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Featured Grantee Partner: Emerge! Center Against Domestic Abuse

Interview Series: Transformational Grantmaking

What are three interesting things people don’t know about your organization?

One is that we serve 6,000 people per year. I’m not sure if everybody knows the extent to which domestic violence services are needed in this community. This is just the tip of the iceberg because there are 13,000 calls to 911 each year in Tucson and Pima County related to domestic violence, plus only one in ten cases of DV are reported.

Another is that while 94% of the people we serve are women, we also serve male victims, and we have services for men who use abusive behaviors.

We also work very closely with local law enforcement and the criminal justice system to make sure that there is appropriate risk assessment taking place throughout the system, and in particular that there is lethality assessment on the scene as they respond to calls. We want to make sure that as a system we are identifying and responding to those that may be at the greatest risk.

What are you most excited about that’s happening at your organization?

For more than 40 years, we’ve been offering intervention services to victims of abuse and their children, and we will continue to do that. Over the last 3-4 years we’ve started to develop a prevention and social change component to our work to make sure we aren’t only intervening when incidents occur. With a focus on prevention, we are working with those who are using abusive behaviors, but also engaging in social change work so that we can start to shift how our community thinks about this issue and what we have as “normal, acceptable” behaviors. We’re working to change some of the social norms that we believe are the underpinning of abusive behaviors.

How has a grant from the Women’s Foundation transformed your organization? Is there something you now do differently?

The Women’s Foundation was one of the very first investors in our housing programming which began in 2012. There had been short term emergency shelters available, and there had been long term “community based services” (non-residential services), but there wasn’t a long term housing option specifically designed to meet the needs of domestic abuse survivors. So the Women’s Foundation was one of the first to step up and say “We will help you build that.” This has dramatically transformed our organization and the services that are available, so last year 49 families received housing through Emerge! because of what the Women’s Foundation helped us start.

How has your organization grown stronger, increased its impact, or changed, because of your partnership with the Women’s Foundation?

Definitely the support of the housing program has increased our impact significantly. Related to that, when thinking about how we grow stronger, that can be measured in a lot of different ways. Sometimes it’s measured by financial resources, and sometimes other factors, but one thing we know is critical to the work we’re doing is having allies. We know Emerge! alone cannot prevent all domestic violence, that this is a much bigger societal issue and therefore requires allies. Our partnership with the Women’s Foundation has not only given us a partner with the Foundation itself, but connected us with a broader network of allies and potential allies in doing the work we do.

How did you first hear about the Women’s Foundation and their grants?

The agency connected with the Women’s Foundation before I began. Emerge! has been fortunate enough to be a long term beneficiary. I first learned about the Women’s Foundation doing youth development work and helping them to get the Unidas program off the ground.

What keeps you up at night when thinking about your organization?

Going back to the prevention and social work that we’re doing, we know that inherent in that work is a challenging of the status quo. When we’re talking about trying to shift social norms, it’s a very different intersection with the community than simply providing intervention services. The idea of challenging the way that social norms are set up, challenging what people are comfortable with and used to is a big ask of people, and also there’s the question of how people will respond to our challenging what they’re comfortable with.

What do you see ahead for women and girls in Southern Arizona?

I see continued progress towards equality and I see a substantial growth in the number of men and boys willing to be true active allies in bringing about that equality. And in particular, in our field, ending violence against women and girls.

And finally, is there anything else you would like to add about how the Women’s Foundation helps you in fulfilling the mission of your organization?

What I think is really special about the Women’s Foundation is that it’s not just about the money. The financial support is of course crucial to our ability to meet the demand for service in our community, but that alone is never going to be sufficient. What the Women’s Foundation does that is unique and beneficial is the advocacy work, and the research that seeks to advance the work we would do as a service provider. Even things like this interview and the newsletter help us increase visibility in the community, find allies, and increase connections to the agencies the WF partners with. It’s a holistic approach to help agencies do the work beyond simply investing funds in that work.

Ed Mercurio-Sakwa is the CEO of Emerge! Center Against Domestic Abuse, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending domestic violence through intervention and prevention efforts. Ed has been with Emerge! since 2008, and prior to becoming CEO in April 2013, he served as the agency’s Director of Program, Director of Operations, and then Chief Operating Officer.  He has worked in the nonprofit sector for the past 23 years.

Special thanks to Women’s Foundation volunteers Gabriela Cervantes and Liz Levine for interviewing this organization and for serving as guest editors.