New Grantee: Serenity House

Authored by Spark Member: Lily Womble

Amidst staggering rates of sex trafficking, prostitution, poverty, and illegal drug use in Oakland, California, there stands a sanctuary of respite and recovery for struggling women.

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At the age of seven, Johnnia Davis was raped and held that secret for over 26 years. Serenity House was born out of Johnnia’s desire, years later, to create a community where women of all walks of life, struggling with addiction, trauma, depression, or other mental illnesses, could heal spiritually and naturally.

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Serenity House does more than provide shelter, food, and health services. It’s a comprehensive program for women who want to recover from their emotional trauma and addictions, build self-worth and confidence, and find living wage jobs to support themselves, their families, and their communities. Serenity House facilitates this healing by providing individual and group counseling, as well as classes on relapse prevention, anger management, self-esteem, life skills, art, karate, movement, health, communication skills, and relationship skills. Currently, 89% of their clients suffer from some form of mental health issues (i.e. PTSD, depression and/ or bi-polar disorder), and because of their programming, Johnnia has seen many women maintain their mental health stability after undergoing the comprehensive counseling program. In addition, they provide opportunities for clients to have fun and mark their achievements, such as a graduation ceremony to celebrate the women who have successfully completed the program and a prom for all Serenity House.

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Serenity House serves over 125 women per year, 60 of who stay in their clean and sober housing while they attend the program. 78% of the women that complete the program go on to obtain a degree, purchase homes, and/or get their children back.

Currently, one of the biggest struggles faced by this organization is their lack of capacity and funds. Johnnia and the Program Director, Faye, do all the grant writing and programming. The rest of the staff are dedicated volunteers. There are many local women who would benefit from their services, but there is limited housing, food, and availability in their program due to capacity issues.

Spark members: We encourage you to consider volunteering with this amazing organization. Your volunteer support is just what they need to extend their capacity and offer more help to those who need it. To learn how to volunteer, email Amanda (amanda@sparksf.org) with a request.

A Spark grant will be used to provide safe housing, food and specialized counseling for at least five additional women – from those in their neighborhood involved in sex traffic to young women struggling with addiction and homelessness.

We are energized and excited by the work of Serenity House because of Johnnia’s inspiring grassroots leadership, the transformative and healing nature of her approach, and the life changing services they offer to this underserved area. We look forward to seeing the great work this grant will facilitate.

SparkSF Fellow Profile: Kendra Hyett

Kendra Hyett is a Chicago suburbs native who moved to San Francisco in 2006 after earning a BA in English Writing and minor in Gender and Women’s Studies from North Central College. She is a girls’ and women’s empowerment advocate, an avid traveler, reader, writer, plus TV and goldfish cracker addict. After five years of getting paid to be a professional TV addict at a successful internet startup, she followed her passion for giving back by shifting to nonprofit work where she focuses on grant writing, development, and volunteer recruitment. She serves on the Associate Board of About-Face, the Advisory Board of First Book SF, is part of Girls, Inc.’s Volunteer Department team, plus serves as a volunteer grant writer for Operation Rainbow.

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Kendra’s Spark Story:

When attending an event last fall for local Spark grantee, Oasis for Girls, I met one of Spark’s founding board members, Fiona Hsu. She told me all about Spark’s work and invited me to the upcoming holiday party. Already excited about Spark’s work after talking to Fiona, I became a member online, and then fell in love with the amazing Spark network at the packed holiday party! I developed a strong interest in grantmaking for girls and women’s organizations after working with many nonprofits through my career transition, so I was excited to see the fellowship opportunity as a way I could get even more involved in Spark’s work and learn more about this potential career direction. Now about 6 months into the fellowship, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed learning the inner-workings of Spark as a grantmaking nonprofit, a changemaker for grassroots women’s organizations, and as a successful membership-based organization.

Who is your favorite grantee?
Young Feminist Movement in Pakistan – I think these young women are so brave for fighting for their rights to gender equality in a place where it’s risky to even call oneself a feminist.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Exploring the streets of a new (to me) international city or town with someone I love.

