Authors Posts by Women's Foundation of California

Women's Foundation of California

Women's Foundation of California
The Women’s Foundation of California trains and invests in women to become policy advocates and philanthropic leaders who strengthen the economic well-being of California’s women and families.

In California, women are breadwinners and co-breadwinners in 60 percent of families, yet they earn 84 cents to every dollar a man earns. This means that the average woman loses $322,120 over the course of her career. Noreen Farrell, executive director of Equal Rights Advocates (ERA) has been working to close that gap, leading the efforts to pass what is now the nation’s toughest anti-discrimination law and continuing those efforts with a new bill that will disrupt salary discrimination as we know it.

Noreen Farrell (left) with Assmeblymember Cristina Garcia and Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson.
Noreen Farrell (left) with Assemblymember Cristina Garcia and Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson.

For decades, the courtroom has been Noreen Farrell’s battlefield for women’s rights. As a civil rights attorney, she has represented women who were discriminated against due to a pregnancy, sexually harassed at work and denied overtime or equal pay. She knows the law inside and out and has made it her life’s work to litigate all violations of women’s social, economic and political rights.

Farrell’s gender justice advocacy however, did not start in law school but much earlier. After Farrell’s father passed away from cancer in his 40s, her mother was left alone to support their family of six in the Bronx. Her mother worked long hours as a housecleaner and later as a vocational nurse to ensure that her children received a college education, including Farrell who went on to graduate from Yale University.

Now the executive director of Equal Rights Advocates (ERA), a legal advocacy nonprofit and Women’s Foundation of California grant partner, Farrell continues to uplift women in her life and now around the nation by addressing one of the most pervasive inequities in America today: the gender pay gap.

“My mother was the rock of my family,” said Farrell.

“And there are so many mothers like her across the country,” Farrell continued. “The idea that she would be paid less for the same work [done by a man] or wouldn’t be valued when she had more responsibility than anyone could imagine wouldn’t stand with me.”

In California, women are breadwinners or co-breadwinners in 60 percent of families, yet the average woman earns 84 cents to every dollar a man earns, costing her an average of $322,120 over the course of her career. The pay gap is far worse for women of color. Black women in California are paid 63 cents to the dollar earned by white men and Latinas in this state make just 43 cents for every dollar earned by white men. As a matter of fact, the pay gap for Latinas in California ranks among the worst in the nation.

“That’s a devastating loss in income,” said Farrell. “What could you have done with that money over the course of your life? Could you have paid your gas bill on time? Bought a house? Sent your kids to college?”

The Equal Pay Act is a federal law that was passed in 1963 to prohibit gender-based wage discrimination. However, more than half a century later, women still earn less than men for the same or similar work. For example, hotel housekeepers have contacted Farrell and the ERA reporting that they were being paid less than male custodians at the same hotels. And according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, janitors, usually men, earn 22 percent more than maids and housecleaners, usually women, although their work requires equivalent skill, effort, responsibilities and working conditions.

A major barrier to closing the gender pay gap is a workplace culture where employees are discouraged from or even penalized for sharing information regarding their salaries. Without this information, employees are unable to negotiate salaries and employers are not held accountable.

“It’s hard to unearth discrimination when you don’t know about it,” said Farrell. “Pay secrecy is the number one reason why pay discrimination exists.”

Farrell and ERA were determined to disrupt this culture of secrecy so in 2015 they sponsored and championed the California Fair Pay Act (Senate Bill 358, Jackson), which became the toughest anti-discrimination law in the nation.

Under the Fair Pay Act, California companies are forbidden from retaliating against employees who ask about their coworkers’ wages. They are now also required to justify pay disparities between male and female employees who are doing “substantially similar” work regardless of their job titles.

Employers sued by workers now have to prove that wage differences are due to factors other than sex, thus holding companies accountable to their workers and providing women an opportunity to advocate for fair pay.

“Now [the employers] are going to have to value the work equally,” said state Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) who introduced the legislation. “This law is a 30-year overnight success,” she continued, hinting to the decades of work it took to make this important law a reality.

Farrell and ERA are not resting on their laurels. In 2016 they continue to fight for equal pay by sponsoring and championing Assembly Bill 1676 (Pay Equity in the Workplace Act, Campos and Gonzalez).

This bill, which made it out of the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations committee last week and is currently in the Committee on Judiciary, would prohibit employers from seeking salary history from job applicants. This way, salary negotiations would be based on the requirements, expectations and qualification of the person and job in question, rather than on prior earnings, which may reflect a history of pay discrimination and prevent upward mobility between jobs.

The impact of reporting prior salaries was very real for Aileen Rizo, a math educator at a California county office which works with various school districts across the state. Rizo’s employer set their initial salaries by increasing prior salaries by five percent, and, as a result Rizo came up short, earning $12,000 less than a male colleague even though he had less experience, education and seniority.

“A pay structure based exclusively on prior wages is so inherently fraught with risk,” said the United States District Court in Rizo v. Yovino, Fresno County Superintendent of Schools in 2015. “It reflects historical market forces which value the equal work of one sex over the other, [perpetuating] the market’s sex-based subjective assumptions and stereotyped misconceptions.”

Noreen Farrell, Equal Rights Advocates and their partners in the Stronger California Advocates Network are continuing to push for equal pay for women, ensuring that Assembly Bill 1676 becomes law and that women across the state will not have to follow in Rizo’s footsteps.

“AB1676 promises to hit the pay gap at its origins—with initial hire pay. It will level the playing field in negotiations and break deeply embedded traditions that devalue women in the workplace,” said Farrell. “It is really time to make sure that all women in California have economically secure lives. I am honored to work alongside such incredible partners working together to make this a reality.”

In May, the Foundation's WomenGO! Giving Circle celebrated a significant milestone in local philanthropy. Since 2005, members of the circle have collectively awarded $1 million in grants to Santa Clara and San Mateo county nonprofits that serve women and girls. A member of the giving circle, Sarah Longstreth, reports on the event.

Left to right: WomenGO members xx, xx Michelle Cale and xx, CEO of the Women's Foundation of California Surina Khan and WomenGO member xx.
Left to right: WomenGO members Erica Cicero, Sarah Longstreth, Michelle Cale and Annelise Mora; CEO of the Women’s Foundation of California Surina Khan; and WomenGO member Linda Longstreth.

I became a member of the Women Giving Opportunity giving circle about three years ago. I joined because I was interested in learning more about the amazing work local organizations are doing to advance the education and economic security of women and families in my area. I also really liked that, by pooling relatively modest donations, members collectively make more of an impact in our community.

