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October 23, 2012 > Alameda County's first domestic violence program turns 40

Alameda County's first domestic violence program turns 40

By M. J. Laird

Emergency Shelter Program (ESP) in Hayward, the first domestic violence program of its type to open in Alameda County, is celebrating its 40th anniversary. To mark the event, Emergency Shelter Program (ESP) will host a cocktail hour from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday, October 25 at the Hayward City Hall Plaza. Hayward High School's Spoken Word will provide entertainment.

Billed as a time of friendship and testimonials, the celebration offers an opportunity to recognize the importance and accomplishments of this community asset. A number of dignitaries including Hayward's Police Chief Diane Urban, Hayward Council Member Barbara Halliday, Assemblymember Mary Hayashi, and Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley are expected to stop by.

Opening in 1972 under the auspices of Eden Housing as a temporary residence with 12 beds, the shelter became Alameda County's first to serve victims of domestic violence. Its 24-hour, always open shelter has grown to serve more than 400 women and children annually at secure homes with 42 beds. A telephone hotline fields more than 5,000 emergency calls annually.

"We are proud to have been the first and the longest operating program with comprehensive services to victims of domestic violence here in the county, responding to the needs of women and children," says Vera R. Ciammetti, Executive Director, who has worked intently to help the nonprofit agency develop a more public face as it heads into its next 40 years.

"People can't come to the shelter to see who we are and what we do, given our secure and safe locations," she explains. Ciammetti says she wishes the public could see the sights that greet her when she visits the shelter-children playing and laughing in open areas in a secure environment, tension leaving the faces of mothers as they begin to reshape their lives and feel more empowered.

Ciammetti reports that it takes seven attempts before a victim of domestic violence can actually break free. Eighteen staff members - primarily licensed therapists - assist with a host of services beyond the basics of housing, counseling, referrals for permanent housing, job training and employment services.

Designated by local police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation as a center to center to call for emergency placement of victims of domestic violence, ESP now sees increasing numbers of women rescued from human trafficking. "We always want to be responsive to people dealing with trauma and in dangerous situation," says Ciammetti.

Over the years, the shelter has stepped up to better serve its diverse population. The staff, primarily part-time and licensed therapists, collectively speaks eight different languages. Since she began as executive director of ESP last February, Ciammetti has participated in a number of community events to showcase the shelter, including the Hayward Chamber of Commerce Expo. "People kept coming up to me asking, 'Who are you? What agency do you represent?' Many people here in Hayward had never even heard of us."

The 40th year celebration, coinciding with National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, will increase community familiarity with the shelter. Earlier this month, ESP sponsored a Friday night showing of Miss Representation, a film presented at Sundance Festival in 2011 and aired on Oprah Winfrey Network. Developed by Jennifer Seibel Newsom, wife of Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, it focuses on misperceptions of women and honors women and survivors of domestic violence.

Ciammetti reports that the agency relies solely on donations to help its homes function. Everything from cleaning supplies to paper products comes to the agency as donations. Additionally, the shelter needs home furnishings, everything from furniture to dishes. "Whatever you need when you wake up in the morning in your home, until you go to bed at night, is what we need at the shelter," she explains. "Just like at your house, we need them at our shelter."

Emergency Shelter Program operates a small office on B Street. As a result of its 40th anniversary celebration, Ciammetti is hoping more community members will put ESP on their donation list.

Anniversary Celebration of Emergency Shelter Program
Thursday, Oct 25
5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Hayward City Hall Plaza
777 B Street, Hayward
RSVP to (510) 581-5626

Event is free of charge; complimentary appetizers, cash bar and donation suggested

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