What talent (or superpower!) would you like to have?
Instant travel. I would love to be able to say where I want to go, and be there immediately – whether to get to work on time without bothering with public transit, or to be in Paris for breakfast! (And lunch, and dinner, and the whole month…)

What is your most marked characteristic?
Compassion – I’ve always had a strong desire to help others and make a difference for others from supporting a friend to volunteering.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
JK Rowling. To be a writer famous while still alive, and to have written such adored stories would be a dream. And then to have the money and influence to help change the world – perfect combo!

What is the quality you most like in a fellow human being?
Drive to follow a passion and love of dogs.

What is your favorite journey?
Studying abroad in China and Japan my junior year of college. I have always loved to travel, but that was the most foreign place I had visited and the longest time I had spent being constantly out of my comfort zone. It was a wonderful adventure to be in a completely different kind of world every day I stepped outside to go to class, and every time my group and I got to explore new places in interesting ways from climbing up and sliding down the Great Wall to sleeping in a yurt in Inner Mongolia.

Who are your heroes in real life?
All four of my grandparents who were open-minded and loving to people from all walks of life before it was cool. Also Malala, Nicholas Kristof, and others bringing much-needed attention to the plights of girls and women around the world.

Seeing Through Our Project Window

New Grantee: Project Window

By Chrissy Schwen

Far Rockaway, the easternmost part of Long Island’s Rockaway Peninsula, can be a tough place to grow up. That is something Angela Hines knows all too well. Born and raised in the Far Rockaway NYCHA housing projects, Hines dropped out of high school in 1987 and struggled for years to support herself and her family. Vowing to create a better life for her children, Hines got her GED and decided to further her education.

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Dubbed “Hero mom” by the New York Daily News, Hines’ determination is awe-inspiring. In order to attend CUNY law school, she would bus from her apartment in Far Rockaway two hours with two children in tow, and then return from class in time to make dinner for all five of her children. All that hard work paid off; in 2009 Hines achieved her dream by becoming a practicing lawyer at the Queens County Court Legal Aid Society.

After succeeding in building a better life for her own family, Hines set her sights on improving the lives of girls still struggling in her community. She created Project Window to help girls in the Far Rockaway housing projects reach their full potential. “I don’t want to turn my back on the community,” she said. “If I could help just one person, then my work is done.”

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She’s done much more than that. Project Window has supported girls in Far Rockaway in many ways – from mentoring and tutoring programs to providing girls in the Sandy-raged community with free prom dresses and community service opportunities. All of the programs are designed to instill a sense of responsibility, community, and possibility. To achieve this level of comprehensive support, the organization is divided into components:

  • Project Connection is Project Window’s mentoring program. Each child is paired with a mentor for a school year for weekly activities and monthly check-ins that record the child’s progress.
  • Project Steppers promotes physical fitness and camaraderie through athletic and recreation activities, including volleyball and dance, on the weekends and through summer camps. The program aims to reach girls who might not otherwise have the opportunity to participate in organized activities.
  • Team Recovery aims to provide tutoring and other academic support to girls to keep them focused on their schooling.
  • Project Bulls-eye is a series of workshops for girls that address self-esteem, peer pressure, sex education, drug and alcohol abuse, and healthy relationships. The workshops aim to improve the girls’ ability to address these issues in a positive way.
  • Project Give back teaches girls to value their community and themselves by organizing clothing and toy drives, visits to nursing homes, and time at local soup kitchens.

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It is Project Window’s hope that this broad spectrum of assistance will expose its participants to opportunities they might not otherwise have had, and teach them self-awareness, the importance of education, and strong interpersonal skills.

We couldn’t be more thrilled to support Project Window! A Spark grant will cover:

  • The cost of 15 girls to participate in their summer camps
  • Pro bono support including:

o   Prom Dresses: Project Window is sponsoring “Queens of Far Rockaways” event, providing prom dresses and accessories to girls in the Far Rockaways who wouldn’t otherwise have them. If you have a dress to donate please email programs@sparksf.org.

o   Website Expertise: Project Window is looking for help revamping their website, and needs your help. Please contact programs@sparksf.org for more details.