But Women Giving Opportunity—or WomenGO, as we like to call it—came into existence long before I joined. Under the auspices of the Women’s Foundation of California, the circle was founded in 2005 by Jing Lyman and others, to address the grim economic reality faced by some women and families in Silicon Valley: low-wage jobs, high childcare costs, expensive housing and limited educational opportunities. In its first year, the Women of Silicon Valley Circle (as it was then known) gave away $80,000 in grants to four organizations: the Girl Scouts of Santa Clara County, Girls for A Change, The Support Network for Battered Women and WAGES (now called Prospera).

Over the last eleven years, 62 women have been members of WomenGO. We have supported 18 different organizations (some through multi-year grants). And, this year, we will award our millionth dollar to local non-profits.

To mark this important milestone, on May 25 we held a celebration that brought together past and present circle members, representatives of some of the circle’s 18 grant partners, local elected officials and representatives from the Women’s Foundation of California.

Surina Kahn, CEO of the Women’s Foundation, emphasized the power of women’s collective philanthropy, estimating that WomenGO’s grants have directly impacted 15,000 people and indirectly impacted 145,000 people in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties over the last eleven years.

Michelle Cale, a member of our circle and the incoming Board Chair for the Women’s Foundation of California, rightly noted that celebrating our millionth dollar is more than anything a celebration of our phenomenal grant partners.

“You would not believe how much these organizations can achieve with just a little bit of money! We often come away from site visits to grant applicants asking ourselves. ‘How do they do it? How do they do so much with so little?’ And every year as we make our grants, we wish we had a million dollars to give to every one of the organizations that has applied to us. Every one of them is doing great work and deserves our support,” said Michelle Cale.

In addition to representatives from Ableworks, Breakthrough Silicon Valley, Each One Reach One, Girls to Women, Nuestra Casa, and Peninsula College Fund—all past or present grant recipients—we were fortunate to be joined by Camille Llanes-Fontanilla, the Executive Director of Somos Mayfair, which has a long standing relationship with the circle and its members.

Camille graciously outlined what it’s like to be a WomenGO grant partner. She noted that Women GO is uniquely positioned to “advance a strategy that is both focused and flexible.” And this, in turn, serves as a “refreshing reminder [to Somos Mayfair] to be bold, to take risks, to continue to hold a greater vision for our neighborhood, to be relentless in our commitment to our mission, to strive for systemic change that profoundly affects women, girls and our most marginalized communities.”

We are proud of what we have been able to achieve as a community of women donors working within our community and alongside grassroots leaders who are dedicated to strengthening women’s economic well-being, creating opportunities and removing barriers facing women on the Peninsula.

Learn more about us and our grant partners and reach out if you’d like to join us. We would love to have you join us as we get started on the next million dollars!

Reported on by Sarah Longstreth, WomenGo giving circle member.

When Gina Clayton founded Essie Justice Group with the mission to harness the collective power of women with incarcerated loved ones in 2014, she had one critical challenge. While the number of women with a family member in prison suggests prevalence—one in four women and nearly half of Black women have a loved one behind bars—isolation and the stigma made affected women hard to find. But a conversation with a man inside a prison sparked the idea for Essie’s most innovative and promising movement building strategy yet.

When a family member is locked up, women often are left behind to pick up the pieces of tragedy, scraping together money not only for their households, but for attorney bills, court payments, prison phone calls, visitation fees and re-entry costs, explains Gina Clayton, executive director and founder of Essie Justice Group.
When a family member is locked up, women often are left behind to pick up the pieces of tragedy, scraping together money not only for their households, but for attorney bills, court payments, prison phone calls, visitation fees and re-entry costs, explains Gina Clayton, executive director and founder of Essie Justice Group.

Gina Clayton, a recent Harvard Law School graduate in 2010, was working as a housing attorney in Harlem. She met with clients every day, women who were supporting whole communities and, at the same time, facing evictions as a result of criminal matters. Clayton recalled one client, a model tenant who faced losing her home of 20 years. Her client’s grandson, who didn’t live with her, was arrested blocks from her apartment and gave her client’s address to his arresting officer.

“Here she is, this matriarch, this pillar of her community and family and she was under attack,” Clayton said. “It broke my heart, the idea that this lynchpin, who offers an important refuge for her family in turmoil and crisis, would be rendered homeless. To me, it was unconscionable, a violation of human rights.”

Since 1980, draconian criminal justice policies more than quadrupled the number of people in our prisons, jails and detention centers. The statistics would suggest this era of mass incarceration is a men’s issue. After all, more than 90 percent of people behind bars in the United States are men.

But Clayton recognized “the 90 percent” was just part of the story. Mass incarceration also had a devastating impact on women with incarcerated loves ones—the mothers, daughters, wives, sisters and girlfriends of people behind bars. But there was almost no recognition of this fact.

“We already know mass incarceration is a human rights issue, an economic justice issue, and a race issue,” Clayton said. “But it’s also a women’s issue.”

Clayton understood this first hand: In 2007, one of Clayton’s loved ones was handed a 20-year prison sentence in California. As she dug into the issue, she saw she wasn’t alone. In fact, more than two million people behind bars translated into many millions of women reeling from their absence.

One in four women in the United States has a family member in prison. For Black women, the number is even more disturbing: nearly one in two.

When a family member is locked up, women often are left behind to pick up the pieces of tragedy, scraping together money not only for their households, but for attorney bills, court payments, prison phone calls, visitation fees and re-entry costs. Research shows more than a third of women surveyed have been pushed into debt from costs associated with incarceration.

Clayton decided to move back to her home state of California with a singular purpose: to end the harm on women caused by mass incarceration. In 2014, Clayton founded Essie Justice Group (Essie). Her vision is to ignite a movement to end mass incarceration by empowering and engaging a ready, but overlooked, force for change—women with loved ones behind bars. With the support of dedicated volunteers and mentors, Clayton set out to build a nationwide network of loving and powerful groups of these women.

The Women’s Foundation of California became Essie’s fiscal sponsor and provided office space for the budding organization. And the Foundation’s Race, Gender and Human Rights Giving Circle awarded a $10,000 grant.

“Loving Hard From Outside, In”

While there are millions of women with incarcerated loved ones, Clayton knew reaching them wouldn’t be easy. They face tremendous shame and stigma as a result of mainstream stereotypes of “criminals” and “prison wives.”  Despite their prevalence and the significant harm they face, women with incarcerated loved ones are seen as “collateral consequences,” their lives and experiences made invisible from public discourse.

With the barrier of stigma, and without a collective identity, women are isolated even from each other.

On a visit to San Quentin, Clayton spoke with a man doing time.

“He told me, ‘I need you to know my daughter, she’s incredible, she’s my motivation, she’s my whole life, and she needs a community,’” explained Clayton. In that very moment, Clayton found her answer on how to reach the women she knew could build a powerful sisterhood for justice.

