Celebrating Spring at CORA’s Safe Houses

This week, the clients in CORA’s safe houses gathered together to celebrate their yearly Spring Celebration. We often talk about the challenges survivors face (and there are many), so we thought taking a moment to share a happy, fun moment would be a good idea. After all, the process of leaving and healing from domestic violence brings one more in line with joy.

The day started out with Kimi, one of our Client Advocates, leading an intimate, family-bonding exercise that involved families gathering all manner of flowers and creating Spring arrangements. There were so many flowers to choose from! The families placed them in vases, creating a display they felt empowered by. There were tips on how to keep your flowers alive and also a special “potion of love” (ok, it was just water, but the kids loved it) that Kimi handed out for the mothers and children to add together.

Flowers

Priyanka, one of the amazing client advocates, was in charge of the egg hunt. She enlisted the help of Alondra and Zena, two other staff members, with a special mission. They secretly died the eggs and “hide” them throughout the safe house. Each child was surprised with a specifically decorated basket and the hunt was on! Shouts of delight filled the air as children ran around the safe house grounds, yelling with lungs filled with excitement. When they resettled, there were baskets full of bright eggs and a sea of smiling faces.

Alondra, client advocate extraordinaire, decided it was definitely time for a game. And what game do you play at a Spring Celebration? Pin the Tail on the Bunny, of course! Alondra carefully designed and decorated a board (it was too cute!), taped it to the fence and the game began. Patricia, another of our skilled client advocates, gathered the giddy children together and produced the blindfold. One-by-one the kiddos had their eyes covered, lifted the fluffy tail and enthusiastically headed for the bunny. Everyone watched in amazement. The children were so good at this, with minimal to no help!

Next up were the moms. Priyanka held the tiny babies as the moms covered their eyes and tried to do as well as the kids. And they did pretty well … but we couldn’t say the same about the two staff members stepped up to give it a try. Zena, the Emergency Shelter Coordinator, had apparently invented a whole new game: pin the tail on the elevator door. Laughing all the way, surrounded by delighted children, Zena wandered out of the designated game area and was slowly making her way down the walk and out into the world. The children were there though and enjoyed righting her path and sending her in the right direction. Then Patricia took a turn and we all thought staff would redeem themselves … until she walked directly into a wall.

Pin the Tail on the Rabbit

There was so much laughter at that moment. So much happiness. The smiles on the faces of the families said it all. There was joy and there was hope. Domestic violence seemed so far away.

In that moment, the staff even gave each other little looks. A recognition passed between everyone, a reminder of the importance of this work. CORA’s tag line felt real and solid: transforming lives.

But the day wasn’t over. Alysha, who organized the whole event, knew it’s not a celebration until you eat and she was faced with the huge task of feeding everyone. Not to worry. There was beef brisket, hamburgers, all the necessary condiments (including some perfectly saut©ed onions). There was juice, cookies and bright, Spring-themed cupcakes donated by the folks at Cake4Kids.

Now with bellies full of food and spirit filled with cheer, the families began to unwind from the long day. It truly was a celebration … and it was more. It was about empowering personal choice with flowers. It was about finding joy in the unexpected of an egg hunt. It was about trust while pinning the tail on a bunny. It was about community and belonging. It was about hope and transforming lives.

CORA Celebrates International Transgender Day of Visibility

This Friday, March 31st marks the 8th annual celebration of International Transgender Day of Visibility. Rachel Crandall, head of an organization called Transgender Michigan, called for the creation of Transgender Day of Visibility (TDOV) in 2009 as a response to the lack of holidays celebrating the lives of transgender people while they are living. Prior to TDOV, November’s Transgender Day of Remembrance was the only day specifically dedicated to trans people and communities. While Trans Day of Remembrance is a day of mourning for those killed by transphobic violence, Transgender Day of Visibility is a day to celebrate trans people’s lives, empowerment, and visibility. As Janet Mock, author and activist, remarks:

“It’s a state of emergency for trans women and trans feminine folk of color. … The disproportionate levels of violence trans women of color face pains me, and so does the pervasive framing of trans womanhood being directly linked to images of victimhood and tragedy. It hurts that our names are often amplified only when we are dead, gone, inactive. …We can’t only celebrate trans women of color in memoriam. We must begin uplifting trans women of color, speaking their names and praises, in their lives.”

Transgender people are increasingly visible in media, news, television, and movies. Trans led organizations are leading the fight against poverty, discrimination, and violence through organization’s like the Bay Area’s very own Transgender, Gender-Variant, and Intersex Justice Project (TGI Justice Project), currently headed by Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, a black transgender woman and community elder, and Janetta Louise Johnson, an Afro-American trans woman. “TGI Justice Project is a group of transgender, gender variant and intersex people—inside and outside of prisons, jails and detention centers—creating a united family in the struggle for survival and freedom. “

The Bay Area is also home to the Transgender Law Center where the mission is to change “law, policy, and attitudes so that all people can live safely, authentically, and free from discrimination regardless of their gender identity or expression.”

