Ed. Note: Champions of Change is a weekly initiative to highlight Americans who are making an impact in their communities and helping our country rise to meet the many challenges of the 21st century.
On Thursday, October 20, 2011, I was honored to be among 14 individuals recognized during the Champions of Change event at the White House. I was joined by an incredible group of advocates and leaders who are equally passionate about ending violence in the lives of women and children within our communities. It filled me with a sense of pride to hear the many stories and to engage in a dialogue about what interventions are working to effect change at the community level.
My own work in the battered women’s movement began over 25 years ago. While it has been exciting to see increased shelter beds for women and children; enhanced police, court and health care responses; and a significant increase in the public’s consciousness about domestic violence within our communities, I have always known that this was not enough. It became clear that we needed to begin strengthening and prioritizing responses that would address the complexities of women’s lives that fell far beyond the scope of immediate safety and legal remedies.
In 2001, I joined Redevelopment Opportunities for Women (ROW), an organization whose mission is about helping women who are experiencing poverty to address immediate financial challenges, as well as to achieve their long term personal and financial goals. At that time, ROW began to place an even a greater emphasis on interventions that addressed the severe economic consequences women face, both prior to, and as a result of, the violence they have experienced in their lives. We developed a financial literacy curriculum that incorporated core financial information, including assistance with dealing with creditors,along with important safety issues and concerns. We developed a matched savings program, which allows women to save for assets such as home ownership, career enhancing education, automobile, or starting a small business. It is clear that the strong connection that exists between poverty and abuse demands that we focus heavily on helping women to achieve long term financial capability.
I have worked within shelter programs, legal advocacy programs, and intervention programs for men who batter. I have been mentored by amazing feminists and advocates who have known that this work is about listening to women’s voices, hearing their stories, and integrating what we have heard into the services we developed. This sentiment was echoed by many at the event, and feels incredibly significant and important as we continue to refine our vision moving forward.
Meg Schnabel is the Executive Director of Redevelopment Opportunities for Women (ROW) in St. Louis, Missouri and has been working in the domestic violence movement for 23 years.