She would invite the men and women who were incarcerated to nominate their loved ones. Today, Essie receives letters every month from men and women inside prisons nominating women to Essie’s program. These letters recognize the struggles and the strength of women supporting incarcerated people by “loving hard from outside, in” as Clayton says. Each letter is a highly personal, specific and loving testimony that provides the opportunity for a woman to access a community of support through Essie’s nine-week Healing to Advocacy program. Every nomination is answered with a letter in response to the nominator and a call to the nominee inviting her to join the Essie Justice Group sisterhood.

These letters recognize the struggles and the strength of women supporting incarcerated people by “loving hard from outside, in” as Clayton says.
These letters recognize the struggles and the strength of the women who are supporting incarcerated people, women who are “loving hard from outside, in.”

“We tell each nominee there is a community of women who would benefit from knowing her,” said Clayton. “Women come with ample leadership capabilities and tremendous expertise.” Essie works to bring them together, ending their isolation and reducing barriers so they can access their collective power to “advocate for self, for family, and for community”—and end mass incarceration.

In its first two years, Essie reached women from Los Angeles to Florida. For many, being connected to an “Essie Sister”—another woman in the program—is transformative. It is often the first time they can talk freely about their loved one being incarcerated. They are supported without being judged and they learn they are part of a loving and powerful community.

Power & Prevalence: Reaching the 1 in 4

Now Clayton, her small staff team, and an active group of Essie Sisters are on a mission to bring in 1,000 nominations for women with incarcerated loved ones to launch their Bay Area flagship network before expanding nationwide.

Two years have passed since Clayton’s visit to San Quentin that gave rise to the Essie nominations process. The Essie team recently went back there to meet with a leadership group of men serving long and life sentences as part of Essie’s 1,000 nomination campaign. When the group was asked about who supported them and whether they would be interested in nominating someone to Essie, the gentlemen responded with enthusiasm.

“My love is unconditional for her, that’s definitely true,” said one man about his elderly mother. “But what I’m concerned about is there’s no one to support her.”

If Clayton has her way, that won’t be true for long. “We plan to be everywhere there’s a woman with an incarcerated loved one,” said Clayton.

“We plan to be everywhere there’s a woman with an incarcerated loved one,” said Clayton.
“We plan to be everywhere there’s a woman with an incarcerated loved one,” said Clayton.

“These are the women who will build a movement that will challenge the state of mass incarceration. They’ll do it by placing women, their communities and their loved ones at the forefront of the conversation,” said Clayton.

Nominate a Woman Today

“At Essie, we get what we need, we share, and we lead,” explained one Essie sister. If you or someone you know is a woman with an incarcerated loved one, end her isolation and invisibility today by nominating her to a loving and powerful community of women.

The son of an immigrant single mother, California state senator Kevin de León has an intimate understanding of women’s hardships, especially those faced by low-income women and women of color. “I have the political space and credibility to act upon polices that are critical for the overall wellbeing of families, particularly single mothers,” he said. As the highest-ranking Democrat in Sacramento, de León is now using his power to elevate the state’s economy by advocating for women.

“I have the political space and credibility to act upon polices that are critical for the overall well-being of families, particularly single mothers,” said California’s Senate President Pro Tempore.

There’s a plaque in California President Pro Tempore Kevin de León’s office that reads, “2009 Breastfeeding Champion.”

He laughs about it, but it’s not exactly a joke. De León—the progressive Democratic senator from Los Angeles who is concerned about the welfare of low-income women in the state—has authored several pieces of legislation to support breastfeeding by new mothers.

He decided to sponsor legislation after learning low-income women and women of color breastfeed at a much lower rate than wealthy or white women and breastfeeding reduces a child’s risk for infections and chronic diseases such as diabetes, asthma and obesity, which can have long-term, expensive consequences for individuals, their families and communities.

The idea of curbing the racial and class health inequities was enough to overcome any awkwardness de León initially felt taking on this issue. Two of his bills became law and today, hospitals are required to support breastfeeding by all first-time mothers.

The breastfeeding laws exemplify the road de León chose as a leader. The son of an immigrant single mother, he has an intimate understanding of women’s hardships, especially those faced by low-income women and women of color. In turn, as the highest-ranking Democrat in the California state legislature, he is using his power to champion women’s economic, social and political wellbeing.

“I have the political space and credibility to act upon polices that are critical for the overall wellbeing of families, particularly single mothers,” he said.

Viewing the World Through a Feminist Lens

The California state capitol has seen a decline of women legislators in recent years; of the 120 seats, women occupy only 31.

A man zealously championing women’s issues could easily be interpreted as paternalistic or patronizing. But de León simply wants progress in areas that are important to him. And he’ll do whatever is necessary.

“If you want me to take the lead, I’ll do so,” he once told a female state senator. “If you want me to stand behind, be your support and back you up, I will do so also.”

De León emphasized his solidarity is not part of some political calculation to win votes. Feminism is just part of the lens through which he naturally views the world. He said, “I didn’t grow up with a father.”

Instead, he was raised in San Diego surrounded by women—his mother, grandmother, aunt and two older half-sisters. His mother, a Mexican immigrant who spoke little English, paid the rent by cleaning wealthy homes on the opposite side of town. The family took public transportation everywhere. He wore hand-me-downs of his mother’s clients. He was only five years old when his mother left him home alone, not returning until after 8 PM sometimes. She had no choice.

“I witnessed how hard my mother worked to pay the bills,” said de León. “I saw the pain and stress of my mother, the tears she cried.”

De León is committed to supporting women who struggle in the shadows of California’s economy, many as working single moms. He was raised by his mother and aunt, immigrant women who worked low-wage jobs in San Diego.
Personal Is Political

What makes de León such a powerful legislative advocate for women is that he knows their stories are his. A cursory look at the bills he sponsors and supports reveals the influence de Leon’s life experience had on his political career.

He supported the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights, which extended overtime pay rights to nannies, childcare providers, caregivers and attendants to the elderly—jobs mostly held by immigrant women and women of color. He pushed the state to increase access to childcare for women who qualify under CalWORKs, California’s welfare-to-work program, because he knows childcare is necessary for working mothers. And he supported the minimum wage increase where two-thirds of impacted workers are women.

He also helped pass what is now the strongest fair pay law in the nation, the California Fair Pay Act. This law has the potential to close the gender pay gap in California and is especially important for women of color. In 2015, African American women earned only 63 cents for every dollar white men earn, and for Latinas it was worse—only 43 cents.

Good for the Economy

Paying attention to women’s struggles is part of de León’s passion, but it also makes good sense for California’s economy. After all, women make up nearly half of the workforce and are breadwinners or co-breadwinners for 60 percent of American families. Yet they fall behind on nearly every economic measure.