At the Trans Youth Leadership Summit, a youth fellow named Caelan Damocles came up with a theme for this year’s TDOV that is in use by an organization called Trans Student Educational Resources. The theme is #TransResistance. “In the increasingly transphobic global political climate, we must use our newfound visibility to mobilize trans people against oppression. Speaking out, taking direct action, and educating others is critical to our safety and wellbeing.”

This TDOV, CORA invites all community members, trans and cis alike to consider what we can do to make this world safer and more just for trans people from the exactly positions we are in. In our homes, families, workplaces, schools, and communities. A place to start is to listen to and read the words of trans people and learn more about the needs and strengths, vulnerabilities and resilience of our trans community members. Here are some places to start, and have a wonderful Transgender Day of Visibility!

We Can’t Let Increased Transgender Visibility Lead to More Vulnerability – Harmony Rodriquez

24 Actions you NEED to Take to Help Trans Women of Color Survive – Lexi Adsit

I am My Sister’s Keeper: Read My Woman’s March on Washington Speech – Janet Mock

Not Born this Way: On Transitioning as a Transwoman Who Has Never Felt ‘Trapped in the Wrong Body’ – Kai Cheng Thom

CORA is dedicated to making sure that trans, gender nonconforming, and non-binary people have access to affirming and respectful services for survivors of partner abuse. CORA is proud to have been one of the first domestic violence organizations in the Bay Area to provide emergency shelter to people of all genders including trans men and women and gender non-conforming people as well as cis men and women. We provide LGBTQ-aware and affirming crisis counseling and mental health services, as well as coordinating with other LGBTQ-serving organizations and groups in the Bay Area. For more information, feel free to contact our LGBTQ Clinical Victim Advocate, Angelynn Hermes at AngelynnH@CORAsupport.org.

Get to Know Rosemary, CORA’s Board Chair

Transforming lives doesn’t just happen. It takes committed, passionate, caring people giving their support and time. People like CORA’s current Board Chair, Rosemary. With a huge heart and a strong leadership, she’s the type of individual that truly is making a difference in the lives of those experiencing domestic violence. We sat down with Rosemary recently to see what drives her.

So, in a nutshell, who is Rosemary?

Right now I’m trying to figure out to mother two toddlers. Katie is a 3 year old, super spunky, and very determined little girl. Christopher is a very sweet 5 year old boy. He is currently obsessed with football and candy. Being a mom is the hardest job I’ve ever had.

When I’m not taking care of my kids, I am a Marriage and Family Therapist. I have a private practice in Redwood City.

How did you first get involved with CORA?

Before starting a family, I was the manager of Client Services at CORA. I helped to ensure CORA provided the highest quality of services to our community.

What personally drives you to help make domestic violence a thing of the past?

I have relatives who survived violent and abusive homes. I know that much of what they struggle with today is a direct consequence of the abuse. Children deserve to live in a safe home and without fear.

When you look at the issue of domestic violence in our society, what aspects do you think need to be addressed first?

One of most important factors to consider and respond to is how inequality contributes to relationship abuse. When one partner is not treated as an equal, he or she becomes an object. We must convince our society to treat others as equals, regardless of their gender, earning power, education level, and ethnicity. When someone is viewed as less powerful, he or she can become an object.

You’ve worked in the domestic violence field before and were actually a staff member here at CORA once. What have you learned through that time that you wish everyone in the community was aware of?

Our clients come from every walk of life. Relationship abuse effects the rich and the poor, the documented and undocumented, men and women, the lower and higher class. No group of people is immune to abuse. By realizing this, I hope others view this problem as a community issue. One that we should all support.

What are your hopes for the cause to end abuse as we move forward?

I’m not convinced that we can ever “end” domestic violence. But, I do believe that we can reduce it significantly. We have made tremendous progress in the last 50 years. Our next step is to reduce domestic violence in other countries. We should promote massive campaigns to prevent domestic violence. We must have hotlines and shelters for survivors who have no refuge or hope.

Is there a quote that really inspires you?

“Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.” – Mother Teresa

The Year Ahead – A Word from the Executive Director

As we round the bend into 2017 and CORA gets ready to mark 40 years of service to San Mateo County, I can hardly believe how much we have grown. In many ways, last year was our best year ever. Increases in government grants (mostly state funds) and grants from foundations and individual donations, in particular, have made the future bright for CORA and for the thousands of families who turn to us in need.

This year we added several new programs and services. For example, we launched our Children’s Integrative Resiliency Program which provides therapy for child witnesses of domestic violence. That means CORA now offers a truly comprehensive array of specialized mental health services for individuals, groups, families and children. And we can now provide legal advocacy to support clients who have to face their batterers in court.

