Going Against the Grain: Survivor Centered Practices Learning Circle

Against the GrainIn 2017, the Blue Shield of California Foundation assembled a peer learning circle consisting of representatives from seven innovative domestic violence organizations with survivor-centered projects. W.O.M.A.N., Inc. was proud to be asked to serve as a member of this peer learning circle, it was an opportunity I fully embraced. Throughout our months together, the circle’s members embraced curiosity, active listening, and transparency as we discussed elements of a survivor-centered approach to ending domestic violence. One can view survivor-centered services as existing on a spectrum, with one end being truly survivor-centered, and the other end of the spectrum centering an imbalanced power dynamic between advocate and survivor. The peer learning circle sought to break away from these oppressive power dynamics, and with the habits that bolster them.

What does this look like? To be survivor-centered, we need to understand that survivors have a variety of options, stories, strengths and challenges. When we truly center survivors, we are mindful of how our power as gatekeepers and advocates shows up in our relationships with survivors. There is not one specific practice to inform this work, however, members of the peer learning circle created helpful evaluative questions and tools to implement this approach.


Beyond our circle’s concrete outcomes, the individuals in the group forged personal connections along the way. Perhaps due to the high level of trust, we discussed power dynamics common in the work, at our organizations and with program participants. As a part of this discussion, we surfaced the dire need for self-care and combating vicarious trauma commonly experienced by those providing anti-domestic violence work. Not dealing with these issues makes survivor-centered programming nearly impossible to implement.

For me, there were some key findings unearthed as a part of this work and other efforts that spoke to my experience in the field. They aren’t necessarily new findings, but can be pivotal and serve as a good reminder for us doing the work, and to those of us who oversee it.

  1. Overworked, stressed, isolated staff often turn to well forged patterns and systems. These systems can include overly-harsh screenings, denial of services and an inflexible stance, grounded in overarching policies and practices. These inflexible practices are commonly rooted in capitalism. Furthermore, these worn out patterns commonly marginalize and other survivors of color, survivors who identify as LGBTQ, who don’t speak English and/or are immigrants without documentation, for example.
  2.  Spaciousness is required when implementing structures liberated of the systems of oppression listed above. To create that spaciousness, support from organizational leadership is required. Special efforts must be paid to help advocates feel empowered, creative and secure. Encouragement must be given so advocates trust they will not be reprimanded for veering away from replication of troublesome patterns noted above.
  3. Survivor-Centered programing requires a deep level of insight on behalf of the advocates who provide and support it; organizational leadership needs to support this insight by doing their part in helping create environments which are brave. Concurrent conversations about power and privilege are helpful when implementing survivor-centered programming, as are discussions on implicit bias, liberated gatekeeping, systems of oppression and anti-oppression. Efforts must be made to ground these conversations in how they apply not only to domestic violence and unhealthy relationships, but why and how they can play out in an advocate’s experience in supporting survivors. These conversations, this work must be seen as staff development and resources must be allotted to ensure that these conversations happen.
  4. Resources to support advocate self care are also pivotal. A symptom of vicarious trauma is inflexibility and adherence to policies, whether they are helpful in a situation or not. Those dealing with vicarious trauma often have little sympathy or empathy for others who are traumatized. These symptoms and other can lead to at best, a lackluster response to survivors, and at worse, further survivor traumatization. Organizational leadership with the authority to do so should work on creating supportive policies such as ample mental health days, support for work life balance, staff appreciation and ongoing education that supports identification and treatment of vicarious trauma, and other creative and adaptive options to support staff mental health on an organizational level. It is not a question of IF advocates will deal with vicarious trauma, it’s a question of WHEN they will deal with it, and organizational leadership must take a proactive stance on the matter.
  5. Finally, organizational leadership must encourage emerging leaders. This may involve handing over decision making authority in certain circumstances, or asking key advocates for their input before you make a choice that will impact work on the ground. Consider how you hold the power you have, when you yield the floor, when you don’t yield the floor and how you can help others develop in doing so. Make special note of women of color on your team, and inquire how they interrupt the work, what their needs are, and if they feel at home in the organization. We know that Black women are historically marginalized in our field, both in leadership positions and as program participants. Pay special attention to ensure that at least some of the leaders you seek to develop are women of color. Latina women are among the lowest paid in the state; check your pay scales to ensure that they are making a wage that mirrors their white counterparts at your organization.

To read more about the peer learning circle and survivor-centered work in the domestic violence field, please read the report.

Jill Zawisza,  W.O.M.A.N., Inc. Executive Director



Thank you for your support, Kali!