U.S. Census statistics show nationally, one-third of families led by single mothers are poor. The situation is much worse when you break apart the data by race: Half of African American, Latina and Native American single mothers live in poverty in the U.S.

The situation is hardly better in California. Though the state enjoys an economic boom, severe cutbacks to safety net services during the Great Recession have wreaked havoc. The poverty rate of single mothers is now five times that of married couple families.

“It’s the best and the worst of times,” de León said. “We’re the seventh largest economy in the world but the positive impacts of the economy have not touched everybody.” He emphasized low-income women and women of color are most impacted by this dichotomy. And his personal connection to these women is what helps drives his work now.

“It’s my lived reality and because I lived it, I have the space to voice my opinion and move measures that help improve the human condition—for all individuals, but in particularly for working families, single mothers, immigrants.”


Child care is not a luxury, but a necessity for working mothers. It is key to both women’s and children’s success, said Mary Ignatius, who organizes women to advocate for increased public investments in subsidized child care as an organizer at Parent Voices. For low-income and many middle-income women, subsidized child care is out of reach. At this very moment, some 200,000 children are on a three-year waitlist. In the meantime, their parents struggle to make ends meet, unable to find and keep full-time work.

“There are real impacts, real repercussions, with not having childcare,” said Mary Ignatius, organizer with Parent Voices.
“There are real impacts, real repercussions, with not having child care,” said Mary Ignatius, organizer with Parent Voices.

Shuntera Brown just finished a graveyard shift and arrived home. In a few hours she’ll start studying. She’s working on her bachelor’s degree.

“Behind that smile, Shuntera is holding back tears,” said Mary Ignatius, an organizer with Parent Voices, while showing a picture of Shuntera with her three children. “I see exhaustion in her eyes.”

A publicly subsidized child care program could make Shuntera’s life easier, said Ignatius. But it is inadequately funded and the waitlist is 200,000 families long. Parents wait three years on average to get their child into the program.

Reforming the waitlist and adding more slots in California is a top priority for Ignatius and for Parent Voices, a San Francisco-based nonprofit whose mission is to arm parents in advocating for quality, accessible and affordable child care.

Child care is not a luxury, but a basic necessity for working mothers. However, for low-income and many middle-income women, it is out of reach. Preschools in California cost more than $10,000 a year in some places. For single mothers working full-time minimum wage jobs, that amounts to 50 percent of their earnings.

“Not having a fully funded subsidized child care program is bad for employers and bad for California’s economy,” said Ignatius, who for the past 10 years has organized low-income women, many of them single mothers. “It chains single mothers and their families to poverty.”

These mothers are trapped in a vicious cycle: Because they don’t have safe and stable child care, they can’t work full time. And because they can’t work full time, they can’t earn enough to support their families. And because they can’t earn enough, they need subsidized child care.

Childcare: Out of Reach for So Many

In theory, families earning less than 70 percent of California’s median income—less than $42,200 for a family of three—are entitled to receive a partial-to-full child care subsidy. Parents eligible for CalWORKs, the state’s welfare program for the poorest families, are given first priority. But in reality, child care is not guaranteed because the program falls far short of meeting the demand.

Additionally, low-income parents not eligible for CalWORKs have an even harder time securing one of the coveted spots. Due to the high demand and limited availability, a family income of just $20,000 a year could mean they never get off the waiting list.

Though access is the biggest problem for working parents, keeping one’s child care spot is yet another barrier. A mother rewarded with a promotion will lose her subsidy if her salary goes above the 70 percent state median income limit—even if it is just one penny more. Before her raise, she may have paid $300 a month for childcare. But with her modest raise—and therefore without the subsidy—she could face $1,200 a month, making it impossible to afford.

As a result, Ignatius said women are forced to make difficult decisions. Some choose to work less or turn down hard earned raises just to keep the subsidy.

“Then we see a spiraling backwards,” she said. “All of the progress they’ve made, all of the confidence they’ve built, all the work experience—it’s all put at risk because they need the subsidy and want the best for their child.”

Documenting the Effects of the Waitlist

To understand how the waitlist interferes with a family’s economic security, Parent Voices and Ignatius received a grant to document their hardships from the Women’s Foundation of California’s Economic Development and Justice Giving Circle, which has been funding women’s economic wellbeing in the Bay Area since 1999. They asked 45 women who were waitlisted for state-subsidized child care to photograph their lives. Shuntera was one of them.

The project, Waiting for Change: Mothers Advocating for Justice in Child Care,* revealed how hard the women struggle to keep it together, to do it all.

“There are real impacts, real repercussions, with not having child care,” said Ignatius.

In one photo, a Fresno mother stands in a tomato field, a bandana around her mouth. She drops her kids off with a neighbor every morning, somewhere between 2:30 and 4 a.m. She then travels for hours to get to the fields.

Armed with these stories, Parent Voices will launch a campaign in the next few months to persuade California’s legislators to reinvest in and reform subsidized child care.

Ignatius wants elected officials to see how the system is failing low-income women. And they have the Women’s Legislative Caucus on their side, which is seeking an $800 million investment in subsidized child care. What’s more, Parent Voices and the Child Care Law Center are co-sponsoring  a bill—AB 2150 (Santiago and Weber)—which would ensure children receive at least 12 months of continuous child care and not be forced to yo-yo in and out of the system due to parents’ fluctuating hours and earnings.

Ignatius points to another set of photos from the project to show why this work matters. The first photo, taken while the family was waitlisted, shows a woman and her child looking tired. The woman took another shot after winning a childcare subsidy. In it, the child smiles brightly.

“You could see the light in both of their eyes again,” Ignatius said. “That’s what child care can do for a mother and a child. That’s what we want to convey and what we’re advocating for.”

* The project will launch later this year and the photos will be available on Parent Voices’ website.

Home care workers are some of the most vulnerable workers in California. Women comprise 90 percent of this workforce and more than 60 percent are women of color. They do physically and emotionally challenging work but earn minimum wage and struggle to keep themselves and their families afloat. Sabrina Johnson is a therapist with a vision: She wants San Francisco’s home care workers to be treated with dignity because she knows that their contributions to our society are tremendous. “[Home care workers] need to be valued like we value the tech industry,” said Johnson. “Tech cannot get elderly people out of bed and feed them.”

“This profession needs to be valued like we value the tech industry. Tech cannot get elderly people out of bed and feed them," said Sabrina Johnson. Here she is (on the left, wearing a white blazer and a dress) with her colleagues.
“This profession needs to be valued like we value the tech industry. Tech cannot get elderly people out of bed and feed them,” said Sabrina Johnson (on the left, in a white blazer). She’s with Homebridge colleagues and home care workers.