If you would like to support Spark’s fundraising efforts for Project Window, please make a donation on our website. And if you are interested in donating dresses, revamping the website, or providing other pro bono services for Project Window, email programs@sparksf.org. Learn more about Project Window on their website, and follow them on Twitter and Facebook!

Why Smart Girls are Scary, The Confidence Gap, and Abortion Debates Heat Up

Nicholas Kristof weighs in on why terrorists fear smart girls, Europe and Chile spark new abortion law debates, girls take change into their own hands in Guatemala, why “leaning in” isn’t enough, and the realities of American life for low-income mothers. This is your Spark News Digest.

Read, Discuss, Share.

By Spark Fellow: Kendra Hyett

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GLOBAL EDUCATION: What’s So Scary About Smart Girls?

As the devastating abduction of over 200 Nigerian school girls continues to make international headlines, the biggest question is why innocent girls were targeted by extremist terrorists. New York Times journalist and human rights advocate Nicholas Kristof weighs in: they did not target army barracks, police or drone bases because their worst nightmare is actually educated girls – the most powerful, burgeoning force to transform society.

READ THE STORY

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GLOBAL HEALTH: Abortion Law Debates Heat Up

The reproductive rights war wages on around the world. A religious-backed campaign threatens the use of European aid money to back any programs supporting abortion.

READ THE STORY

Meanwhile in South America, reproductive rights are moving forward. In Chile, the ban on abortion – even when a woman’s life is at risk – will soon be reconsidered.

READ THE STORY

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WORKPLACE RIGHTS: Leaning In with Nothing to Lean On

Much like the “quit telling women to smile” campaign, The Shriver Report author Valerie Young is saying, “quit telling women low self-confidence is all that’s holding them back.” With the recent publication of The Confidence Code, following up on the basic principles of Lean In that women are holding themselves back by not going for a promotion or raise as many men do, there’s been a lot of talk about where to draw the line. How much women are holding themselves back vs. how much needs to be changed in the workplace to meet hard-working women part-way?

READ THE STORY

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ECONOMY: The State of Low-Income Mothers in the U.S.

Being a parent is one of the toughest jobs around, but what does that really mean for low-income families? The National Women’s Law Center takes a look via an interactive map at the realities for mothers in the U.S. working in low-wage jobs.

READ THE STORY

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FILM: Storytelling Power!

Recently premiered docu-drama “¡PODER!”  shows how two Guatemalan girls take power into their own hands to find creative ways of change in their own communities. Get an inside look at the creation of this innovative short film and the amazing nonprofit organizations behind it.

READ THE STORY

New Grantee: The Guerreiras Project

The Guerreiras Project: Moving Bodies, Moving Minds

By Spark Fellow Kendra Hyett

Brazil is famous for its colorful and extravagant Carnival, vibrant culture, and renowned soccer, known locally as futebol. But there are also many issues the spotlight of international futebol games, the upcoming 2014 World Cup, and 2016 Olympics are revealing.

Brazilian male futebol players have recently made headlines around racism they face from other countries during their games. While the Brazilian president shared support for the players discriminated against and anti-racism efforts, the idea of Brazil as an advocate for equality was soon struck a blow when a Brazilian player facing discrimination, Paulo Cesar Fonseca, known as Tinga, revealed the discrimination he faced in his own country: “You can see it in people’s eyes. Look, there goes the black guy with the white, blonde girlfriend. In Brazil there is so much prejudice, not just racial, but also social.” “In Brazil we talk about equality, but we hide our prejudice. We pretend that everyone is equal.”

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Those social inequalities ring true around the unequal treatment of women within the country’s most popular sport, inequality for girls in education, women facing violence, and a large gap between rich and poor. According to CNN, as of 2013, in world rankings for the gap between rich and poor, Brazil has the 11th biggest gap, coming in after a group of impoverished African countries. The 2011 female-to-male ratio for primary school enrollment is 0.98 and for secondary school enrollment it is 1.10. The difference is bigger for the 16-17 age group, as 25% of girls are involved in employment versus nearly 42 % for boys. Also, a 2013 report by UN Women found that many Latin American countries have a higher-than-average incidence of domestic violence with the staggering detail that a woman is assaulted every 15 seconds in Brazil’s largest city, São Paulo.

