Sandy Escobar-Schmidt knows fear when she sees it.
It sticks with her, that look she often spies in the eyes of a woman who wants nothing more than to be free from the hell of an abusive relationship but afraid they don’t have the strength to leave that life of violence behind.
She once had that same fear staring back at her in the mirror, wondering whether she was making the right move for herself and her children — knowing they deserved better but unsure it could be reality.
“That is such a brave thing,” Schmidt said, tears welling and spilling onto her cheeks.
“It takes every ounce of strength and courage to make that step.
“That’s so hard because what can happen when they try to leave, the fatality rate, the repercussions … they’re just so huge.”
Now years since she, herself, took that step and found she could, in fact, stand strong on her own, Schmidt has dedicated her life to helping others let go of fear and follow firmly in her footsteps.
And for her efforts, which include founding local nonprofit Women of Worth, she is one of five women across the country being honored by Traditional Home magazine’s “Classic Woman Awards 2013.”
“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less,” Traditional Home Editor Ann OmVig Maine writes in the October issue announcing the awards. “That truth is beautifully illustrated by the five phenomenal honorees we are proud to recognize in our ninth annual Classic Woman Awards. These are women whose legacy of compassion, commitment and caring is making a difference in lives across the country.”
News of the honor arrived at the Women of Worth office in the form of a box carrying a bottle of sparkling wine, satin cookies and a letter from the editor.
“I kept opening and re-wrapping it,” Schmidt said with a giggle. “They were laughing at me at the office. ‘How many times are you going to re-open that?’”
Schmidt said her selection for the honor has been somewhat of a surreal first-class trip, including a “Hollywood” style photo shoot for the magazine and a gala event next week in New York City.
“I never thought of myself for something like this,” Schmidt said. “People say, ‘but look back at what you’ve done!’ I’ve never really done that. I just move forward to keep our organization going.”
“All of this, it’s hard for me,” she said. “I prefer to be in the background. I don’t want people to put me on a pedestal.”
Jo Ann Weber certainly felt Schmidt was so worthy, nominating her for the award.
“I got to know Sandy and got to know about Women of Worth … and the work they do to help women and children get away from violent situations,” Weber said.
And knowing the organization was built by volunteers, led by the example of an executive director who often worked 12-hour days, seven days a week to get it off the ground, Weber was moved to make the nomination.
“In my experience, living in the Bay Area and moving up here (four years ago), I’ve never seen a community that gathers together so much to help other people,” Weber said. “Sandy has lived a life of abuse … escaping a horrible marriage; and at that time there was no one to really help her. And yet she’s been able to establish this organization to help others in that same situation. I mean, look at what she’s built!”
Women of Worth, which assists victims of domestic violence and families in crisis, was not built overnight. The foundation was laid in 2001 when the nonprofit was founded and offered online support groups, but it expanded through the efforts of more than 200 volunteers who shared Schmidt’s vision to now offer far more resources, such as safe houses “Hetty’s Haven” and “Kelly’s Kottage,” named for western Nevada County women killed in domestic violence disputes.
“Founding (Women of Worth) was as much about my own healing process as it was for my community,” Schmidt said in an interview with Traditional Home.
“A domestic violence survivor myself, I had longed for the kind of support, resources and education that (Women of Worth) provides on a daily basis for our clients and community members who are in need. I learned that what I had experienced had a name: ‘Domestic Violence’ and I learned that I could recover my self esteem, my strength and my stability. That I could become independent and that I could raise my children in a home free of terror.
“I wanted to provide that for other women. (Women of Worth) began over 12 years ago as online support groups devoted to supporting women and no matter what the group was about, one thing was abundantly clear: women were hurting. Badly. In a way, Women of Worth and all it does has become my voice, my way of speaking up for myself as I speak up for others who are suffering — and surviving — what I did.”
Although she said she did enjoy being pampered a bit in her photo shoot and does look forward to next week’s celebration in New York, Schmidt said the honor she has been awarded isn’t really about her being featured in a high-profile glossy magazine. It’s still about the women who need to know they have a worth.
“I hope we get the word out about domestic violence. That’s what this is all about,” she said. “If everybody could do something in their community, with their domestic violence agency … It’s just huge. It’s an epidemic. And people still don’t like to talk about it.”
Among all the high points of the work she’s done with Women of Worth, Schmidt said the most-satisfying aspect goes back to why she created the organization: “To see fear gradually leave a woman and her children’s eyes, as they realize they are truly safe.”
Visit the website http://www.women-of-worth.org to make a donation or to gain more information on Women of Worth.
To contact Editor Brian Hamilton, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4249.