We also expanded our outreach and services to LGBTQ residents by bolstering our hotline with staff specially skilled in LGBTQ domestic violence and our clinical support for LGBTQ survivors, too.

While we have educated teens in the schools for many years, this year we will be teaming up with Rape Trauma Services to offer a more robust curriculum to keep teens safe and support teen victims of intimate relationship abuse. And, in order to better meet folks where the need is, we will provide community-based support in East Palo Alto where, for a variety of reasons, those who may need help would especially benefit from meeting with an advocate face-to-face in their own neighborhood.

I am inspired time and again by the resilience and courage of survivors. I am also grateful to be able to offer assistance to those who feel hopeless, but who, with our help, realize they are not alone, that abuse is not their fault, and who create new lives for themselves and their children. Because really, once they’ve got the legal support or housing they need, or a warm welcome from someone who really understands what they’ve been through, what we really offer is hope.

After this past election, I believe we need hope, or what some have even called “radical hope.” As the award-winning writer, Junot Diaz said, “Radical hope is our best weapon against despair, even when despair seems justifiable; it makes the survival of the end of your world possible. Only radical hope could have imagined people like us into existence. And I believe that it will help us create a better, more loving future.”

Onward into this very exciting, hopeful year. Together, we’ll transform lives – lives worth living, futures worth embracing.

CORA Recognizes Transgender Awareness Week

At CORA, we believe everyone has the right to live free of domestic violence. Everyone!

This week individuals and communities around the world commemorate Transgender Awareness Week and Transgender Day of Remembrance on Sunday, November 20th. CORA takes this time to recognize the lives, strength, and importance of trans people in our community. We grieve those who have been killed. We push ourselves as a community organization to deepen our commitment to supporting trans and gender nonconforming people who are affected by relationship abuse.

There have been more known murders of trans people in the United States this year than in any previous year. At least 24 trans people were murdered in the United States in 2016 in crimes that may be related to transphobic hate violence. Transphobia is the irrational hatred of people who do not conform to the rigid gender norms in our society. Of the 24 people killed this year, over half were Black transwomen or transfeminine people. For the past three years, the New York Anti-Violence Project reports that at least 50% of the homicides of LGBTQ people were of transfeminine people or color.

Transgender Day of Remembrance originated from the “Remembering Our Dead Web Project” in 1998, created by transgender activist Gwendolyn Ann Smith as a vigil to honor the memory of Rita Hester, a Black transgender woman who was killed that same year. The first vigil that would become Transgender Day of Remembrance was held in San Francisco in 1999. The day honors the lives of trans people who were killed in murders involving transphobic hate violence. While transphobia is a key piece of the stories of those who have been murdered, Black transfeminine people and trans people of color are disproportionately affected by this violence. Trans people can face many forms of oppression including racism in daily life. Trans people experience housing and job discrimination, lack of trans-affirming and competent health care and social services, state and interpersonal violence, and murder. Trans people who live at the intersections of racism and or poverty experience more violence and higher barriers to accessing services and justice.

Each year, some portion of the deaths reported involve dating violence, partner abuse, and stalking. Quartney Davia Dawsonn-Yochum was a 32 year old transwoman of color who was murdered in March 2016 by an ex-boyfriend. He shot her in broad daylight in front of her supportive housing building in the Skid Row neighborhood of Los Angeles. Anita Nelson, her apartment manager told The Los Angeles Times “I am heartbroken. Our residents are traumatized, our staff is traumatized. Everybody loved her. She was very popular.” Another person killed in August was Rae’Lynn Thomas, a 28 year old Black transwoman who was shot and then beaten to death by her mother’s ex-boyfriend in Columbus, Ohio. While Rae’Lynn was accepted and loved by her family, her mother’s ex who still lived with the women referred to Rae’Lynn as “the devil,” and her family is certain the crime was a hate crime.

CORA stands with all transgender and gender nonconforming members of our community. We are committed to do our part to end the widespread violence against transgender people. We strive to ensure that trans people facing relationship violence have a safe and supportive place to go for shelter, safety, and healing that values and affirms their identity. We are committed to deepening our understanding of the layers of violence and oppression trans people especially transfeminine people of color face. CORA’s shelter is open to people of all gender identities and expressions. Our hotline callers can be readily connected to LGBTQ service providers throughout the Bay Area. We are committed to nurturing partnerships with community organizations that are striving to improve the quality and competency of services available to trans people in San Mateo County.

We know there is much more work to be done. Please contact us if you are interested in collaborating to create communities where intimate partners treat one another with mutual respect, compassion and integrity.

CORA joins several other community organizations in San Mateo in supporting and attending San Mateo’s Transgender Day of Remembrance: The service on Thursday, November 17, 2016 from 4-6pm at Congregational Church of San Mateo, 225 Tilton Avenue, San Mateo. Join us to help create a more inclusive world for all. We will be building a community alter during this event. Please bring flowers, candles, poetry/spoken word to share.