If you ever doubted one person could make a difference, meet Sabrina Johnson. The 28-year-old work-life coach at Homebridge, a nonprofit home care provider in San Francisco, managed to transform the organization and its predominantly low-income female workforce.

Johnson plays a unique role: Part therapist, part social worker and part data scientist, she helps women transition into roles as home care providers—and thrive.

It’s difficult to thrive in this type of environment—home care work is taxing and the pay is low. As a matter of fact, before Johnson was hired, fewer than half of Homebridge’s home care providers stayed in their jobs past six months. But in less than a year, Johnson increased that rate to 65 percent. And with more changes in the pipeline, Johnson expects the retention rate to keep going up.

“Sabrina’s role is critical,” said Krista Blyth-Gaeta, chief program officer at Homebridge. “Her ability to connect with the workers, to build rapport, to show they have someone on their side—it goes a long way.”

Johnson’s secret is simple. She pays attention to the unique needs of Homebridge’s low-income women workers and communicates them to the nonprofit management, who are then able to improve workplace conditions and practices and improve women’s experiences and job satisfaction.

To Johnson, home care workers are not just hands doing the work of lifting, bathing and feeding; they’re flesh and blood women who are struggling to make a living while navigating single parenting, poverty, food insecurity, unprocessed emotional trauma, domestic violence or homelessness.

Trained as a therapist, Johnson re-shaped her role to address real-time, day-to-day challenges home care workers face. She helps fill out applications for food stamps, subsidized childcare, healthcare and other programs. She helps figure out the fastest bus routes to and from work and in between jobs. She sits with the women as they look for housing on Craigslist. And she brainstorms with them on their short- and long-term life goals.

Johnson and Homebridge are doing something visionary for their women workers and the hope is that other home care employers in California will follow suit. They are addressing the distinctive needs of low-income women, in particular women of color, who are doing the important work of caring. Without investing in and supporting these workers—in addition to raising their wages—we are bound to create even greater and intractable inequality in our state.

Undervalued and Underpaid

Home care work is both physically and emotionally challenging. The workers’ schedules are often unpredictable. There is little opportunity for career advancement and turnover is high.

“I am still shocked at how undervalued this work is,” said Johnson. “I don’t think people really understand the level of care these workers are providing.”

Additionally, the workers are often underpaid. The ACLU reports nationwide, nearly one-quarter of home care workers live below the poverty line and over half live in households under 200 percent of the federal poverty line. Home care workers in the Bay Area are at an even greater disadvantage, because the cost of living is extremely high.

Homebridge’s home care workers earn only $12.25 per hour—equivalent to San Francisco’s minimum wage. The County sets that rate, which Homebridge can’t change. In many cases, these wages aren’t enough to cover the basic costs of housing, food and transportation. Many workers are single mothers struggling to make ends meet: Childcare in the Bay Area takes up more than 40 percent of their monthly wages.

“We talk about budgeting and managing the funds they have,” Johnson said. “But if you’re making $2,000 a month in San Francisco, budgeting really looks like basic necessities.”

But home care work requires skill and has great social value. Homebridge workers clean, cook and attend to elderly and disabled people in San Francisco, making it possible for thousands to live in their own homes. Workers need patience to support clients who may be cranky and demanding, mentally ill or living in spaces that are unclean. They have to be extremely empathetic to care for elderly people approaching the end of life, and have technical skills to work with clients with special medical needs.

What’s more, the demand for qualified and capable home care workers is expected to rise. Analysts say home care is one of the fastest growing professions in the U.S. due to a rapidly increasing elderly population. Within the next 20 years, one in five Americans will be 65 or older, and 11.5 million will be 85 or older. It’s estimated that over the coming decade, one million new jobs will be created in home care.

Prioritizing the Needs of the Workers

The simplest way to support their employees would have been to raise salaries, but Homebridge wasn’t in a position to do so because workers’ salaries are tied to state-wide negotiated rates. To help their employees, Homebridge applied for a grant with the Women’s Foundation of California to hire Johnson.

Through rigorous data keeping and deep listening, Johnson has already transformed the way Homebridge manages its home care workers—and hers is a great model for other employers. Johnson realized this was the first job for nearly one quarter of the women. Many felt isolated and needed more support. They were overwhelmed and struggled to balance their work and personal lives.

She approached Homebridge’s management team and together they decided that they needed to support their workers better. They hired additional schedulers in order to free the supervisors’ time to focus on guiding workers in the field, giving them one-on-one support, training them in new skills and helping build their confidence.

Because of Johnson's work, Homebridge now has schedulers as well as supervisors, meaning that home care workers can get one-on-one support and guidance from their managers. That extra support is helping them thrive.
Homebridge now has schedulers as well as supervisors, meaning that home care workers can get one-on-one support and guidance not just shifts and schedules. That extra personal and emotional support is improving their workplace experience.

Ultimately, the women who take care of our elderly and disabled also needed to be cared for, seen and acknowledged. Having supervisors who care for them, their growth and their development is a big step forward in recognizing and valuing their work.

The women workers now feel more satisfied and are staying employed. But Johnson is not satisfied. Her next step is to help workers bargain for higher wages and subsidize expensive transportation costs: A two-hour commute is no longer unusual among workers due to the exorbitant rent in San Francisco.

“This profession needs to be valued like we value the tech industry,” Johnson said. “Tech cannot get elderly people out of bed and feed them.”

“There was a need for local voices,” said Margarita Luna, a program manager with The California Endowment. She funded the creation of the Women’s Policy Institute-County to empower women to advocate for social and economic change in the Eastern Coachella Valley, an unincorporated part of Riverside County where many residents are poor agricultural workers from Latino immigrant families. Twenty grassroots women leaders went through the inaugural local policy advocacy training program in 2015 and are now using their newfound skills, voices and personal experiences to create change for their communities.

“I want the women who go through WPI–County to have the power to self-determine their future. To be the change agent in their communities, to vocalize what needs to happen and to also feel like it can happen."
“I want the women who go through WPI–County to have the power to self-determine their future. To be the change agent in their communities, to vocalize what needs to happen and to also feel like it can happen.”

When Governor Jerry Brown announced the historic policy known as “realignment” in 2011, attention naturally focused on the overcrowded state prison system. California’s prisons were at 180 percent capacity, and in some, medical and mental health care conditions were so inadequate the Supreme Court deemed them unconstitutional.

But to some, realignment unveiled another big, hidden issue. Over decades, California assumed control of the state’s public programs with expenses totaling more than $10 billion. A budget crisis and a desire to increase efficiency prompted Brown to give that authority back to counties and cities. He argued that local officials could do a better job at designing and managing local programs and services, including public safety, child welfare, foster care and public health.

