Compassion Through Action

CITRUS HEIGHTS, CA (MPG)  |  By Jacqueline Fox
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The staff members of a Community for Peace.

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Elaine Whitefeather, Executive Director, A Community For Peace

A Community For Peace Celebrates 10 Years Providing Domestic Violence Support

CITRUS HEIGHTS, CA (MPG) - What began a decade ago in Citrus Heights as a crisis hotline for victims of domestic violence has evolved into an award-winning model for success, and the proof is in the numbers.

A Community For Peace (ACFP), through its Foundation For Peaceful Communities, offers a full continuum of trauma-informed social justice support and advocacy for victims of domestic violence, family violence, and sexual assault for women, children and men alike.  Services, provided at no charge, include emergency shelter, short- and long-term housing, children’s therapy, men’s groups, counseling, legal and youth services.

Unlike traditional programs across the state, ACFP doesn’t wait for victims to come to them.  Instead, working in partnership with the Citrus Heights Police Department and the Department of Child Protective Services, ACFP’s

Domestic Violence Response Team (DVRT) is state and county certified to work with police “on scene” by offering direct and immediate support to the victims.

This model, says ACFP Executive Director, Elaine Whitefeather, is serving to break down traditional barriers between victims and law enforcement, barriers that historically keep victims in a cycle of violence, largely due to fear of reprisal by their perpetrators.                                                                  

“Talking to police is one of the biggest reasons for repeat offences of domestic violence,” says Whitefeather, a survivor of domestic violence herself.  “By bringing in an advocate, the police officer can handle the crime scene, get details and do their job, while our trained, first responders work directly with the victim or victims, the child etc. and offer services right in the moment that it is happening.”

Originally called the “Citrus Heights Women’s Center,” the initial mission was to offer domestic violence information, referrals and peer support to victims through a 24-hour crisis hotline.  But by 2008 the emergency shelter, the Soroptimist International House, was up-and-running, offering women and their children a place of refuge.

That same year, then Citrus Heights Police Chief, Christopher Boyd, sat on the board of directors for what was now being called A Community For Peace.  According to Whitefeather, Boyd hired her as a consultant to work alongside the police department to expand its services and structure.  Through a grant from the city, ACFP was able to obtain state and county certifications to provide training for first responders, creating a one-of-a kind model for change.

In 2012, Boyd was awarded the James Q. Wilson Award for Excellence in Community Policing for ACFP’s DVRT First Responders partnerships.  ACFP also has been selected as the Best Social Service agency of Citrus Heights for three years consecutively.

“This program is currently the only one of its kind in the state,” Whitefeather said. 

The statistics support the impact:  In Citrus Heights, the number of domestic violence-related calls to the police department between 2013 and 2017 fell 23 percent.  Other related calls are down and, combined, mark the equivalent of 5.5 fewer domestic violence calls in Citrus Heights for service each week. 

“Between the city of Citrus Heights and the Citrus Heights Police Department, they truly have invested in this issue of domestic violence,” said Whitefeather.  “They have been with us every step of the way and that’s how we have reduced the calls.”

Meanwhile, the number of victims who are requesting restraining orders against their abusers is rising, indicating that growing numbers of victims are willing to come forward.  Restraining orders, explains Whitefeather, are key to preventing an escalation of repeat offenses, often the precursors for escalated violence leading to homicide.

“That’s another barrier being broken,” says Whitefeather, adding that the number of women who also make follow up calls to her agency for help after the DVRT team has met them, also are on the rise.

“I’ve been in the field for almost 40 years and this is the first time where we’ve ever been able to see this,” Whitefeather said.  “Before this program, only eight percent of the time would victims call back for our services.  Today, the number is closer to 60 percent.”

Housing also is one of the biggest barriers for victims of domestic violence, women and men alike.  To that end, ACFP helps fill the gap by providing the emergency crisis shelter, as well as transitional housing and master leased apartments for long-term self-reliance, all through the help of community partnerships, grants and private funding. 

As ACFP celebrates its 10th Anniversary, it does so with plans to open a second emergency crisis center in Sacramento’s Oak Park District this year.  The new center will not only provide identical services to the Citrus Heights location, but also will house an onsite thrift store, a social enterprise pipeline for additional funding to support programs and services, as well as employment opportunities for participants.

“We are looking to now repeat our Citrus Heights model through a partnership with the Sacramento Police Department,” said Whitefeather.  “We conducted a pretty detailed review of the data for the Citrus Heights location, which revealed that large numbers of women were utilizing the center and services but didn’t live in the area.  They were coming from the South Sacramento area.”

The new 6,000-square foot location is being funded, in part, by Soroptimist International, grants and other sources, Whitefeather said.

“Pretty amazing to think of it,” said Whitefeather.  “We started out with $30,000.  Today we have an operating budget of $1 million. 

Services for marginalize individuals, including the LGBTQ community, are also provided through the ACFP Tapestry For P.E.A.C.E. (Personal Excellence Achieved Through Community Empowerment) program, which offers support for victims of sexual abuse and trafficking, as well as domestic violence. 

Whitefeather has plans to open a Tapestry for P.E.A.C.E. coffee shop somewhere in the downtown area, to be staffed by program participants, creating learning and earning opportunities but also another pipeline for funding.

“We have a lot going on, and a lot of work to do,” said Whitefeather.  “More than 80 percent of the staff we have now are survivors, including myself.  So we understand and we give as much as we can because we have all been there.”