As a volunteer hotline operator for the East Los Angeles Women’s Center, Damaris, who asked that we only use her first name, has a special connection to the abused and victimized women she helps everyday: she is also a survivor of domestic abuse.
“As survivors, we often feel like we aren’t valued as human beings,” she said. “Just being able to reach out and let them know they’re important and that they should love themselves is one of the best things I can do. It’s just very rewarding.”
Before becoming a volunteer, Damaris said she received 54 hours of training at the women’s center that involved guest speakers and education on psychological and emotional issues. The center continues its work helping keep families safe with the support of corporations like Edison International.
Founded as the East Los Angeles Rape & Battering Hotline in 1976, the women’s center works to free girls and women 12 years and older from violence and abuse while providing them with the health services and social support to succeed in life.
“I think the biggest achievement is to know that a family is safe,” said Barbara Kappos, executive director of the women’s center, who heads a staff of 30 that also is helped by 30 youth leaders, 150 volunteers and 250 leadership promoters. “I think that’s the main goal, regardless of everything we do. That’s our ultimate goal.”
Nayantara Mehta is a graduate of the Women’s Foundation of California’s Women’s Policy Institute, a yearlong program of retreats in Sacramento to develop and implement specific policy. The program has now trained about 300 women.
“I think what is successful about the Women’s Policy Institute program is that they combine the learning with doing,” said Mehta, senior counsel for the West Coast office of the Alliance for Justice who is currently working on SB 899, a bill that tackles CalWorks eligibility for needy families. “Lobbying effectively is not something you can read about. Having a better understanding of how to actually shape policies in a better direction has been very rewarding personally.”
A goal of the women’s foundation is to train women to be strong advocates who can navigate the California Legislature to shape and influence policy that advances equity and the economic security of girls and women.
“We have helped pass 20 laws that have transformed the lives of hundreds of thousands of women and families in our state, including 2013’s landmark Domestic Workers Bill of Rights,” said Sande Smith, senior director of communications and advocacy for the foundation, who works on a staff of 19 that is helped by 25 to 50 volunteers and serves about 5,000 people annually.
Like the East Los Angeles Women’s Center, the Women’s Foundation of California is also able to do their work with the support of Edison International, whose support of charitable causes is entirely funded by shareholders. Southern California Edison (SCE) customers do not pay for donations in their utility bills.
“Our philosophy of giving is that all people should have opportunities to do well,” said Tammy Tumbling, SCE director of Philanthropy and Community Involvement. “Organizations such as the East Los Angeles Women’s Center and the Women’s Foundation of California help provide opportunities for women, an often underrepresented group, to help them realize their potential so they can make meaningful contributions to their families and communities.”
In addition to its legislative successes, the Women’s Foundation of California also has awarded nearly $35 million in grants to more than 1,300 California organizations that benefit women and families, said Smith.
Meanwhile, the East Los Angeles Women’s Center turns its charitable support into programs to create awareness around issues of domestic violence and violence in the community — mostly in East Los Angeles. They train not only community members, but also law enforcement, health departments, health-care partner and nonprofits.
Kappos is equally proud of the women’s center’s 24-hour hotline, which was the first Spanish language, 24-hour crisis hotline for survivors of sexual assault in Southern California.
“I meet individuals all the time in politics and business that say to me, ‘I was a phone volunteer at the women’s center,’” she said.