1) How did you first learn about W.O.M.A.N., Inc.? 
I attend City College of San Francisco where I am enrolled in classes to complete the

Social Justice & Diversity Certificate and earn my transfer degree. Through enrollment at City, I became aware of the Project SURVIVE community. Project SURVIVE is a peer

education program that promotes healthy relationships and provides resources for leaving abusive relationships. I completed WOMN 55: Ending Sexual Violence this Spring, which teaches the Project SURVIVE curriculum and connects students to volunteer opportunities. My volunteer opportunity connected me with W.O.M.A.N Inc.

2) Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Kali Quote.png

I grew up in the Mission District in San Francisco. I have most recently worked as a preschool teacher, preschool chef, and food program coordinator for a nonprofit child development organization. I live in the Sunset with my daughter, partner, and our two dogs. I enjoy cooking with my family, and movie nights out with my daughter.

3) Please tell us about your fundraising efforts.
When my partner, Philippe, and I got married in April and asked our friends and family to donate to W.O.M.A.N. Inc.’s April Purple Purse flash fundraiser, which we linked to our wedding announcement. We are sending out another announcement with a “donate” link to W.O.M.A.N. Inc.’s year round fundraising site on networkforgood.org with the hope that all of our friends and family will become one-time or sustaining supporters. It was wonderful to attend the 40th Birthday Celebration and meet more of the volunteers, staff, and board members who make up this community.


4) What propelled you to volunteer with us & what motivates you to continue supporting our work?
I felt responsibility to enroll in WOMN 55 and get a greater understanding of anti-domestic violence work as a way to give back to the community that supported me when I needed compassion and connection to services. I will continue to volunteer with W.O.M.A.N. Inc. by completing training for the Support Line this Spring.

Summer 2018 40-Hour Hybrid Domestic Violence Training

Training flyer 2018

What is does hybrid domestic violence training entail?

Our Domestic Violence Hybrid training is focused around preparing individuals to provide direct service support to survivors of domestic violence through the use of peer counseling, resources and referrals. Our training combines the use of online modules, online meetings, and intentional in- person activities. Together, these will be used as learning tools and community building strategies. This approach to training will speak to the tenants of different adult learning styles. Participants must have access to a computer, internet access, feel comfortable with online learning modules and take a flexible approach to learning! We also ask that participants come with the strength of vulnerability during our online meetings and in person sessions. For those without ongoing computer/internet access, we can do our best to make accommodations. If this applies to you, please contact Alicia at alicia@womaninc.org

Application Process: 

Deadline to apply is Friday, June 15th. 

Please go to http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/WIvolunteer_application to complete a volunteer application. Be sure to select “volunteer” under question 8 in order to be prompted to the appropriate application. The application provides us with important information about your readiness for anti-violence training and how we can best support you through this learning process. Please fill it out thoughtfully and completely. After you have completed the application, please email our Education Development Coordinator, Alicia, at alicia@womaninc.org to confirm we have received your application and for it to be reviewed.

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W.O.M.A.N., Inc. Evening Peer Counseling Sessions | W.O.M.A.N., Inc. consejería de pares por las tardes


Starting  June 1st, W.O.M.A.N., Inc. will offer Evening Peer Counseling Sessions

Are you looking to connect with a domestic violence (DV) counselor? Would you like some support from people who won’t judge you or your choices? Could you use some personal care items or some assistance in connecting with community resources? Maybe you’re not looking for any of those things, but could use a laid-back? space to come drink a cup of tea and talk to someone about your DV situation?

W.O.M.A.N., Inc. is the place for you. We will advocate for you. We are here for you–and now you can make an evening appointment with one of our counselor advocates.


As of June 1st, we will be offering evening peer counseling sessions. Sessions are typically one hour long, and take place between the hours of 4p-7:30p, Monday through Thursday. PLEASE NOTE: AN APPOINTMENT FOR EVENING COUNSELING SESSIONS IS REQUIRED.


Want to schedule an appointment? Please follow the instructions below:

Email is preferred.

Please send an email to appointments@womaninc.org with the following information:

-your first name and last initial

-three preferred days and times to meet with a counselor, within the days and hours listed above

-let us know what kind of support and/or resources you are looking for

-where you would like the appointment to take place (see WHERE section of this post)

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Thank You for Celebrating our 40th Birthday with us!


We had an amazing time last Thursday at W.O.M.A.N., Inc.’s 40th Birthday Celebration. The space was vibrantly filled with current and former W.O.M.A.N., Inc. staff, board, volunteers, program participants and community allies. Thanks to our fabulous and generous supporters, we raised over $9,000 for our programs serving domestic violence survivors, their friends and family. Folks enjoyed mingling, food, speakers, live music and got to take home some sweet raffle/auction items. We are so grateful for your support, without which, we could not do what we do!


