Empower Yolo, founded March 4, 1977, enjoys a rich history of providing services for survivors of violence and helping families stay safe and healthy for the past 40 years.
“This year, Empower Yolo will be celebrating more than its 40th year of operation; we celebrate the successful merger of Center for Families into Empower Yolo and the breadth of our services to the residents of Yolo County,” says Cathy Farman, board chair.
“Empower Yolo now delivers the most comprehensive and compassionate social services to Yolo County’s vulnerable citizens, including survivors of family violence, sexual assault, child abuse, dating violence and human trafficking; and people who are homeless, food-insecure or need other social support.
“Having all of these services under one agency means we can help our clients address the complex interplay of challenges, and support them as they strive for a safe, healthy and resilient life,” Farman adds.
Founded in 1977 as the Yolo County Sexual Assault Center, Empower Yolo started in Davis where crisis intervention services were provided out of an apartment. Soon thereafter, domestic violence services were added and the Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Center (SADVC) became Yolo County’s sole provider of specialized services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
In 1980, the agency received a federal grant to open Harper House, the county’s first shelter for battered women and children. In November 1999, the Wallace and Vannucci Shelter, the current, confidential facility, opened to residents. To meet the increased need for shelter, the building has been renovated and expanded, and has 35 beds. Since it opened, nearly 3,000 women and children have passed through the current shelter doors.
In 2010, the agency moved into the Dowling Center, a former school building in Woodland. The building, donated by Davis businessman Dan Dowling, is where Empower Yolo provides services such as a 24-hour crisis line; emergency response to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking; legal assistance; and counseling services.
Children have always been important to SADVC. In 1982, the agency began offering a child abuse prevention program and in January 1994 the agency added a child abuse treatment program (CHAT), partnering with the Yolo Family Resource Center and the Multi-Disciplinary Interview Center. (The Yolo Family Resource Center changed its name to the Center for Families in 2013.)
In January 2014, in an effort to more effectively encompass our vast programs and services — as well as highlight the connection between client, organization and community — the Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Center became Empower Yolo. The new name is a reminder that domestic and sexual violence doesn’t define who you are, not as individuals, advocates, survivors or as an organization.
Empower Yolo isn’t just about empowering survivors of violence, it’s about transforming and inspiring a county to join in efforts to prevent violence before it happens.
The new name also allowed the agency to expand in many other ways. On Jan. 1, 2016, the Center for Families, a nonprofit established in 2002, whose mission was to engage families in accessing support and resources promoting health, stability and self-sufficiency merged with Empower Yolo allowing it to expand its reach by including more services and resource centers in Davis, Woodland, Knights Landing and West Sacramento.
Empower Yolo is still dedicated to helping survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking and child abuse but it has added services to help families stay healthy, stable and self-sufficient. These include health insurance enrollment, food distribution, homeless prevention, housing assistance, financial coaching, an income tax assistance program, case management and exercise classes.
A variety of programs are also offered for youths, including Help Me Grow, Play School Experience, Prevention Education — “My Strength” for boys and “Be Strong” for girls — and the After School Safety and Enrichment for Teens (ASSETs) Program.
The most recent addition to agency services is the inclusion of the Family Violence Coordination Pilot Project. The program is a partnership with the District Attorney’s Office, other county agencies and community-based organizations to bring additional services to one location.
Although primarily designed to respond to “family violence,” the program has enhanced the agency’s ability to provide comprehensive services to every person who walks in the door, to fulfilling Empower Yolo’s mission of “promoting safe, healthy and resilient communities.”
Empower Yolo kicks off its 40th anniversary celebration at its annual “Honor Our Sponsors” event on Thursday, March 23, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Seasons Restaurant, 102 F St. in downtown Davis. To join us, RSVP at RSVP@empoweryolo.org.
For more information on Empower Yolo, its history and a full list of services, please visit empoweryolo.org.
— Natalia Baltazar is the director of development and community relations of Empower Yolo. This column is published monthly.