When the national emergency was announced and shelter in place was put into effect the first thing Empower Yolo’s Executive Director, Lynnette Irlmeier emphasized was to let everyone know that “we are open and here to serve the community.”  From that point on Empower Yolo has been moving forward amid the challenges of the pandemic to do everything we can to help our clients and the community.  The agency as a whole – from our volunteers, staff, managers, executive director to our board of directors – has been working tirelessly to ensure Empower Yolo is able to serve the most vulnerable members of our community.

“I think the strength of Empower Yolo is our versatility and ability to respond to changing needs and to mobilize board, staff and volunteers quickly,” says Irlmeier.  Empower Yolo continues to serve the community at a high rate through the COVID-19 pandemic with reduced staff by: sheltering survivors of abuse and their children; continuing programs and services; and providing emergency relief.

Sheltering Survivors of Abuse: Our domestic violence safe house has been full since the start of the pandemic.  When clients exit new clients are immediately brought in. The shelter staff is working around the clock to make sure clients are safe and healthy by taking extra precautions since there’s more risk with communal living. They created a station where clients can use cleaning products, hand sanitizer, gloves and facemasks and everything else they need to keep their families healthy. They also keep clients informed with all the updates and changes from the county.

Since distance learning started many of us have become second teachers to our children who are learning from home through video conferencing. Imagine having to homeschool many children. The shelter staff is currently helping 10 children from elementary through high school with distance learning. It can be challenging at times because of the different grade levels, and each child has a different routine. Shelter staff is doing a great job supporting clients and their children to help make all these changes less stressful for them. Thanks to the local School District’s free meal program the shelter is able to provide the children breakfast and lunch, which is one less thing to worry about.

“Clients are feeling safe because they feel the support of the staff and agency,” says Sonia Jimenez Empower Yolo’s shelter director.  “Some days clients feel overwhelmed because they are dealing with their own crisis, and now they have to think how to work around this pandemic. Clients are also very thankful because they have a safe place and the connection with their advocates to help with life-saving resources,” says Jimenez.

Programs & Services:  Our staff has been working hard to make sure that our services are as accessible as possible during this COVID-19 crisis.

Legal Services – Empower Yolo’s restraining order clinic is being utilized at an all time high since the start of the pandemic because home is not safe when you are with an abusive partner.  The clinic saw a 114% increase in restraining order assistance in April from last year. In April 2019, 14 clients received restraining order assistance. In April 2020, 30 clients were assisted with restraining orders. Our legal team is working diligently to ensure clients are able to get their protective orders even during shelter in place.  Courts are now hearing cases via video conferencing.  Restraining order clinics are available throughout Yolo County.  For a current list of clinic hours and locations please visit our website at: empoweryolo.org/restraining-order-clinic/.

Counseling Services – Our therapy department continues to support clients through phone and video conferencing.  A new online support group for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault focusing on self-care is now available.  To sign up for the support group please contact the main office at (530) 661-6336. Information on “Shelter-in-Place while Living in Abusive Homes” can be found on our website at: empoweryolo.org/personalized-safety-plan/.

Resource Centers – Empower Yolo participates in the Eat Well Yolo Distribution in Davis, Knights Landing and Yolo. Numbers have increased in Knights Landing and Yolo where we are currently serving 54 families and 162 individuals. Davis serves about 50 families including delivery to seniors.  Empower Yolo is collaborating with the Yolo Food Bank to schedule appointments to deliver food to monolingual (Spanish and Mandarin) senior citizens in Davis and Knights Landing; and the Knights Landing Family Resource Center serves as a distribution center for Food Bank volunteers. “The Yolo Food Bank has been amazing from the beginning; I doubt people realize the massive coordinated production they do everyday to get food to the people who need it,” says Irlmeier. Empower Yolo is also collaborating with United Way California Capital Region to distribute monetary assistance to families affected by COVID-19.

Volunteer Training – Our annual spring peer counselor training, a 72-hour program to onboard new volunteers, has been taking place in March and April via video conferencing.

After School Safety & Enrichment for Teens (ASSETs) – Empower Yolo’s ASSETs program continues to support students virtually. The ASSETs team is offering services such as resume assistance, scholarship assistance, mentorship, college and financial aid guidance, and much more. The ASSETs staff has been working hard to put services into place for our youth. The team is providing students with as many resources as possible to ensure that they feel supported and are provided the opportunities to continue to grow as students and individuals.

Emergency Relief: 

Supporting the Homeless Population – Empower Yolo is one of several nonprofit agencies partnering with Yolo County in a coordinated response to COVID-19 called Project Room Key.  Project Room Key is a statewide initiative to bring our most vulnerable residents – those living outside—into non-congregate hotel rooms to shelter in place and prevent infection.

Yolo County has sheltered almost 300 individuals in motel rooms since the shelter in place order was issued on March 17. Empower Yolo has a team supporting the County’s efforts by providing vital case management services and daily support to 56 individuals in these motels. Services include intake and needs assessment, peer counseling, referrals and coordination with laundry service, food delivery, access to medical care, clothing and hygiene products.

Many of the clients express extreme gratitude at the opportunity for housing and wrap-around services and support. One gentleman told a staff member that he was in the hospital prior to coming into the project and he believed that he would be deceased if he were not being protected in the hotel.

Providing Resources to the Immigrant Community – Times are challenging for everyone, but some in our community are disproportionately affected. The resource centers provide many other resources for the community including support for undocumented workers and immigrant families.  We also have a small fund to assist undocumented families to help pay rent, buy food, and prescriptions. Our client navigators continue to provide resources and referrals to these clients and their families.

The community can support our efforts through financial contributions made any time at: www.empoweryolo.org. The Big Day of Giving is on Thursday, May 7, 2020.  This is a wonderful opportunity to support Empower Yolo and hundreds of other non-profits in our region. We have a generous matching gift of $25,000 thanks to Dr. Stuart Starkweather and Mrs. Melissa Starkweather to help us reach our goal this year.  For every dollar you donate to Empower Yolo it will be matched dollar-for-dollar up to $25,000!  This amazing gift will help Empower Yolo with our emergency needs and funding some of our unfunded programs and services.

We understand that the current pandemic has placed everyone under financial strain, but if and when you can donate either on the Big Day of Giving or in the weeks and months ahead, your donation will help us support the most at risk and marginalized members of our community. Any donation amount is helpful and greatly appreciated. You may give early or donate on May 7, 2020.  Please visit our page at: https://www.bigdayofgiving.org/empoweryolo.

“Even during these uncertain times our mission of promoting safe, healthy and resilient communities remains strong and constant. Together, we will move through this challenging time by weaving together our efforts to help create a safety net for those most vulnerable in our community,” says Irlmeier.

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