CUAV restructures staff

A San Francisco nonprofit that’s been supporting victims of violence for 30 years is adapting to budget cutbacks and a new strategic plan by reconfiguring its staff and services.

Community United Against Violence (CUAV) is aiming to help people stop violence, rather than just cope with its aftermath. Morgan Bassichis, development manager, said the changes will benefit people who use CUAV’s services.

“We’re increasing our opportunities for clients to become volunteers and get trained in skills to take back to their friends and family,” said Bassichis.

The work comes at a time when CUAV, like many other agencies, is facing a challenging financial situation. The budget for 2009-2010 is around $650,000, down from about $950,000 last year.

The agency said part of the shortfall is due to the District Attorney’s office cutting $150,000 from its funding to CUAV. Originally, a reduction of $250,000 had been proposed; the DA’s office did not provide confirmation of these figures by press time.

The state Department of Public Health had provided about $200,000, but they removed approximately $40,000 from that for this year, said Bassichis.

Ronald Owens, a spokesman for the state health department, wrote in an e-mail to the Bay Area Reporter that “budget negotiations are ongoing and the amount of funding will be determined when the revised budget is approved by the Legislature and signed by the Governor.”

On top of CUAV’s other funding reductions, two contracts have ended, as scheduled.

With funding from government sources harder to come by due to the economy, CUAV officials are looking to individual donations to keep the agency afloat.

“Funding from individuals is the most sustainable” source, said Bassichis.

Grace Lawrence, a transgender woman who once had hot battery acid poured on her face and body, is one person who’s benefited from CUAV’s services. Lawrence, who said the group has provided her with counseling and also helped her get plastic surgery, “really helped me to not be afraid when I walk on the street.”

She urged others to donate to the nonprofit and said, “If I were rich, I would commit a million dollars or so to CUAV….”

The agency has reduced its staff from12.5 full-time employees to six, plus one part-time staffer. With the changes, Jovida Ross, CUAV’s former executive director, and Tina D’Elia, who was the group’s hate violence survivor program director, have gone.

Despite the changes, “We’re not reducing our support for survivors,” said Bassichis.

The staff has transitioned to a collective leadership structure, with six people working on four teams, including programming and fundraising.

CUAV is going from three full-time advocates to two people doing the work part time and they’ll be training a wider pool of staff and volunteers to work with survivors in person, as well as over the phone, said Bassichis.

One of the most well known services CUAV has provided is its 24-hour crisis line. That line is still open, but it’s now known as the “Safety Line.” The focus is on creating safety rather than just crisis intervention.

Bassichis said CUAV gets over 1,000 calls on the Safety Line every year, and a few hundred walk-ins.

Another service that CUAV has been known for is its speakers’ bureau, which provides educational forums in area schools and institutions. Eventually, the group will be “taking a break from offering speakers’ bureau presentations for a while, as we recalibrate our work in schools,” said Bassichis.

“What we hope to do is offer skills-based trainings to classrooms, as well as neighborhood and community organizations not only about LGBT awareness, but also about how to actually intervene in LGBT violence … We want to make the shift from awareness to skills,” said Bassichis.

The speakers bureau will be part of a new Safety Team that CUAV is launching to train volunteers in creating accountability and healing out of violent incidents. The first Safety Team training is September 19 and 20.

Bassichis said CUAV would continue to support domestic violence survivors to obtain the resources they need, such as when they ask for help in getting restraining orders.

“We’re just really excited to be returning to our community-based roots” and working with other social justice groups to work for a world free of violence, said Bassichis.

All are encouraged to apply for CUAV’s Safety Team. Those interested should contact Stacy Umezu at (415) 777-5500 or