Margarita Luna, a program officer with The California Endowment, recognized an opportunity. Her work is devoted to improving health in the Eastern Coachella Valley, an unincorporated part of Riverside County through an initiative called Building Healthy Communities. Many of the area’s residents are low-income agricultural workers from Latino immigrant families. In some places, residents have no access to potable water, sidewalks or paved streets.

If realignment was going to bring money into Riverside County, Luna reasoned Eastern Coachella Valley residents should have a say in how it was spent.

“There was a need for local voices,” she said.

Policy Change at the County Level

That need became Luna’s inspiration to work with the Women’s Foundation of California to create a brand new program, the Women’s Policy Institute–County.

Much like the groundbreaking Women’s Policy Institute (WPI), which the Foundation created in 2003 for women leaders to advocate for important statewide legislative changes, the county version would provide the same opportunities at the local level. In her work, Luna saw how state policy expertise often didn’t translate into savvy at the local level. State and county governments were two different beasts.

She was especially keen to develop leadership in rural places like the Eastern Coachella Valley where local leaders struggled to get the attention of elected officials. She persuaded The California Endowment to support the launch of the Women’s Foundation of California’s WPI-County program in 2015, inducting 20 fellows to train them on public policy work in Riverside County.

The Coachella Valley in Riverside County is an important agricultural center, but many workers and residents are exposed to pesticides and polluted drinking water and some live close to toxic waste disposal sites. The transportation system is almost nonexistent, poverty is rampant and the income disparities in the Valley are great. While the median household income in Indian Wells is more than $135,000, 20 miles south in Mecca, it is $25,000.

The problem lies in the county decision-making process, which can be complex and hard to navigate. County supervisors hold great power because they make decisions impacting the day-to-day lives of the community. They decide how to spend federal and state dollars. They plan and implement local versions of statewide and national policies. They also make decisions that impact county services, housing development, transportation and the environment.

WPI-County Empowers Local Leaders

Luna said it is critical for local leaders to participate in the process of developing longer-term investments in the Eastern Coachella Valley. One example is Nancy Valenzuela, a domestic violence prevention activist, who wanted to scale her impact. She graduated from the first WPI-County class.

Valenzuela emigrated from Mexico 16 years ago to escape a violent, abusive relationship. Years later, her 19-year old son was murdered by the same man she had left. Valenzuela said domestic abuse is a serious, under-acknowledged problem in the Valley’s agricultural community. She’s a volunteer with Líderes Campesinas, a nonprofit that develops women leaders and brings awareness to the unique issues faced by Latino female farm workers, including sexual and domestic violence.

During her year with WPI–County, Valenzuela attended 10 two-day retreats where she and 19 other leaders learned about how Riverside County operates. Then they brainstormed, researched and proposed policy solutions to problems. It was an eye-opening experience for Valenzuela.

“I realized the county and cities that we live in, they can actually do something about the issues we’re trying to help the community with,” she said. “We know now that we’re not alone, that there are entities and institutions that we can tap into, express our thoughts and take our message to.”

This was part of Margarita Luna’s goal—to help rural community leaders, like those in the Eastern Coachella Valley, figure out how they can be heard. Her approach as a philanthropist in the Eastern Coachella Valley is guided by her own experience with homelessness while watching her mother battle cancer at a young age.

She is now partnering with local leaders to bring together schools, local government, business leaders, neighborhood groups and individuals to create a vision for the Valley and a blueprint for how to get there. Luna knows that women policy leaders are an important ingredient for success.

“Ultimately, I want the women who go through WPI–County to have the power to self-determine their future, to be the change agents in their communities, to vocalize what needs to happen and to also feel like it can happen,” Luna said. “I think that’s powerful.”

When women control their fertility, they think about their lives differently. They make long-range plans for school, career and family. And they stay out of poverty. It’s no surprise that as soon as birth control became widespread in the 1960s, reproductive freedom translated into economic freedom. Today, Griselda Reyes Basurto is helping to create a radical health initiative—teaching Mixteco and other immigrants from indigenous backgrounds in Ventura County about their bodies and reproductive rights—called Cuidando mi Cuerpo, meaning “caring for my body.”

Griselda Reyes Basurto
Sexuality is a taboo subject. There are also language barriers. People in the community speak Spanish, but it’s often their second language—the primary languages spoken are indigenous, among them Mixtec and Zapotec. Photo: Celso Guevara

When she was a young girl in Mexico, Griselda Reyes Basurto went with her mother to visit relatives in the state of Guerrero. She found a different world there.

Back home in Oaxaca, they mostly spoke Spanish. In Guerrero, her relatives communicated in Mixtec, an indigenous language spoken mostly in Mexico and California. But most striking to Basurto were the women’s roles.

“Women are supposed to take care of their children. They’re supposed to take care of the house,” Basurto said. “They’re not supposed to look men in the eyes.”

The men told women what to do and they had to obey. “I saw that a man could go out and drink with his friends and when he came home, he could force the woman into sex and nobody could do anything about it. He was your husband and you had to do what he commanded.”

Basurto saw how hard her mother worked selling tortillas to provide basic necessities for her eight children. She also saw the abuse her mother suffered at the hands of her first husband.

Around age eight, she started to  have different ideas about marriage, motherhood and the quality of life she desired. She made a vow. When she grew up, she would have no more than three children and only with a man who treated her like an equal.

Now 28 years old, she lives in Ventura County in Southern California and is married. But as she swore, only has two children and with a man who respects her.

She’s devoting her life to improving women’s lives by helping to create what could be thought of as a radical health initiative—teaching Mixteco and other immigrants from indigenous backgrounds in Ventura County about their bodies and reproductive rights.

Conceived by the nonprofit Mixteco/Indígena Community Organizing Project, and funded by a grant from the Women’s Foundation of California, the new program is called “Cuidando Mi Cuerpo,” which in Spanish means “caring for my body.”

Its subject matter is simple: the anatomy of men’s and women’s bodies, how babies are made and an introduction to family planning. The program helps women claim their bodies, reproductive health and futures as their own.

The Power of Birth Control

In the United States, the birth control revolution of the 1960s allowed women to take control of their reproductive destinies. They could hold off on childbearing and make more deliberate decisions about their lives. High school and college graduation rates soared. They entered and stayed in the workforce. Reproductive freedom translated into economic freedom.

Basurto said it’s different in Ventura County’s indigenous communities, of which about 20,000 people are Mixteco, Zapotec and other indigenous origins. In general, sexuality and reproduction are not talked about in this rural community of low-income, undocumented farm workers. The reluctance is partly due to culture: Sexuality is a taboo subject. There are also language barriers. People in the community speak Spanish, but it’s often their second language—the primary languages spoken are indigenous.

