DSAL, the Sheriff’s Office, and the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office recently kicked off a joint initiative to provide a paid internship at Dig Deep Farms and the Dig Deep Farms Food Hub to survivors of domestic violence as part of the Alameda County Family Justice Center and STEP-UP program. Participants spend six weeks working at Dig Deep Farms learning about nutrition and urban farming, followed by a six-week internship at the Dig Deep Farms Food Hub’s commercial kitchen to become certified food handlers.
We talked to Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley and Assistant District Attorney and Executive Director of the Alameda County Family Justice Center, Sabrina Farrell, about the importance of providing survivors of interpersonal violence support and how the partnership with ACSO and DSAL will help the women gain employment skills, self-confidence, and stability in their lives.
“A lot of the women we serve live in poverty, and many of them have left relationships where the person who is making the money is the abuser,” said O’Malley. “The primary goal of our work at the Family Justice Center is to take the burden off of the victims of interpersonal violence and those that witness the violence and make services available to them all in one place.”
“The Family Justice Center believes in creating a healthy community,” said Farrell. “That's with food stability, housing stability, mental health and financial stability. Too often victims are preyed upon and, we strive to change those circumstances.”
O’Malley launched the FJC in 2005 after a conversation with then-City Attorney of San Diego, Casey Gwinn. Gwinn recognized how difficult it was for victims of interpersonal violence to access services and decided that rather than make victims travel all over the city, it just made sense to offer all the services in the same location.
After her conversation with Gwinn, O’Malley decided to do a survey in Alameda County. The survey found that a woman with children who was separating from a batterer “would have to go to as many as 25 different locations to get services,” according to O’Malley.
“This wasn’t acceptable treatment for someone who's in trauma and fearful for their life,” she said.
The FJC was launched with 30 partners providing a range of services from legal assistance and rape crisis counseling to trauma recovery and programs for children.
“We provide housing. We provide counseling. We provide the emergency resources that people need, and we help their children to become healthier after this violent experience,” said O’Malley. “We had 750 people come to the FJC in the first month we were opened. It was stunning!”
The FJC’s STEP-UP program is specifically designed to empower survivors of interpersonal violence through financial literacy and professional development classes, as well as group-based empowerment workshops.
“So many of our victims were financially dependent on the abuser,” said Farrell. “Even if they worked, everything was controlled by the abuser. Victims of interpersonal violence were often living in chaos, and our programs help create new avenues and possibilities of independence.”
“Graduates of the seven-week STEP-UP program are more prepared for jobs, we do mock interviews with them and include resume and cover letter workshops. Being prepared supports their confidence as they re-enter the job market,” she said.
STEP-UP has already created pathways for women to access jobs as carpenters, electrician apprentices, truck drivers, and other good jobs that pay a living wage.
The partnership with DSAL and Dig Deep Farms began to take shape when O’Malley and Farrell were exploring how to include an element of nutrition to the FJC’s programs. As they learned about DSAL’s efforts—growing fresh produce at Dig Deep Farms for ALL IN Alameda County’s Food as Medicine program and providing jobs and job training to formerly incarcerated people in partnership with the County’s Probation Department—they saw an opportunity for the STEP-UP program.
“We received a grant to hire a nutritionist that would include taking people grocery shopping and learning about healthy eating, and once we secured a grant for the nutrition classes, we thought, ‘Wouldn't it be great if we could have some involvement with DSAL and with Dig Deep Farms?’” said O’Malley.
O’Malley secured funding from Kaiser Permanente to support the programs of Dig Deep Farms and an additional grant from CalCASA to support the paid internship and job training program. DSAL was able to secure matching funds to double the length of the job training program to 12 weeks.
“Thanks to the partnership with DSAL, people are learning how to be urban farmers, outside, in the fresh air,” said O’Malley. “They are learning about healthy eating, and through DSAL, we have such a greater understanding of the role food plays in someone's mental health, in somebody's ability to have a healthy life.”
“When you take vulnerable populations and you start introducing not only skills development, but also give people pride that they have something to contribute, you begin to change the trajectory for so many people,” said O’Malley. “With DSAL and with Dig Deep Farms, they put the seed in the ground, and 52 days later, there's a plant with food on it. It's remarkable the satisfaction that those that have gone into the program have been able to experience of being able to produce something that is contributing to the community, and now they have a skill.”
“DSAL has done remarkable work in the community,” said O’Malley. “Every time I hear about something new, I say to them, ‘Why doesn't the whole world know this?’”