"So I left home early and got married."
But the history of abuse has a way of repeating iteslf. She found herself trapped in the same cycle she had urged her mother to escape.
"My husband wasn't physically abusive," she said. "He was mentally abusive. After nine years, I decided to leave.
"But I made a vow that I would not sit back and watch any woman remain in an abusive relationship if I could help it."
A single mother with four young children, she could barely help herself. But her vow became a mandate and the mandate became a movement.
Today, Noe'l Roberts is a one-woman social agency who provides services and resources for abused women and men, displaced families, the homeless, children who need school supplies and, if you can think of anything else, she'll try to do that, too.
"I became a resource guide for families suffering from abuse," she said. "I searched out any grant for abused men and women that was available.
"That was in 1999, and from there it grew into feeding the homeless, then the school-supply giveaway. We give thousands of book bags and supplies.
"There were kids on my block who didn't have things. So when I school-shopped, I bought a little extra. In my kids' minds, they saw the world because I exposed them to things.
"But they learned to share me with the others because I couldn't stand to watch other children who didn't have what we had.
"I was struggling to feed myself. But I knew how to write letters and ask for help. I'd beg people. They would give me what I asked for and I'd give it right back out.
"We do a Thanksgiving dinner in LOVE Park. We supply them with sneakers and food. But I interview them, get them to talk about it so we can try to help them get out of their mindset.
"I tell them that I can supply some things for you and your stories will provide me with information. You would be surprised how some of them got in that position.
"At Christmas, we do a toy drive for the kids at Temple Pediatric Hospital and at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia [where she works as a licensed practical nurse]. People give me things for them."
Everything that comes in goes right back out. She has no paid staff. But she has about 20 volunteers she can count on for any project she undertakes.
"I've been watching her grow from childhood," said Hollie Stains, one of her faithful volunteers.
"Ever since she was old enough to make her own decisions, she's had a desire to do things for people. She just kind of went crazy with it - in a good way."
Lynne Walker is another of Roberts' stalwarts.
"She has so much energy, I sometimes have to slow her down," Walker said. "We have this little team where we're all trying to assist her.
"Lord knows she needs help."
She got a tax-exempt status 12 years ago. But she hasn't been able to turn it into a steady funding stream and she can't wait for that to happen.
"I haven't figured that out yet," she said. "I tell all the grassroots people who are trying to help people, 'Don't make the same mistakes I made.'
"I do get burned out. I'm burned out now.
"But I don't need a lot of sleep."
Noe'l Roberts will accept your donations of food, clothing, toys, school supplies and cash. Email her at Noelmroberts.com or at Noprah.day.com
Send email to email@example.com or call 215-854-2512. For recent columns: www.philly.com/ElmerSmith