In addition, many of the first generation immigrants had no exposure to standard sex education. There are stories of women who did not know they had received IUDs. In other cases, pregnancies may take young women by surprise.

“Women say, ‘I slept with this person and the next thing I know, I’m pregnant,’” said Vanessa Terán, program manager for the Mixteco/Indígina Community Organizing Project.

For real change to happen, both men and women must be part of a cultural shift.

So Cuidando Mi Cuerpo began holding community workshops  where they offer information about birth control and health insurance in Spanish, Mixtec or Zapotec. Trainers also recommend hospitals, clinics and other resources so community members can access family planning, abortions or seek medical help if they suspect sexually transmitted diseases. The program also teaches parents how to talk to their children about protecting their private parts and saying no to unwanted advances.

Basurto and Terán said for real change to happen, both men and women must be part of a cultural shift. Cuidando Mi Cuerpo’s educators are prodding the community in that direction by consulting with community elders to figure out how they can explain that both individuals are equal and have rights in a relationship.

“We knew it would be a hard conversation,” said Terán. “But the hard conversations are the ones that create movement, just like anything else in terms of civil rights.”

No Different in the United States

When Basurto immigrated to the U.S. at age 15, she imagined the country as a beautiful place where justice ruled and there was no discrimination, especially toward women.

But once she got to Ventura, she saw the fear that Mixtecos in the U.S. live with, knowing they can be deported at any time. And working in the strawberry fields, she saw discrimination persisted even in California. Women farmworkers were consistently given fewer hours and paid less than men.

Basurto only has a ninth-grade education but through volunteering at Mixteco/Indígena Community Organizing Project (MICOP), she realized the power of information. Now she’s helping to bring feminism to an isolated community. She’s empowering women to understand that it’s a human right to decide whether and when to have children. She wants people to know through reproductive freedom, individuals, as well as the larger community, can assume control of their destiny.

Cuidando mi Cuerpo launched on March 26 with workshops for men and women.
Cuidando mi Cuerpo (Caring for My Body) launched on Saturday, March 26 with workshops for men and women.

The very nature of their work keeps domestic workers hidden from view. It might have stayed that way but for the commitment of organizers like Katie Joaquin. In 2013 domestic workers used public policy and their powerful voices to win a workplace right they had been denied for decades: overtime pay. In 2016, they are advocating again to make that hard-fought right permanent.

“Every woman who marched was transformed—I was transformed...There are certain moments in life when you’re facing something that you’re scared to do, and you decide to do it anyway—and it changes you forever.”
“Every woman who marched was transformed—I was transformed. There are certain moments in life when you’re facing something that you’re scared to do and you decide to do it anyway—and it changes you forever,” said Katie Joaquin.

Fifty women from all over California stood smiling around Governor Jerry Brown. He had just signed a new landmark law: the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.

Almost a decade in the making, California became the third state where workers employed in other people’s homes are finally entitled to protections long taken for granted in other occupations. Only New York and Hawaii have similar laws.

Katie Joaquin, campaign director for the California Domestic Workers Coalition, was there that day, September 26, 2013. Two years prior, she had been a fellow with the Women’s Policy Institute—a program that teaches grassroots women leaders to use public policy to advocate for social change. As a fellow, Joaquin helped craft a precursor bill to the one signed by Brown. She was also instrumental in the law’s passage.

Brown planned to leave the room as soon as he signed the bill. But then Joaquin saw Emiliana, a tiny Filipina woman in her 80s, approach Brown. For years, Emiliana worked 14-hour shifts earning only $50 a day.

“This means so much to me,” she told Brown with tears in her eyes. Joaquin said the governor’s face softened. She said, “For me, that was a moment.”

A Study that Catapulted a Movement

When Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, it intentionally excluded domestic workers because they were primarily African-American women who were not considered equal to other workers. In addition, many policy makers did not consider work in the home—historically done by women—as real work. California followed federal laws in excluding domestic workers in basic employment protections. In recent years, many domestic workers were scared of deportation and did not know about recourses available through the law. So they remained silent about their workplace conditions.

They might have remained in the shadows if Mujeres Activas y Unidas (MUA), a nonprofit that promotes the rights of Latina immigrant women and a grant partner of the Women’s Foundation of California, hadn’t commissioned a study in 2004. MUA knew anecdotally that many domestic workers were underpaid, overworked, and in some cases, physically, sexually or emotionally abused. But it had no quantitative data to effectively advocate for workplace protections.

MUA discovered that around 11 percent of the 246 women surveyed in the San Francisco area earned less than California’s minimum wage. The majority did not receive breaks for rest or meals. One in five women were insulted or threatened by employers, and 9 percent were sexually harassed.

Joaquin was an organizer at the Filipino Advocates for Justice (FAJ) at the time of the study, which kept getting unsettling phone calls from women asking questions such as, “I’m getting paid $5 a day. Is that okay?”

Armed with data, these organizations joined forces with other nonprofits to visit the state capitol. Joaquin said legislative staffers often appeared perplexed about the issue.

“Domestic work?” they asked. “Do you mean domestic violence?”

Despite the policy makers’ ignorance, the coalition pushed for legislation that called for overtime pay, meal and rest breaks and a guaranteed eight hours of sleep for workers who lived in their employers’ homes in 2006. The bill made it all the way to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk. He vetoed it.

The loss was heartbreaking.

The Movement Grows Stronger

Two years later, a housekeeper named Vilma Serralta sued her employers claiming they paid her only $1,000 to $1,300 per month, but forced her to work 14 hours a day, six days a week cleaning, cooking and taking care of the couple’s daughter. Her case mobilized domestic workers across California. With the 69-year old housekeeper leading the way, dozens of workers demonstrated in front of the 6-bedroom, multi-million mansion of Serralta’s former employers.

That was another moment for Joaquin.

“Every woman who marched was transformed. I was transformed.” Joaquin said. “There are certain moments in life when you’re facing something that you’re scared to do and you decide to do it anyway—and it changes you forever.”

The case brought needed attention to the plight of domestic workers. “Cases like Vilna’s started to shift the consciousness,” Joaquin said. “Workers could now say, ‘I’m not alone.’”

Joaquin held meetings at places like McDonald’s and grocery stores to organize Filipina workers. In 2011, they tried again for a law in Sacramento. They were policy insiders by then. In 2011 and 2012, five leaders in the domestic worker movement became fellows at the Women’s Policy Institute (WPI). They studied how policy and politics work: drafting a successful bill; winning over wary legislators; and building on their momentum to increase community support.

Joaquin and her domestic workers team named themselves the “macheteres,” meaning machetes in Spanish. They were determined to slash through prejudices and bureaucracies to win rights for women who historically did not have a voice and as a result, did not have equal rights.