And, as can be imagined, these social inequalities and injustices for women reach into sports. There is a strong social stigma around women in sports with the sexist belief that futebol is not a sport for women to the point that it was actually illegal for women to play futebol in Brazil from 1941 to 1979 – not just professionally, but even for fun. While there are now professional teams, they lack financial interest and support, as well as fan and media attention.

With all of these often hidden prejudices and inequalities in Brazil, it is difficult to address these issues without innovative tools and thinking. Therefore, Spark is thrilled to support our newest grantee, The Guerreiras Project, an international collective of female athletes, artists, academics, and activists in Brazil using futebol as a powerful, effective, and non-threatening tool to promote gender justice. The Guerreiras Project provides approachable spaces for making gender and social issues visible, creating possibilities for more equitable and sustainable ways of being. While their main focus is gender justice, they also use the opportunity of connecting with their communities through futebol and workshops to address other social justice issues such as race, class, sexuality, disability, and ethnicity.

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The Guerreiras Project (inspired by the Portuguese term ‘guerreira’ meaning female warrior), kicked off in 2010 as a multimedia documentary exploring the shifts and inequalities around gender norms in Brazil, and what it means to be a woman playing futebol in a country famous for men’s futebol. Now run by a dynamic team of six women plus eight female futebol players acting as ambassadors, The Guerreiras Project runs workshops, ambassador trainings, provides public presentations, takes part in exhibitions, and research projects. They approach their work on two platforms: working with individual professional female players to train them as ambassadors for the organization and gender justice, and working within their communities to raise awareness, collect stories, and provide tools for change. The Guerreiras Project sees the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic games taking place in Brazil as the prime opportunity to capture the attention of the world as all eyes are on Brazil for these international sporting events. They are looking to expand their organization to support a campaign around gender justice during this crucial time of international attention to Brazil and their sport.

A Spark grant will cover:

  • Financial support to build their organizational capacity  to ensure growth, replication, and sustainability around their 2014 World Cup campaign, and
  • Pro bono support for the campaign including Video Editing, Graphic Design, and Newsletter Support.

Pro bono services are graciously being provided by Velosa, Ink., an exclusive network of professional multimedia journalists and tenacious industry publicists.

If you would like to support Spark’s fundraising efforts for The Guerreiras Project, you can make a donation on Spark’s website. We are also planning a fundraising event soon, so stay tuned! We would also love to hear from you if you are interested in being a part of providing further pro bono services. Email programs@sparksf.org. We are so excited to support this fantastic organization, and thank you for all of your support! Visit The Guerreiras Project’s Website, plus follow them on Twitter and Facebook!

New Grantee: Young Feminists Movement in Pakistan

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The Young Feminists Movement

By Spark Fellow Kendra Hyett

Pakistan is only second to Yemen in a list of the ten worst countries for girls to be born in according to The Global Gender Gap Report in 2013. Women receive 43% less educational opportunities than men, there’s a 21% gender-based income gap, and only a quarter of the national labor force are represented by women. When it comes to violence against women, according to a study by The Ministry of Law, Justice, and Human Rights, just from January 2012 to September 2013, there were 860 honor killings, 481 incidents of domestic violence, 90 cases of acid burning, 344 cases or rape or gang rape, and 268 incidents of sexual assault or harassment.

In the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province in Northern Pakistan, girls and women are living under a tribal and Feudal system that promotes male dominance, presented as Islamic norms and values by religious groups. These traditions create even more extreme gender inequality and chance of gender-based violence as girls and women can be forced into marriage for the sake of peacemaking between tribes, are excluded from political activities, plus face violence and religious extremism when making efforts towards promoting girls and women’s rights. All of this is what sparked an international movement behind young activist Malala Yousafzai after she survived the Taliban’s targeted shooting for her promotion of girls’ rights to education.

In a place where even young school girls face extreme violence for speaking out, and “feminism” is a bold concept, Spark is thrilled to support giving these young women a voice through our newest grantee, The Young Feminists Movement.

