YWCA - Candle light vigil

YWCA of San Gabriel Valley gathered public officials and community supporters in their Covina office on the evening of October 19, 2022 to shine a light on the public health issue that is domestic violence by hosting a Candlelight Vigil and Resource Fair.  “It just gives my heart so much joy to see the number of community members come out to put a light on domestic violence awareness month. We appreciate the support, the love, and the shine that all of you give to us tonight,” remarked Debra Ward, CEO of YWCA of San Gabriel Valley (YWCA-SGV)

Raising awareness and holding space for victims and survivors of domestic violence is essential to YWCA-SGV’s mission. YWCA operates a 41-bed domestic violence shelter that includes temporary housing and comprehensive trauma-informed support for victims and their children. “We’re the second largest domestic violence program in Los Angeles County. We take anyone that is impacted by violence. We house their children. We take all ages. We take boys. It keeps us busy, yet we see funding that is continually reduced each year,” explained Ward.

Manager of Outreach and Training, YWCA-SGV Jenica Morin-Pascual shared the sobering statistic that “…more than 15 million children in the United States live in homes where they witness violence.” Domestic violence does not discriminate based on socio-economic class or ethnicity. It grossly disempowers victims, children, and their families by protecting abusers. Morin-Pascual introduced the crowd to Wallace, a young man who remarked about his experience with domestic violence.

“My whole life until I was 14 years old was really, really hard watching my siblings go through this, and when my mom decided that this wasn’t going to be for us anymore, she spoke out and we had to go to a shelter. That step was necessary for us to change.” Wallace, his mother, and four siblings lived at the YWCA-SGV shelter for 18 months and he emerged with confidence and hope. “Any kind of abuse is no more, if it started with my grandma and grandpa, it’s ending with me. That’s how it will be, and this will be for all my siblings too,” concluded Wallace.

Powerful testimony was also shared by California Senator Susan Rubio and City of Covina Mayor Patricia Cortez, both domestic violence survivors. Senator Rubio was instrumental in passing Bill SB-273 that extends the statute of limitations to 5 years for victims to report abuse. “I am a survivor, and I know that it can take an average of 7 to 10 years to be able to speak. A lot of women go through post-traumatic stress,” explained Rubio. She is also working on creating training modules for courtroom judges about the insidious nature of domestic violence that extends far beyond physical assault.  “Unless you show a black eye and a broken bone, they don’t believe it happened. It’s not just the physical violence, but the psychological torment you go through. Whether it is handling your finances, not letting you go to school, not letting you see your family, telling you what to wear, what to say – that is as harmful as a physical assault.”

California Council Woman Blanca Rubio, Senator Rubio’s sister, applauded Senator Rubio for coming forward to share her story and commented on the challenges of securing help and support. “Domestic violence is a health crisis, and we all know that the victims suffer at the hands of their abusers, but the family members also suffer. My sister’s abuser continues to torment the family. It’s been over 6 years and we still deal with him on a regular basis. Even us, that you would assume have all the resources available to us and folks that can help us, we are still having to deal with her abuser. I can’t imagine those of you that have no resources, family, or friends to go to. I want to thank Debra, the Board and the YWCA-SGV that has done so much and continues to do so much for victims.”

The evening’s keynote speaker, City of Covina Mayor Patricia Cortez, captured the hearts of all those in attendance with her powerful story. “I want to touch on the work that the YWCA does in assisting domestic violence survivors and their children as they move out of crisis towards safety and independence. This vigil is especially significant for me because I am a survivor of domestic violence. Outside of my family, and a few close friends, surviving an abusive relationship is not something I have shared with people. This is the first time I have shared this publicly.” Mayor Cortez found courage in knowing that sharing her story had the potential of helping survivors of domestic violence step out of silence and into their personal power.

Wall of RemembranceAt the end of the evening, all in attendance made their way to the Wall of Remembrance after lighting candles generously donated by State Senator Rubio’s office. “Domestic violence is not a private issue; it is a public health issue. Therefore, as we all gather here, we need to remember that… and be loud about it and educate. As we light our candles, remember that we are lighting a candle for those that lost their lives, and also for those that survived and thrived and were able to transform their lives and start over,” added Ana Interiano, Director of Programs, YWCA-SGV.

The evening would not have been as successful without the enduring support and presence of community partners. The Resource Fair included partners Project Sister, Masonic Home for Youth and Families, Victims of Crimes, Spirit Family Services, AWBW, DPSS, NVADD, MCYAF, and NAACP.  Food, seasonal treats, and entertainment were provided by 7 Leaves, Memorable Meals, and DJ Christina rounding out an evening where the community shined powerfully together in solidarity with victims and survivors of domestic violence.

For more information about YWCA-SGV domestic violence programs, for its residential (shelter) or non-residential services, please call (626) 960-2995.