Joaquin played a critical role in helping to pass what would eventually become the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights, said WPI teammate Claudia Reyes.

“She was always working, always thinking and always strategizing,” said Reyes. Before key votes in the Senate and Assembly, Joaquin urged the group to lobby legislators right up until the last minute, grabbing elected officials during breaks for one last chat.

In 2012, the bill made it to Governor Brown’s desk before he vetoed it. But the “macheteres” persevered. Even after the WPI fellowship ended, they organized and worked connections in the capitol.

It all paid off. The governor signed the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in 2013. One hundred thousand domestic workers, the vast majority of them women, now had rights to overtime pay.

More Work to Do

It was a huge victory but Joaquin said their work is not done. First, the original law will sunset on January 1, 2017 if it’s not renewed. There’s now a third WPI team working on making overtime pay permanent in California. Second, domestic workers must be educated about their rights. Many workers are still afraid. They fear retribution by employers if they ask for the overtime pay. Third, Joaquin and coalition members are focused on growing the movement. Knowing there’s power in numbers, their goal is to organize 10 percent of all domestic workers by 2017.

Right now, a third WPI team is working on making overtime pay permanent in California. In addition to Katie Joaquin, four more women are working to pass SB 1015 (Leyva).
Right now, a third Women’s Policy Institute team is working to make overtime pay permanent in California. Katie Joaquin is working with four domestic rights advocates to help pass SB 1015 (Leyva).

As a kid, Joaquin said she always wanted to know why. Why do people dig through the trash? Why was her immigrant father treated with disrespect? Why did her aunties and grandmother, who were also domestic workers, work so hard for such little pay?

So why does she organize? She says organizing is the best way to end injustice. You bring people together, show them they’re not alone and essentially give them a symbolic “machete” so they can secure justice and dignity for themselves and their communities.

California is the seventh largest economy in the world, yet it accounts for 20 percent of the nation’s homeless population—nearly 115,000 people. Women and children are the fastest growing homeless population today. Kim Carter, executive director of Time for Change Foundation, overcame homelessness, prison and addiction to start a visionary organization that supports women as they rebuild and reclaim their lives.

Kim Carter, Time for Change Foundation
“Having a stable home lifts a huge burden. With a roof over their heads, the women can begin to dream and take steps towards self-sufficiency—they can begin to change,” said Kim Carter.

This is a story about one of the most basic human needs—having a roof over our heads.

“Imagine you have three children and you decide to finally stop being the punching bag for your abusive partner,” Kim Carter begins.

“Ashamed and scared, you ask a friend if you can stay the night. She agrees but says she’s scared of your partner, too. So you have to leave first thing in the morning. You call a shelter, which says to get in line by 4 PM. You get a cot for the night and watch your children sleep while keeping one eye open because you are in a big room filled with strangers. A strong dose of self-pity and self-loathing takes over. You worry about your future and how you are going to take care of your kids. The shelter makes you leave by 8 AM and return at 4 PM to get back in line. How can you survive like this, get back on your feet and take care of your children again?”

Carter hears stories like this all the time: of homeless, often formerly incarcerated women who have fallen through the cracks of our society. They have nowhere to go and have lost hope.

A lucky few hear about Time for Change Foundation, the nonprofit she founded 14 years ago based on the belief that homeless women deserve respect, dignity and an opportunity to rebuild their lives in nurturing and supportive homes.

“Having a stable home lifts a huge burden,” Carter said. “With a roof over their heads, the women can begin to dream and take steps towards self-sufficiency—they can begin to change.” To date, her organization has helped 850 women in San Bernardino County start afresh.

Carter’s idea for Time for Change developed from her own experience. She spent more than a decade addicted to cocaine and alcohol, and cycled in and out of prison. Then a judge offered her a chance to attend a six-month, post-release rehabilitation program. She was 30 and desperate to turn her life around.

In rehab, she attended 12-step meetings and received therapy for childhood traumas. Later, she went to school, got a job and saved money. By any measure, her life was on track. Then the fury started to rise.

“I started to have this anger,” Carter said, and a passion that wouldn’t go away.

She began to question the system that had put her away. The War on Drugs, the great disparities in public school funding, mass incarceration—it was as if a veil was lifted. She saw clearly for the first time that she had been victim to a long history of racism, violence, ignorance and policies that punished rather than rehabilitated and healed.

Instead of consuming her, the anger became her fuel. She quit her accounting job and invested all of her savings into starting Time for Change. Armed with only her vision, experience and passion, she approached the Women’s Foundation of California in 2005 and won her very first grant from our Race, Gender and Human Rights giving circle. She attended our Women’s Policy Institute that same year, which helped channel her energy into positive change in her community.

“That’s where I got my voice and learned how not to sit and watch the world go by,” Carter said.

Not Every Roof Overhead Is a Home

Studies have shown—and Carter knows from personal experience—that short-term places of refuge are least effective in breaking the cycle of homelessness.

Her approach is radically different from these traditional shelters, which, Carter said, “recycle the homeless” by only offering short-term stays. She learned women did better in settings that dealt with unaddressed mental health issues, trauma and abuse that many experience.

As a result, a woman who lands a spot at a Time for Change is promised a place to live for as long as she needs to become self-sufficient, which creates a deep sense of security.

There are on-site therapists, drug counselors and classes in nutrition, financial management, vocational training and self-esteem. If a woman lands a job interview, Time for Change will coach her and provide transportation support. There are parenting classes for mothers. And legal aid is offered to women who are separated and want to reunite with their children. To date, Time for Change has helped over 100 women reunite with their children.

Instead of dormitories, Carter creates homes because she knows stability and belonging are key ingredients to permanently conquering homelessness. All of Time of Change residences are located in reputable, safe neighborhoods with excellent schools; places where kids can play on the streets and where nearby grocery stores sell healthy foods.

“We’re helping women defy the odds. Our one and only goal is to help women become self-sufficient. Period! A stable home is the very first step, without which nothing else is possible,” Carter said.

A Bigger and Bolder Vision

The 53-year old Carter is a rapid-fire talker with a bold vision. In scaling up her idea, she’s become a nonprofit low-income housing developer to increase the total number affordable, decent housing options for women. She also plans to expand Time for Change’s program models to surrounding counties and is training women and men in policy advocacy so that they can advocate for policies—at local, state and national levels—that benefit and uplift homeless and formerly incarcerated women.

The results of her work are tangible with many victories, big and small. A woman came to her the other day in proud disbelief: She just learned all three of her children had perfect attendance at their school.

She told Carter, “It’s not just their award, it’s mine, too.” Carter responded, “Exactly.”

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