A final HUGE thank you to:

W.O.M.A.N., Inc. Board members
Kathy Jeffery
Elida Margarita Bautista
Jadma Noronha
Alice Yom

Our event volunteers:
Christina Bulman
Laura Chavero for speaking and representing Las Pioneras
Kathleen Collins
Erin Durkee
Zalise Edwards
Francisco Isami
Alice Kassinger
Bridgette Myers
Raia Matthew
Kali Polk Matthews
Caresse Santin
Meshtli Villalta

W.O.M.A.N, Inc. Staff
Jill Zawisza
Mary Martinez
Alicia Campos-Padillapaz
Stephanie Colorado
Adilia Preciado
Shaena Spoor

Special Event Contributions:
Alex Orozco for photographing the event
Alicia Campos-Padillapaz & Miriam Padillapaz for your delectable baking skills
Maria Jose for your lovely performance

Sponsor Level Donors:
Kathleen Kennedy
Meg Brittain (of Studio Hix)
Rutherford Wine Company
Swirl McGarrybowen


Event Donors:

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Happy Birthday W.O.M.A.N., Inc.! | Feliz Cumpleaños W.O.M.A.N., Inc!


The W.O.M.A.N., Inc. Board of Directors is planning a fundraising event in celebration of our 40th birthday! Over the past four decades, W.O.M.A.N., Inc. has worked tirelessly supporting tens of thousands of people impacted by domestic violence. It goes without saying that the community plays an important role in our ability to show up, day in and day out, for survivors and their supporters. We hope you join us in toasting the last 40 years & many more to come!

Location: 505 Natoma Street, San Francisco, CA 94103 
Time: 5:30pm – 9:00pm





En las últimas cuatro décadas, W.O.M.A.N., Inc. ha trabajado incansablemente apoyando a decenas de miles de personas afectadas por la violencia doméstica. No hace falta decir que la comunidad juega un papel importante en nuestra capacidad para estar, día tras día, para los sobrevivientes y sus apoyantes. ¡Esperemos que nos acompañen a celebrar nuestros 40 años y muchos más por venir!

Cuando: Jueves, 3 de Mayo, 2018 | 5:30pm – 9:00pm

Donde: 505 Natoma Street, San Francisco, CA 94103




Sponsor our 40th Birthday Party!

The W.O.M.A.N., Inc. Board of Directors is planning our 40th birthday celebration! Over the past four decades, W.O.M.A.N., Inc. has worked tirelessly supporting tens of thousands of people impacted by domestic violence. The community plays an important role in our ability to show up, day in and day out, for survivors and we hope to count on your support for this milestone event! All event proceeds will benefit W.O.M.A.N., Inc. Donations are tax deductible and can be made in name of a loved one, a business or community group. There are numerous ways you can support this event.

Become an event sponsor:

  • Platinum Sponsor: donate $2,000 (or $2,000 worth of wine, food, or silent auction items)
    • As a platinum sponsor, you will receive a shout out at the event, two complimentary tickets, a full page ad in our event program, and a spotlight on our social media platforms–including our blog, facebook page, instagram and twitter—to be shared with our 5,000 plus followers.
  • Gold Sponsor: donate $1,000 (or $1,000 worth of wine, food, or silent auction items)
    • As a gold sponsor, you will receive a shout out at the event, two complimentary tickets, a half page ad in our event program, and a spotlight on our social media platforms–including our blog, facebook page, instagram and twitter–including our blog, facebook page, instagram and twitter—to be shared with our 5,000 plus followers.
  • Silver Sponsor: donate $500 (or $500 worth of wine, food, silent auction items)
    • As a silver sponsor, you will receive a shout out at the event, two complimentary tickets, a quarter page ad in our event program, and a spotlight on our social media platforms–including our blog, facebook page, instagram and twitter–including our blog, facebook page, instagram and twitter—to be shared with our 5,000 plus followers.

Donate to our silent auction:

Donate a gift package for our silent auction. The suggested donation value range is $100-$450. Our guests will bid on these donations throughout the event. As a donor of silent auction items, you will be listed in our event program as well as our social media platforms–including our blog, Facebook page, Instagram and Twitter—to be shared with our 5,000 plus followers.

Donate to our raffle:

Donate a gift package of goods or services for our raffle. The suggested donation value range is $25-$100. As a donor of raffle items, you will be listed in our event program as well as our social media platforms.

Interested? Please shoot us an e-mail at WINC40@womaninc.org!

You can stay updated on the event at www.womaninc.org/WINC40