In a year where we seem surrounded with divisiveness on so many fronts, and the pandemic has left so many with loss, none of us will be sad to bid farewell to 2020. This month I asked our fearless leader, Lynnette Irlmeier, Empower Yolo’s executive director to reflect upon the past year and all of the challenges as well as the kindness and generosity the agency has seen.
“To be sure, the heartache is real. Everyday people walk in our front door who need the basics: food, housing and clothing. There are people who need diapers, PPE, prescriptions filled, their utilities paid, help with childcare so that they can go back to work. Sometimes the need seems overwhelming,” says Irlmeier.
Throughout the pandemic, Empower Yolo has continued in our long time mission of providing services to victims of domestic violence. Our restraining order clinics have seen a rise in utilization. From April 1 – November 30, 2020 the legal department provided 243 clients support with 340 protection orders. “The legal department has in general fielded more calls and emails from victims asking questions; amid the orders to stay at home, many are not safe at home,” says Irlmeier.
Sexual assault victims are still in need of services. Concerned Advocates Responding to Emergencies (CARE) advocates have been responding to support sexual assault victims during forensic exams, hospital accompaniments, child forensic interviews and police interviews. Sexual assault exams in the past few months have nearly doubled from that of 2019. Recently, hospital accompaniments have been temporarily suspended to help prevent the spread of COVID.
Our therapy department has adapted services to provide virtual support for clients for counseling and support groups. A new group is starting called “Thriving Teens”, which is a 12-week online support group for teens who have experienced sexual abuse. The purpose of the group is to support teens; learn about trauma and how to cope; move forward and promote healthy relationships; and build resiliency and self-esteem. The group will meet online on Tuesdays at 5 p.m. Sign up by January 11, 2021. For more information contact Empower Yolo at 530-661-6336.
“As a non-profit, we have always worked closely with our community partners, but until this year we’ve never been so connected,” says Irlmeier. Homeless service providers are working together to reduce the risk of coronavirus. “Yolo County and city governments are coordinating Project Room Key, a massive effort to keep our homeless community safe and housed throughout the pandemic. Empower Yolo has been proud to be part of that effort, providing staff and resources along with other nonprofits,” says Irlmeier.
Food distribution for vulnerable families, seniors, and the immigrant community has been a top priority during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Our partnership with Yolo Food Bank was strengthened this year as they took on the enormous task of feeding families in need. We supported those efforts with food distribution twice a month in Davis, Knights Landing and Yolo,” says Irlmeier. From April 1, 2020 – September 30, 2020 just one of those sites, the Davis Resource Center served 1,140 clients who accessed food 1,846 times.
Because of our generous donors, we’ve been able to help families with other basics, like hygiene products, clothing and getting prescriptions filled. “Thanks to First 5 Yolo, we’ve been able to provide diapers to families in need. Every Rotary Club in Yolo County participated in clothing drives, providing so much clothing that we had to temporarily halt accepting donations so that we could organize them and put them all away,” says Irlmeier.
Local foundations answered the biggest need, rent and financial assistance. “The Yolo Community Foundation, Travis Credit Union, Sierra Health, United Way and the Josey Starkweather fund, gave us the resources to provide over $160,000 in financial aid to families in need, which is really amazing,” says Irlmeier.
“As we look back on 2020, there are thousands of reasons to bid farewell to the year, but I look around and also see kindness and generosity. While foundations and grant funding has provided so much, it is the individual donors that really make a difference. We receive many calls from community members asking what we need or how they can help. At this time of year we are especially grateful to the donors for our “Adopt a Family” and holiday giving programs,” say Irlmeier. Although our Adopt a Family needs have been met, we still have many other meaningful opportunities to give and help support families in need. For more information visit: empoweryolo.org/holidays-at-empower-yolo/, or email: [email protected].
We are thankful to all of the wonderful donors who gave on Giving Tuesday. Michael Starkweather, DPM and Danielle Starkweather, RN already matched $8,900, but if we can raise $8,100 it will be matched for a total of $17,000. The impact of your donation will be doubled. Your donation won’t just provide 1 restraining order, but two restraining orders for a victim of domestic violence. “We are grateful for the Starkweathers’ generous matching donation,” says Irlmeier. Empower Yolo’s Giving Tuesday campaign will run for one week from December 1-8th. This year-end giving will help support our increased services and unfunded programs. Donate to Empower Yolo any time at: empoweryolo.org.
Irlmeier recalls many stories of generosity: one of a woman who in April said that she was embarrassed to ask for help; she later donated to Empower Yolo every month after her unemployment kicked in. Another story of a family that couldn’t pay for rent, but asked if there was volunteer work they could do to thank us. And the story of a client in the shelter who gave back by cooking a meal for all of the residents nearly every day for weeks. All of these were wonderful ways these clients could give back in their own ways. These stories demonstrate that even if you have little or think you have nothing, you can still give; we always have gifts to give.
Irlmeier reflects on the resiliency of Empower Yolo’s staff. “Our staff feels overwhelmed and thankful at the same time. Each person who walks in the door needs something, but because of the community, our staff has so many opportunities to fill those needs. The staff has been able to pivot and provide services most needed and change as the needs change. We know the need will continue to grow, the pandemic isn’t over, but we know our community will come together to meet those needs,” says Irlmeier.
Our board of directors has been present and supportive throughout this challenging time. They are engaged in helping us make important decisions that affect the entire agency. “We are grateful for the board’s generosity and support,” says Irlmeier.
Irlmeier is hopeful for a brighter new year. “For years I have told our volunteers and new staff that working at Empower Yolo is not like being in a Hallmark movie. Everyday you leave carrying the problems of others, knowing you can’t do enough to lighten their load. No one swoops in and saves the day; there is no secret Santa who will show up with presents and a rent check. But this year, given the overwhelming community support from our generous donors and local foundations, it does feel like a Hallmark moment,” says Irlmeier.
Please stay connected with us in the New Year. Service and event updates are available on our website at empoweryolo.org. Follow us on Facebook @empoweryolo, and Instagram & Twitter @empower_yolo for weekly updates, and the reveal of our new kitchen when it’s finished, which has been a wonderful project the community and so many generous donors have supported for our clients.