The YWCA of San Diego County’s 10th annual Walk A Mile in Her Shoes event will be held on Saturday, Oct. 14 at 10 a.m., beginning at MLK Promenade Park at 4th Avenue and K Street. The lighthearted event, in which both men and women walkers take on the mile in a pair of heels, helps raise awareness about a tough issue — seeking to end the cycle of domestic violence.
“This is such a problematic issue, one in four women and one in seven men experience domestic violence in their lifetime,” said Carmel Valley resident Heather Finlay, CEO of the YWCA of San Diego County. “It’s all about manipulation and control and it can happen to anyone.”
“It’s a difficult subject to talk about and it’s often misunderstood what happens in a domestic violence relationship,” Finlay said, noting many feel trapped and don’t have the resources to leave an abusive situation. “It’s very difficult to think that somebody would hurt you and maybe even kill you when they are supposed to love you.”
The YWCA is one of the largest providers of domestic violence services in San Diego County, and one of the only resources for male victims. Additionally, their emergency shelter is the only facility in the region that accepts clients at all hours of the day and night. The organization served 8,400 people this past year, up from about 5,000 when Finley took over nine years ago — this year they project they will serve close to 9,000 individuals.
After 20 years in business leadership and real estate, Finlay left the corporate world to empower women facing domestic violence. She started as a YWCA volunteer, helping to build the second Becky’s House shelter in 2006, serving on the board for a few years before transitioning into an interim CEO role. She is now in her ninth year as YWCA’s leader.
As the YWCA stresses extensive confidentiality and privacy, Finlay doesn’t work directly with clients but she is able to hear about the support and successful transitions they are able to provide for people in life-threatening situations.
“When I hear people have said, ‘Without the YWCA I don’t know where I would be,’ it’s very gratifying and fulfilling,” Finlay said. “It’s so important to lead a healthy, happy life with no abuse or torture.”
The YWCA runs three Becky’s House shelters, an emergency shelter and its Cortez Hill Family Center serves homeless families.
Becky’s House, a 30-day emergency shelter, offers free services to women, men and children in need of immediate protection from their abusers in a safe, confidential facility. The Becky’s House transitional housing program provides safe housing and family services for up to 12 months in multiple apartment communities.
In the program, clients focus on overcoming trauma, developing life skills, improving employment, increasing income and obtaining permanent housing. Staff attorneys and professional advocates provide low-income domestic violence survivors with free legal services on family law matters, including assistance with restraining orders, divorce, child custody and child and spousal support.
“Programs like Becky’s House are so important and so impactful because we’re giving someone the opportunity to be safe and give them a chance to grow, figure out what to do next and give them time to heal,” Finlay said.
The YWCA also fields calls on its 24-hour crisis and information hotline — an increased volume of calls means there is more awareness of the help and resources that YWCA has available, Finlay said, noting it’s important to note that the hotline is also available for people to ask questions for family members and friends.
“We have worked within our programs to continue to enhance the services we provide and continue to make sure we’re giving clients exactly what they need,” Finlay said. “Some clients need two months, some need longer, some need help getting an education or to build a career for themselves. I’m really proud of the flexibility of our programming.”
To make a donation or learn more about Walk A Mile in Her Shoes, visit ywcasandiego.org. Event day registration begins at 9 a.m. If you or someone you know needs help, please call the 24-hour domestic violence hotline at (619) 234-3164.