Arizona Foundation for Women provides voices for domestic violence survivors

Grant to Sojourner Center to fund Lay Legal Advocacy program

The Arizona Foundation for Women awarded $15,000 to Sojourner Center as operating support for the domestic violence shelter's Lay Legal Advocacy program. The shelter is one of 18 Phoenix-area organizations that will benefit from $278,500 disbursed by the foundation this year to invest in and promote innovative solutions to unmet needs of Arizona’s women and children.

Sojourner Center's Lay Legal Advocacy program assists women living in the shelter's crisis housing with navigating the legal system to obtain necessary, even life-saving services. Advocates are stationed on site at Maricopa County Superior Court and Justice Court to guide women — as many as five each day — through obtaining protective orders, court appearances, safety planning for themselves and their families, and accessing services through other resource providers.

One Sojourner Center participant who utilized the Lay Legal Advocacy service described her experience this way: "As the judge read the words out loud to me I started to tremble. I had received my order of protection. I could actually go back to my home and collect my personal belongings. My kids could wear their own clothes and sleep with their favorite teddy bears. And most importantly, my abuser would not be allowed to terrorize us any longer."

The Lay Legal Advocacy program is a less-visible aspect of the shelter's three-part approach to supporting families who escape domestic violence. The aspect most familiar to the public is safety: Sojourner Center offers shelter to nearly 3,000 women and children each year, making it the largest domestic violence shelter in the United States.

Programs such as Lay Legal Advocacy embody a second aspect: empowerment. Sojourner Center advocates don't "help" the women. Rather, they empower and encourage them to make decisions and take actions that foster healthy, violence free relationships. Rather than speaking for participants, advocates provide them the support, resources, and information they need to use their own voices; to recover the control over their lives that had been taken away by their abusers.

The third facet of the shelter's approach is transformation. Through work with legal and family advocates, women are able to create new lives for themselves and their children, breaking the cycle of domestic violence.