Category Archives: Housing

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.

Careers, Suits and Possibilities

By FIONA HSU, Spark Board Member

Last night, Spark hosted its 2nd Career Night at Oasis for Girls. Located in the South of Market Area of San Francisco, Oasis’ mission is to provide a safe place where young women are inspired and empowered to become strong, creative leaders in their communities. Oasis Executive Director Jessica Van Tuyl noted of the Spark Career Night partnership, “for many of our girls, this is their only exposure to successful, professional women who share some of their lived experiences so it represents an exciting space to dream and consider all that is possible in their lives.”

The panelists ranged from Monica, a pulmonologist and AIDS researcher, to Tatiana, a civil litigator, to Nancy, an investment fund advisor, to Megan, a nonprofit fundraiser, to Shelley, a skincare specialist and small business owner, and to me, a community development banker.

All of us came prepared to share the story of our life journeys. Some of us were raised by immigrant parents. Some started working at as early as 14. Some of us were often the only woman in a room. The girls nodded as we spoke. Parts of our stories reflect their own. We described studying hard, taking risks, failing, succeeding and realizing our worth.

Several of the girls asked about our salaries. Taking Jessica’s words to heart, we provided detailed and honest accounts of our salary progression, we opened up about our savings and student loan debt and we described our experiences negotiating  for compensation that reflects our work and worth.

I heard a girl in the group gasp and say, “I didn’t know a girl could make that kind of money.”

Next week is part two of Career Night – it’s the Spark Swap for Good for Oasis for Girls.

The girls are learning about work etiquette and dress, so we thought it would be a fun if we hosted a clothing swap. Each of them will be bring a few items to share and Spark members generously provided donations to supplement the girls’ contributions. We will spend the evening trying on new suits and continuing our discussion from the panel.

As professional women, we know what a new suit represents–the opportunity to dream and consider all that is possible.

Human Trafficking—Scope and Solutions?: An Activist Asks Questions

By K. Kerr

K. Kerr is a lawyer, human trafficking activist and Director of Programs for Freedom House, the first transitional shelter dedicated to supporting survivors of human trafficking in the San Francisco area.  K. Kerr has been a Spark member since 2009.

I have spent the last five years in the fight against human trafficking.   I have worked and written on this topic and still I am left with a lot of unanswered questions.  In this, I am not alone.  I can repeat what the U.S. Government, United Nations and various nonprofit organizations report.  I can tell you what I have seen in working with populations vulnerable to trafficking and survivors of trafficking.  Despite this, key questions around scope and solutions, remain unanswered.

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