a good chunk of it, and i really -- i care. i really care about these women and these children.

>> reporter: have you ever asked your mother, why did you put up with that?

>> she's still trying to discover that for herself, answer those tough questions. why did she put up with that and subject her children to growing in that environment? because we're still dealing with the effects of it. my sister and i, too.

>> reporter: berry is a familiar presence at the genessee center, where women in crisis find everything they need to heal -- counseling, a safe haven, classes in computer and money management , and someone to listen.

>> they really don't care about celebrity. they're trying to live day to day. so i get to come here and be just a woman, be a person who cares, someone that they can talk to, confide in.

>> hi, gail. how are you?

>> reporter: berry was among those who listened when abigail, who refers her last name not be used, made a critical decision.

>> i felt guilty as a mother taking my kids to a shelter. so just starting to love myself for who i was and for the choice that i had made. that helped me start turning around.

>> i certainly have been a woman who has struggled with my self-worth and my value and choosing the wrong partners in life. luckily, i've always been smart enough to hit the door the minute violence became slightly an issue. that's something i will not tolerate.

>> reporter: turning around years of low self-esteem is part of the healing process .

>> this is the boutique. this is one of my favorite parts of the jenesse center, because this is where the women get to come and get clothes. they get to shop for free.

>> reporter: besides quietly volunteering and giving money herself --

>> thank god for these little pieces of tape or this would be a hot mess.

>> reporter: -- berry makes the donations multiply.

>> my goal is to bring jenesse to the forefront.

>> so much of the stuff no one knows. she's revolutionized our world.

>> reporter: and many women who find their way here finally see a way forward .

>> they need to feel that they're valued, that they are worth it, that what they need to do isn't insurmountable. that it can be done.

>> reporter: today abigail, who left her abuser, works as a property manager and is thriving in her new life.

>> i get to see my kids happy and healthy. there's no screaming, fighting and yelling in this house.

>> no!

>> reporter: thanks in part to halle berry .

>> thank you. thank you all so very much. my heart is full. thank you.

>> reporter: helping families to heal one woman at a time. natalie morales , nbc news, los angeles .

>> natalie's full interview with halle berry is on our website. that's nightly.msnbc.com. another in a week's worth of great stories.

>>> tomorrow night we conclude this special series with one of country music 's mega stars, tim mcgraw . how he and his wife faith hill are using their music to make a difference.