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Creating a Safe Place for Families Affected by Domestic Violence

By Vanessa Showalter             Photos courtesy of Laura’s House

OCSS had the honor of interviewing Margaret Bayston, Executive Director/CEO of Laura’s House who works tirelessly each day to build awareness about domestic violence and its impact on families and individuals in our community.

A background in law, Bayston started volunteering in the legal advocacy department of Laura’s House in 1998 and was hired as the CEO/Executive Director in September of 2001.  Influenced by the growing social needs of the community, Laura’s House has responded by developing innovative residential and outreach programs to meet the unique needs of the population.

OCSS:  Who is “Laura” in Laura’s House?

Bayston:  Laura’s House was named after a woman named Laura, who died at the hands of her abusive husband. Laura’s House was started by a group of her friends who decided to name the organization after her (in memory).

OCSS:  Discuss the need for domestic violence awareness in the U.S., particularly in the OC community?

Bayston:  Domestic violence is a devastating social problem that impacts nearly every segment of the population, and does not discriminate based on race, culture, nationality or gender.  It adversely affects individuals and families, particularly children, as well as the community at large.

OCSS:  Please share statistics about domestic violence…and how prevalent is it in the OC?

Bayston:  In the United States, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men are victims of domestic violence at some point in their lives. Furthermore, 1 in 5 female high school students report being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner. In Orange County, more than 3,000 women and children enter domestic violence shelters each year. More than half of these women and children will become homeless and end up living on the streets of OC.

OCSS:  Why is Laura’s House so important?

Bayston:  Laura’s House is a community based non-profit organization that empowers individuals and families to lead violence free lives. As the only state approved comprehensive domestic violence agency in South Orange County, Laura’s House offers a range of services including safe refuge for women and children escaping violent homes through our Emergency Shelter and Transitional Housing Program.  We also offer a 24-hour toll-free crisis hotline, legal advocacy support services, counseling, community education and outreach, and prevention workshops for teens on healthy relationships and dating abuse.

OCSS:  What are your three primary goals for Laura’s House?

Bayston:  Our mission is to change the social beliefs, attitudes and behaviors that perpetuate domestic violence while creating a safe space in which to empower individuals and families affected by abuse. Within that context, our goals are to provide shelter and therapeutic support for families that are experiencing the effects of domestic violence; build greater awareness within the community of the prevalence of domestic violence; and ultimately, to dramatically reduce or eliminate the incidence of domestic violence.

OCSS:  What are some of your fundraising challenges in this down market?  How have you adapted?

Bayston:  Since the start of the financial crisis, individuals have become more selective about who they are giving to, due to more limited resources. Laura’s House has adapted by ensuring that we are communicating with our donors and friends on a regular basis, and engaging them in the life of the agency. This has been crucial for us in maintaining and preserving the relationships and partnerships that we have established, as well as in gaining new opportunities.

OCSS:  Please describe the many ways the OC community can give to Laura’s House?

Bayston:  Domestic violence organizations, such as Laura’s House, are seeing an increase in reported cases of abuse and calls for help, which has resulted in an increased workload as we strive to meet the needs of the additional people who require our services.

For interested volunteers, the basic giving of your time, talents and treasure are more important than ever right now. Financial support is also extremely important and we welcome and appreciate these gifts tremendously. During times when there is less money to contribute to our mission, it may be possible for interested donors to give their time as a volunteer at the Laura’s House Resale Store in Lake Forest, or in support of our special fundraising events. We are grateful to those who are willing to contribute their time and resources to the overall well-being of our community and make a meaningful change in families who are seeking to initiate violence free lives filled with hope for their future.

OCSS:  Since its inception, how many women and children has Laura’s House helped?

Bayston:  Over the past 18 years, Laura’s House has provided residential shelter and support services to nearly 3,500 families, and counseling, life skills education and legal assistance to 40,305 individuals.

OCSS:   Laura’s House has a fundraising event coming up…tell us about it?

Bayston:  Our upcoming fundraising event is Laura’s House special “Holiday Fashion Preview” that will take place on Friday, November 16 from 11am to 1pm at Neiman Marcus Fashion Island.  This event will feature special guest Ana Maria Pimentel, former accessories director at Harper’s Bazaar, who earlier this year became the fashion director for women’s accessories at Neiman Marcus.  In addition, this event will include light beverages and brunch bites.