March 2022 marks the 45th anniversary of Empower Yolo. Empower Yolo has a rich history of providing services to survivors of abuse and helping families in need. Over the past 45 years, Empower Yolo has had a strong presence in Yolo County, and services and programs have grown to meet the changing needs of the community.
“45 years ago there was no hotline, no rape crisis center, no shelter for victims of abuse, there were no places safe for victims of domestic violence, but a group of women in Davis changed that and founded the Yolo County Sexual Assault Center,” says Lynnette Irlmeier, Executive Director of Empower Yolo. the agency became the Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Center.The newly formed agency taught the community that for some women in our county, the most dangerous people were not strangers but people who claimed to love them. women also started a movement in this county,” says Irlmeier.
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 Vanucci Shelter, the current confidential facility, was opened to residents. To meet the increased need for accommodation, the building was renovated and extended to include 35 beds. In December 2020, the Empower Yolo shelter kitchen renovation project was completed. Staff and customers love the new kitchen because it greatly improves our ability to support individuals and families who come to us at the most difficult times in their lives.
“As a board member, I would like to extend the reach of Empower Yolo to inform our local community that we provide FREE services to clients during their most vulnerable life experiences. I am especially proud of Empower Yolo’s confidential shelter which provides a safe place for traumatized victims of domestic violence to heal. Domestic violence and abuse affects individuals, especially women and children, in all socio-economic situations. Empower Yolo has the resources and ability to help and it’s rewarding as a board member to be part of this community effort,” says Susan Gefter, Empower Yolo Board Secretary (Board Member of 2012 to 2018; joined in 2021 for a new mandate).
In 2010, the agency moved into the Dowling Center, the former building of the Maxwell School in Woodland named after principal Rhoda Maxwell. The building, generously donated by Dan Dowling, has been the home of Empower Yolo ever since, providing services such as a 24-hour crisis line, crisis intervention for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking, legal assistance and counseling services.
“I am grateful that 45 years ago the Founders understood the issue of sexual assault and domestic violence and the need for a safe place for survivors. I am amazed at the breadth of services that Empower Yolo is now providing Yolo County residents in need far beyond those who started it in 1977,” said Cathy Farman, Empower Yolo Board Member, Former Board Chair (Member from 2014 to 2019; joined in 2022 for a new term).
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, in partnership with the Yolo Family Resource Center and the Multi -Disciplinary Interview Center.
In January 2014, in an effort to more effectively encompass our broad 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, Empower Yolo, is a reminder that domestic and sexual violence does not define who you are, neither as individuals, advocates and survivors, nor as an organization.
“The name change affected victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, harassment and child abuse. We wanted them to know that this county is behind them. Empower Yolo is here to help victims heal and, most importantly, find the strength that makes them survivors,” says Irlmeier.
The new name also allowed the agency to grow in many other ways. On January 1, 2016, the Center for Families, a non-profit organization established in 2002 whose mission was to inspire families to access support and resources that promote health, stability and self-sufficiency, merged with Empower Yolo, expanding its reach to include more services and resource centers in Davis, Woodland, Knights Landing and West Sacramento.
Through the merger, Empower Yolo remained dedicated to helping survivors, but added services to help families stay healthy, stable, and self-sufficient — such as health insurance enrollment, food distribution, homelessness prevention, rapid rehousing assistance, financial coaching, income tax assistance, case management, exercise classes, daycare experience, and the After program School Safety and Enrichment for Teens (ASSETs) which partners with schools and communities to provide academic support and safe, constructive alternatives for high school students.
Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, Empower Yolo has consistently provided services to victims of abuse and vulnerable families throughout Yolo County. Empower Yolo took on the challenge of meeting the increased need for community services in almost every department. Rates of domestic violence were higher because shelter-in-place and home quarantine were unsafe for victims of abuse. The Board of Directors has supported the agency through this difficult time, and staff members have worked tirelessly for almost two years to support clients in every way possible.
Empower Yolo has seen an increase in the need for basic necessities such as food, clothing and assistance with rent, utilities and childcare. There is also an increase in need in several program areas, including food distribution, counseling services, legal services and other services for survivors of abuse, vulnerable families, homeless people and immigrants. Empower Yolo continues to grow and improve to meet the needs of its customers.
Empower Yolo revamped its housing department in 2021 to meet the increased need for housing services, an issue exacerbated by the pandemic. The Empower Yolo Housing Team is focused on program collaboration and comprehensive housing advocacy for Yolo County residents fleeing domestic violence, homelessness, and those impacted by COVID-19. Housing Advocates are available to provide case management and emotional support during the process of helping clients find and maintain permanent housing. Empower Yolo’s housing team is also providing assistance to eligible clients and landlords applying for Housing is Key, the California COVID-19 Rent Relief program.
Empower Yolo is excited to launch its 45th anniversary campaign in mid-March – celebrating its 45-year history of providing services to survivors and families in need in Yolo County. Our anniversary theme will be “Welcome Home”. Our goal is to raise $145,000 by the end of the fiscal year and move 45 victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or human trafficking to permanent housing in our 45th year. April’s ‘Shower for Shelter’ will be a ‘Parts to Go’ campaign so that each of these 45 households will receive the items needed to complete a bedroom, bathroom or kitchen.
“My hope for Empower Yolo moving forward is that we can continue to provide the services that support the safety, stability, and health of individuals and families in Yolo County, which will make our communities more stronger and more resilient,” said Board Chairman Evan Schmidt. “Empower Yolo has grown and evolved over the years to become Yolo County’s premier service provider for individuals and families in need. I hope Empower Yolo will continue to evolve to meet changing needs while delivering on its promise to help people protect themselves from violence and be better equipped to live healthy, stable, and self-sufficient lives.
Celebrate and support Empower Yolo’s 45th anniversary year by donating $45 or more, following our spring campaign through “Shower for the Shelter” and Big Day of Giving on May 5, and help us continue our mission of promoting safe, healthy and resilient communities.
— Natalia Baltazar is Empower Yolo’s Director of Development and Community Relations.