The Young Feminists Movement was created in 2011 by young women at various local colleges from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province and adjacent tribal areas focused on raising awareness around gender equality issues plus giving young women a safe space and a voice in an oppressed society. They provide 5-day trainings for girls ages 15-25 around equal rights, reproductive health and abuse prevention, plus they promote activism around girls’ and women’s rights and gender equality. From these trainings and other activities, they form “Girls Power Clubs” which continue the cultivation and promotion of feminism and activism. So far, they have successfully organized a group of 23 young women who speak for equal rights and are equipped with the knowledge and tools to challenge the patriarchy, plus they have influenced many more through their activist activities.

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A Spark grant will cover:

  • 50 scholarships for girls to attend the training program, and
  • Volunteer services in the areas of development plus organizational and financial management.

If you are interested in being a part of providing these volunteer services, we would love to hear from you. Email programs@sparksf.org.

We are so excited to feature this progressive and innovative organization at our upcoming Cocktails For A Cause event!

Please join us at SparkSF’s Cocktails For A Cause event on April 23, 2014 at Mr. Smiths in San Francisco to help raise funds for the young feminists of Pakistan. #MoreMalalas

A Tipping Point

A Tipping Point: Raise the Minimum Wage

By Larkin Callaghan

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This Valentine’s Day I spent a great evening with two dear friends at a restaurant we had all wanted to try. The food was delicious, the service was on point, and come the end of the night, we all felt pretty pleased with our evening. Then came the bill and the standard dividing and signing happened -

“How much are you guys leaving for tip?”

One of my friends queried, as someone usually does at this point. What usually happens is that 20 – 25% is tallied, we sign, and off we go. Because of the frantic pace of this particular holiday’s dining room, I added a few extra bucks to my total and we slipped away.

This particular Valentine’s Day, no doubt one of the influences for my (and my friends’) bumping up in tip was that the day before – to significantly less….fanfare, shall we say, from most of the media – was the National Day of Action, sponsored by Restaurant Opportunities United, meant to raise awareness of the difficulties faced by workers surviving on hourly wages and tips. This fantastic organization is doing essential work and creating a mobilizing force around the issue of raising the minimum wage.

When you look at the figures – a federally declared amount of $7.25 an hour – it is staggering to think how one might survive on wages of that size, much less in a city like ours, frequently deemed one of the most expensive places in…the…world. And for those serving us in our favorite restaurants, the situation is even direr. With those working in jobs in which a significant amount of their income is garnered from tips, the guaranteed minimum wage is a mind-boggling $2.13 an hour. That is not a typo. $2.13! This limit was set twenty years ago. As in, the ‘90s.

Interested in some other facts? 6 out of ten of the lowest paying jobs in the States are in restaurants. And since Spark members are always interested in the gender disparity – 70 percent of tipped restaurant workers are women.

An argument against raising the minimum wage to a livable standard would seem hard to come by, considering that a full-time hourly worker only rakes in $15,080 a year. Luckily we have a governor who supports raising the wages of our hourly and tipped workers, but this still needs momentum to spread. (Fortunately, it seems that the issue is gaining more national traction – Rolling Stone even delved into it in their latest issue, in a comprehensive article detailing the political warfare around this issue, a piece that I highly recommend.)

So what can we do as consumers? Those few extra dollars I left on Valentine’s Day have a nearly insignificant impact once tips are divided among the staff and it’s likely balanced out by someone under-tipping – so while it’s nice to do, and I certainly applaud it, something needs to change on a much bigger scale.

Luckily, folks in the big house (of Reps) agree! A couple weeks ago, the House of Representatives launched a discharge petitions to force a vote on the Fair Minimum Wage Act, which would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2015. That isn’t even as high as the minimum wage would be today if it had kept up with inflation (it would be $10.74 in that case). Of the 30 million folks who would receive a raise across industries, 56 percent are women, and nearly half are workers of color.

Here are some things we can do to help –

Everyone deserves a fair wage. No one should have to rely on someone’s holiday bump in tips to survive.