Celebrating victory over violence at STAND! Rebuilding Lives Luncheon
By Lou Fancher
A gathering of more than 400 people celebrated victory over violence at the 23rd annual STAND! Rebuilding Lives Luncheon.
The capacity crowd in the Concord Hilton ballroom honored heroines and heroes who work to prevent or end domestic abuse. The poignant stories of keynote speaker Leslie Morgan Steiner, STAND! client Schylon Stewart, and a flank of Bay Area law enforcement officers and officials engaged in the nonprofit's new Lethality Assessment Program received ovations.
The LAP program provides a questionnaire for use by law enforcement officers that instantly identifies key domestic abuse markers. Contra Costa County is one of only four sites around the country selected by the U.S. Department of Justice to pilot the initiative.
Chief Executive Officer Gloria J. Sandoval said that with the collaboration of law enforcement personnel, the screening model had already had an impact.
"We have identified 27 high-danger clients in just seven days of the launching," she said, explaining that "high danger" meant a high risk of homicide if there was no intervention. LAP is implemented cooperatively by STAND!, local police, Zero Tolerance for Domestic Violence, and the Contra Costa District Attorney's Office.
Turning her attention to the organization's overall commitment to comprehensive services aimed at ending domestic violence and child abuse, Sandoval said, "We save lives by providing immediate safety to people and families. We change the future by educating in schools."
In addition to a crisis hotline and the Rollie Mullen Center, a 24-bed emergency shelter, clients receive legal advocacy, parenting classes, job-readiness training, an emergency response team, help for abusive partners and more.
Steiner is a frequent public speaker and a featured guest on national television and radio programs about family abuse.
"I don't look like a typical victim," she said. "But the reason I'm typical is first of all that I'm a woman, I started being abused between age 16 and 24, and I knew nothing about domestic violence."
One of the first lessons she learned happened five days before her wedding. Her fiancé strangled and beat her.
"Abusers never hit you on the first date. It would be better if they did," Steiner said.
Steiner at first denied the abuse. She was a smart woman, so she'd recognize abuse if it entered her life; he was stressed and wouldn't do it again -- and on and on. Eventually, after her husband nearly killed her, she was helped by police and a domestic violence advocate who showed concern, a locksmith who showed up to change the locks on her home 20 minutes after she called -- not the five days he said it would take before she explained her situation.
"I asked for help. I broke the silence," Steiner said. "No one rescued me, but people like you helped me find my strength. Because I was never able to thank (them), I want to thank those of you in this room."
Stewart began her story with an announcement: "I am a STAND! success story."
Despite the tragic shooting of her boyfriend by her abuser, the two-year STAND! client has gained custody of her daughters, completed three semesters of college and moved closer to self-forgiveness and life without shame.
"My dreams are important and I can have them, if I'm willing to do the work," Stewart said. "I will continue to thrive. I am a success story."
Perhaps one of the most significant success stories wasn't told from the stage, but at a table. Becky O'Keefe of Pleasant Hill, is a volunteer on the LAP crisis line. She handles the most critical calls and connects clients to the proper resources. But years ago, she was a married mother with children whose husband isolated and abused the family.
"I want to give back to people who helped me when I was in need," she said. "I was subject to abuse. My children and I were nearly killed. My husband was convicted and went to jail for only 19 months. For many years, I lived in fear."
O'Keefe applauds law enforcement's greater involvement but says the prevalence of domestic abuse means there's one major drawback to LAP's success: "It means we're going to run out of room and need another shelter."