Fighting the good fight: Women of Worth provide homes, hope for abuse survivors (PHOTO GALLERY) | TheUnion.com

Fighting the good fight: Women of Worth provide homes, hope for abuse survivors (PHOTO GALLERY)

Jennifer Nobles
Staff Writer

Just over 20 years ago, Sandy Escobar didn't know if she would survive another day. She was in a relationship that was laden with verbal and physical abuse, and she had children she felt she needed to protect. Her only chance, she thought, was escape.

After moving from town-to-town in an effort to stay hidden from her abusive ex, she had no money despite working four jobs simultaneously. When applying for an apartment in a low-income facility, she was told by the manager that she needed to bring her income level up to poverty level to be accepted. She began to lose hope.

"I thought, you know what? I'm gonna have to go back (to my husband) because I'm not making it," said Escobar. "And then I see these three little sets of brown eyes looking at me, and I can't. How can I do this?"

That was when Escobar realized that she wasn't alone, and that if she was experiencing this roller coaster, other people were too. She set her sights not only on getting herself and her children back on their feet, but on helping others in the process.

"I started Women of Worth as an online community, back when they had Yahoo groups. I did a support group for women going through all different situations and it grew into several thousand women from all around the world. And that's how Women of Worth unofficially started."

The once modest group has grown into a successful support network for survivors of domestic abuse and violence that has served what Escobar estimates to be at least several hundred families throughout the community.

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The organization is the only dual service center in Northern California, offering both emergency and transitional services.

In addition to the Women of Worth thrift store downtown Nevada City, the nonprofit also operates Hetty's Haven, a transitional shelter for women and women with children escaping domestic violence and/or human trafficking.

"Emergency shelters are very much needed and we appreciate those, and a 30-60 day stay will keep you sheltered and fed, but transformation really happens in the long term," said Escobar.

Some guests stay in Hetty's Haven as long as a year or two.

The shelter was named in dedication of Hetty Williams, a mother of two daughters who was murdered in 2005 by her husband after she began separation proceedings.

Hetty's Haven now serves 16 women with their children at a time. Escobar said the house is beautifully decorated in Crate & Barrel donations, so it doesn't necessarily look like a shelter.

"It's an amazing seven bedroom, five bath home that we lease. It has her picture in there with her favorite quote: 'Be the change you wish to see in the world.'"

Escobar said all things in the house are new, and there's a welcome basket in each room with a handmade quilt, books, and stuffed animals.

"Everything is brand new and that speaks love to them, it speaks worth to them," said Escobar.

In 2017 alone, 70 percent of Hetty's Haven residents were placed into new jobs, 20 percent returned to school, and 90 percent attended weekly therapy. These are all important steps for the women who made the decision to leave an abusive situation and in many cases, everything they own.

The shelter provides a myriad of groups and classes including hypnotherapy, self-defense, yoga and trauma groups. They are working to raise money to buy the house in which the haven resides, and are looking to add tiny homes to the acreage on which the house lies to offer residents more options.

Women of Worth also offers a more long-term residence — Kelly's Kottage — for those who aren't ready to live on their own and require long-term transitional assistance.

It is named for Kelly Hendershot, a woman who was kidnapped by her partner and held underneath a railroad bridge for several days. Ultimately, he held her in front of a moving train where they were both killed instantly. Hendershot left behind a three-year-old son.

Those who move on from Hetty's Haven and Kelly's Kottage are given what Women of Worth refer to as the Fresh Start package, where the organization provides its graduates with all the necessities to furnish their own home.

The items are brand new and tasteful, Escobar said, and they are careful to avoid merchandise that may trigger the woman or her children in a negative way.

"All these little touches of love, all these little angel kisses throughout their home. It's important because you stay in a shelter, and then what?" Escobar said.

"Transitional extends beyond when they leave our shelter because at that point they're ready to go in to society," said JoAnn Weber, an administrative assistant for Women of Worth. "We give them everything they need to get started in their new home. Because when they left (their situation) they had nothing."

"We have never had a penny of federal funding," said Women of Worth board member Elaine Meckler. "It's all from donations, small foundation grants, local service groups, and our thrift store. We really are counting on our community to come and support our thrift store.

Escobar said that many people assume their budget is in the millions, considering the work they do. In fact, their budget hovers around $200-$300,000.

Men are served by the organization as well, but not as frequently as women are.

Women of Worth finds great importance in the power of collaboration. They've partnered with Nevada County Diaper Project as a distribution site for diapers, and with Pets of the Homeless, Care Crisis Nursery, NEO, Friendship Club and others.

Community members who are interested in helping Women of Worth are encouraged to volunteer, shop at their thrift store and fundraise. They remind people that as a nonprofit, all donations are tax deductible.

"It's not about the glory," said Escobar. "And it's not about us. It's about making a safer, healthier community for the next generation. That's what it's about."

Jennifer Nobles is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at jnobles@theunion.com or 530-477-4231.