Let me be clear: This column is a direct solicitation. I’m going to share a story and then ask you to give something.
Thirty years ago, three South Orange County women looked around at their circle of friends, at their well-manicured neighborhoods, yet saw something that troubled them. Deeply. These three women, accomplished in their own right, knew others, less-fortunate women, trapped in relationships that left them isolated, fearing for their lives and sometimes, tragically, bloodied and ashamed.
It saddened and then angered that South County trio, who were told repeatedly that domestic violence was a private matter or one better left to law enforcement or to the courts. There was just one problem: Nobody was reporting these crimes, so police and judges couldn’t act. Worse, there was no safe house or shelter where battered women and their children could escape.
Deciding enough was enough, Carolyn Churm (my mother), Margaret Thoreau and Vivian Clecak became champions for many. It was a time when awareness of such issues was limited. South Orange County in the late 1970s was still a sleepy string of bedroom communities where the politics were conservative, the population largely white, the incomes healthy. It was not a time for three women to tackle an issue as emotionally raw as domestic violence.
But they didn’t listen to their peers. Joined by a fourth pioneer, Anne Wright, they created what is today Human Options by launching a 24-hour hotline for battered women and opening a five-room shelter in Laguna Beach. One of their first decisions was to name Clecak, a marriage and family counselor and county mental-health specialist, as the organization’s first director. It proved to be their best move, because 30 years later Clecak is still at the helm of Irvine-based Human Options, having helped serve more than 82,000 clients, mostly women, while also educating hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren, teens and workers about the scarring and costly impacts of violence against women.
No taller than a stack of college textbooks, Clecak is a towering figure regionally and statewide in the field of domestic violence. But she has stuck around not for status or accolades. She has remained in the trenches here in Orange County because of the group’s core mission. Women deserve to live free of fear for their safety and that of their children, she believes.
At first Human Options rallied support from middle-age women. But as the group’s voice grew louder and the public less tolerant of these shameful acts, Human Options expanded its emergency services. It has taken to classrooms, teaching that “hands are not for hitting,” and to corporations to report on the loss in terms of productivity.
Human Options has energized young professionals to take a stand against domestic violence with its yHOPE chapter. Even men are standing up for women who cannnot. The group’s Men’s Task Force has raised tens of thousands of dollars in recent years through a public-service advertising campaign called “100 Men.”
Still, three decades later, new voices continue to call the hotline every day, more women crying out for help. The need to support Human Options hasn’t grown smaller but rather more urgent. On May 11, at the Balboa Bay Club, Human Options will mark 30 years of rescuing battered women. Aptly named “Serious Fun,” this gala celebrates life and raises money to continue the fight.
What I ask of you is simple: Get involved by buying a ticket, underwriting a table, making a corporate contribution or sending a check to this organization that deserves to be lifted and cheered for all it has done to lift and cheer so many others - and for all it has left to do.
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