An Interview with Linda Offray, Executive Director of Shepherd’s Door
By Jenni Buchanan
Anyone who has ever been in the business of helping others knows that we don’t do it alone. We live in an interconnected web of society, each of our individual strands touches thousands of others in subtle and obvious ways. Shepherd’s Door, the Domestic Violence Resource Center in Pasadena, California, is a strand on the web that we recently found is closely aligned to what we here at Pacific Reentry Career Services are trying to do. Incarceration and domestic violence often live in the same neighborhood (so to speak); and in the interest of discovering where our two organizations intersect, and how we might support each other's work, we spent some time talking to Linda Offray, Founder and Executive Director of Shepherd’s Door. She spoke to us not only about Shepherd’s Door and the services they offer, but also about her very personal experience with domestic violence, the difficult process of getting a nonprofit through its first years, and why she never gave up.
How long has Shepherd’s Door been around, and what initially inspired you to launch it?
Shepherd’s Door has been around since 2000. My daughter was a victim of teen dating violence; it was her experience, and then not being able to find resources to help at the time, being angry and upset that my daughter was being misused--all that prompted me to say “I have to do something to help and educate women!”
For 10 years I worked with the City of Pasadena in a pregnancy and parenting program, and it was there that I found out that domestic violence was so prevalent in our community and the home of many of the women I was the case manager for. Doing social work like that often required me to make home visits, and when you go in the home of a person you begin to see things. I realized how serious domestic violence was in our community. Even what we think of as very successful households. Domestic violence knows no class boundaries, religion, economic status, ethnicity or even gender, It’s prevalent in all communities.
What was the most challenging aspect of getting Shepherd’s Door started?
The paperwork. Getting funding. Finding volunteers. All these things!
It was a lot of work, and I did it all on my own at the beginning. I could not find anyone who was willing to work with me starting from the ground for free. It’s sad to put it that way, but we had no money starting out. People have their own expenses and responsibilities and they want--and deserve--to be paid, but we had no money. So finding volunteers was one of my biggest challenges. It takes a lot of work and dedication, and the person doing it needs to have a passion, especially if they are not going to get paid at first. I couldn’t find anyone with my same level of passion. I found a lot people who cared about the issue, had concerns and a desire to help, but no one would commit to helping me get Shepherd’s Door off the ground.
Shepherd’s Door is not just for female victims of domestic violence, correct? What can you tell me about the demographic of people who come to your organization?
We predominantly work with females. In my 20 years I’ve only had 2 men come to me and admit that they were being abused. 99% of our clients are women.
I would say 50% are Latina, 30% African American, 15% Caucasian and 5% Asian. The age range is between 21 and 60 years of age. We had a recent intake who was 62, she came to us after 47 years of abuse. Income level is predominantly low-income, but some women are very successful.
We offer the women who come to us a range of services, regardless of their age or demographic, including domestic violence counseling and support groups. We just want to help with whatever they need in the moment. We are proud of every victim that comes to us seeking help; it is the first step to recovery. Even though there are many survivors of domestic violence, there’s that effect of abuse that will be with them forever. But they learn how to live with it and move on. That's what Shepherd’s Door gives them: support forever.
Let’s talk about the intersection between Pacific Reentry Career Services and Shepherd’s Door. For victims of domestic violence, how large a shadow does prison or the criminal justice system throw?
Out of the 20 years I’ve been working with women, I've known 2 ladies who’ve been willing to share with me that they have done prison time for killing their abuser, although I couldn’t get them to talk too much about it at the time. But I know several women who have gone to jail because of domestic violence. In a situation where a person is being abused, and the victim finally fights back, the abuser will sometimes be the one to call the police. In these cases, if the victim left any cuts or bruises or marks as they have fought back, then the victims will go to jail for defending themselves. It may only be for a few days or weeks, but nevertheless, that's their encounter with the system.
But there’s a whole other challenge with the legal system once a victim leaves their abuser, many abusers will now start using the system against the victim. The abusers turn around and serve the victims with custody papers after the women leave. They sue for joint or full custody. The abuser (who is often the male head-of-household and breadwinner) is able to afford legal representation, while the victim is unable able to afford to hire an attorney to fight back.
So there are many levels of conflict with the legal or criminal justice system. One of our biggest needs is raising the funds to help victims with legal representation, legal advice, answering of court papers served, filling out legal documents, etc. No one on the Shepherd’s Door team is currently a legal professional, so we are in need of a family law attorney who would be willing to come on board with Shepherd’s Door to volunteer 3-5 hours a month. Anything can be a help to the victim. We can give women recommendations and referrals, but many of the victims cannot afford to hire someone even to help them fill out paperwork. Helping victims afford legal representation, and helping them find shelter, are two of our biggest challenges.
Prevention Education is part of the mission of Shepherd’s Door; is this a challenge? Are adolescents and high schoolers your target audience? Do you find them generally receptive?
Oh yes! We work with Pasadena Unified School District. We do workshops on healthy relationships vs. unhealthy relationships, to middle and high school students. The workshops are together with both boys and girls. We feel they should get the same information together. It is important to teach men and women together if we want to break the cycle. Shepherd’s Door has been going into the schools for six years, and we love it! In 2015-2016 we were able to impart knowledge about relationships to over 800 students. As for reception, the students are awesome! Participation level is great. The students get involved, they ask a lot of questions, and we get a lot of good responses on the evaluations they fill out at the end. One 8th grader last year wrote in an evaluation, “I’ve learned in this class that I’m in a violent relationship. As of today I’m going to leave my boyfriend.” And another young man said, “Thank you for coming and teaching this. My dad used to beat my mother, and I don’t want to be like my dad.”
At the end of the class I always ask how many of them know someone who is a victim of domestic violence, or are victims of domestic violence themselves, and a majority of the students raise their hands.
The education program was very hard when I first started, many times I’ve done presentations and had young ladies sitting before me with tears rolling down their faces. I have had to keep my composure, I always know who in the group is being affected by what I am teaching. I know by the expressions on their faces, by the way they react. I’ve gotten terribly sad looks, and I’ve gotten some looks that simply “I don’t care what you say.” So I make sure to bring it home that none of them have the right to put their hands on each other in violence.
What is the biggest challenge Shepherd’s Door finds itself facing today?
Getting funding. We need funding to help victims get legal help. We need funding to help provide them with shelter and clothing, because most of these victims leave their abusive situation and come to us with nothing.
We need funding merely to sustain where we are. Over the years many domestic violence programs have had to close down due to lack of funding. We lost 9 programs/shelters when the economy took a turn 2008, and almost none of them were able to come back.
We can’t afford to lose these programs. The truth is that for whatever reason, we’ve seen a sharp increase of domestic violence in the past 5 or 6 months. This is nationwide! We don't know why, or what the cause is, but those are the facts. We have a huge problem when abuse is on the rise, and victims cannot get the services they need due to lack of funds.
How can people who read this help Shepherd’s Door?
First of all, refer people in need to us so we can help.
Next, promote Shepherd’s Door to everyone you know, and support the cause! Donate through our website.
People with expertise can volunteer to teach support groups. You can take a domestic violence counseling class and learn how to counsel. (We provide these training classes.) We are starting a mentoring program in hopes of the support victims of domestic violence need. We will be seeking mentors.
And finally, organize a fundraiser. I’m always looking for good fundraisers!
Jenni Buchanan is a reader, freelance writer & online community manager. She is a member of the board of directors for Pacific Reentry Career Services and for One Spark Academy. When not working, Jenni is a philosopher, hiker, nature-lover, and story addict. You can follow her on Twitter at @JenniBuchanan.