March of 2019 marked my fifth anniversary here at the Family Justice Center. Five years has gone by fast, with so many triumphs to celebrate, so many new friends to appreciate, and so many lessons to share.
When I started here in 2014, the Center was a program with five staff and a budget of $700,000, operating out of a police substation at the Hilltop Mall in Richmond. In 2015, we opened our two Centers in Concord and Richmond and assisted about 1,100 clients. In 2018, our two Centers assisted over 3,000 clients experiencing interpersonal violence. In 2019, we opened our third Center in East County. Our 2019 budget is $2.6 million.
Value of Community
While this growth affirms that our one-stop service model has worked effectively, I am proud of the fact that we have steadfastly held to our mission to “bring together our community to support the healing of family violence survivors.” “Community” is an integral part of the Center’s mission, strategies, and day-to-day work.
At the core of our community building work is our Community Fellowship project that started in 2014. The Community Fellowship provides IPV survivors with skills mentorship, training, access to a learning community, a small monetary stipend, and ongoing support as they each develop and execute an independent, self-directed community project. We intentionally and explicitly invited the Fellows to contribute to our programs their best ideas and insight from their lived experiences. Over the years, the Fellows’ work and ideas have changed our policies, protocols, and practices to make them more relevant and effective. Their community projects, big and small, have made lasting changes at the Center, and they continue to be key stakeholders and active participants in our work and community even when they no longer need crisis intervention or safety support.
Stories of Resilience
My grandpa from North Korea became an orphan at age 3, quit school to start his own trading business at age 14, crossed the North-South Korean border on foot with his eldest daughter (my mom) on his back, and then started a popular candy factory in Seoul. After losing his left arm in an aerial bombing, he operated the best public bath house in Deajon (my birth city). Years later he fought his last battle with stomach cancer. He also raised and supported four children who all graduated from college.
After some years of soul searching, I serendipitously found my first public interest law job representing abused immigrant women (22 years ago). Every new client shared her stories with me, some harrowing, while others were devastating and chilling. One client spoke about how she was raped by different soldiers while trying to escape her hometown to a refugee camp in Hong Kong. She developed a PTSD and depression, while her husband abused her physically and sexually. Another client told me she had to leave her baby with her husband in California and move to New York to be with her family because she had no way to support both the baby and herself. One client came to me because her husband had said she and their two boys had to move out because he had stopped paying the mortgage on their family home. What did these clients have in common? They did not give up. My clients, like my orphaned grandpa, relied on their inner strength and resilience, took action, and changed their lives.
They also had community. My grandpa had a supportive uncle who gave him money to start his business. He had a life-long partner, my grandma, who gave him unconditional love. My refugee client had a sister and niece to help her navigate complex legal systems. The client who left her baby behind had family support in New York. A year later, she came back to California and we got her custody of her child. My about-to-be homeless client had two strong sons who came to every one of our meetings. I remember their concerned faces.
Next Five Years
My friend and mentor, Mike Wong, passed away in June of 2018. He was a civil rights lawyer, social justice activist, master facilitator and strategic planning consultant. Mike and I worked on several strategic plans for multiple organizations and collaborations. Mike’s gift to us was the Family Justice Center Strategic Plan 2018-22. In this thoughtful plan, Mike summarized our conversations around solidifying our position as “a hub organization fostering collaboration, partnership, and collective impact in the wide-ranging and diverse multi-sector approach to family and intimate partner violence assistance, intervention, and prevention.” The Center’s focus will be on creating a stronger ecosystem – that means all of us.
I envision a future where all children in our community live free of violence and discrimination, feel respected and safe, and have meaningful access to resources. It will take all of us working together in community, resilient, and standing strong in the face of challenges. Like our clients, and my grandpa, we will never give up. Together we will make it happen.