Tahoe SAFE Alliance Staff, Board of Directors, Volunteers and Donors come together to positively impact the lives of community members.
We advocate safety, change and empowerment in all relationships, genders and ages. We are pleased to share with you their stories of empowerment.
by Anna Quinlan
Diana Wilson* was married for 30 years, building her home and her family of three children together with her husband in Truckee.
“On the outside, we looked so normal,” says the now 58-year-old.
In reality, however, she spent the second half of her marriage growing increasingly concerned about her husband’s substance abuse and his unpredictable and controlling treatment of her, as well as her own relationship with alcohol, which she used to mask her distress.
“He was a really good dad and provider for the first 10 years or so,” she says of her ex-husband. “Then the alcohol and drugs got worse and worse.”
Tahoe SAFE Alliance owns and operates the only safe house, Mountain Rose Safe House, in the North Lake Tahoe and Truckee communities. The Safe House is a place where community members can collect themselves, look at their lives, assess their needs and plan for the future. It is a 90-day program that can shelter up to three families. Tahoe SAFE Alliance provides shelter, food and day to day living essentials, allowing the families to save money toward independent living.
Additionally, Tahoe SAFE Alliance operates a Transitional Housing Program that provides qualified community members with longer term living assistance including help with rent, furniture, utilities and food. When they are ready and able to live on their own, the Transitional Housing Program can assist them in locating and qualifying for low-income housing as the final step in their journey toward independence.
Every individual deserves a safe place to call home, and Tahoe SAFE Alliance is working to make that a reality in this community.
– Diana Wilson*
Former resident of the Tahoe SAFE Alliance residential program
Wilson says that it took her years to identify her husband’s behavior as abusive. Years into her marriage, she walked past Tahoe SAFE Alliance and, intrigued by the sign, stepped inside to pick up a brochure. As she read through the warning signs and red flags about domestic abuse, she finally realized that she was in an abusive relationship.
“My biggest fear was supporting my kids on my own,” she says. Another 15 years passed before she left.
An unexpected intervention pushed Wilson to finally reach out for help. Her husband, who was intoxicated at the time, was on the phone with an insurance agent and began outlining his plan to get a gun and kill his wife. The insurance agent called the Truckee Police Department who in turn called Wilson and asked her if she was safe in her home.
It was the first time she had thought about it in such simple terms.
“No,” she admitted for the first time, “I don’t think I am safe here.”
Shortly thereafter she called Tahoe SAFE Alliance and explained her situation. She immediately moved into the Mountain Rose Safe House as part of the agency’s residential program.
“I was blown away that I was finally in such a safe environment,” Wilson says. “It was perfect. I was able to access my [Alcoholics Anonymous] meetings and the store. It was exactly what I needed.”
Wilson is now sober and lives on her own in Truckee.
“I just wish I would have called Tahoe SAFE Alliance 10 years sooner,” she says. “I wish I would have known that things could actually get better.”
*Name and photo have been changed to protect her identity.
When I arrived at the Safe House, I had very low self-esteem. I had no idea the lasting detrimental effects of domestic violence on my daughter. I am so thankful for the kind and caring staff that gave me a safe place to live and taught me the importance of making healthy choices for my family. They made me understand that I didn’t have to live in fear every day of my life. They empowered me to get a job and make positive steps to gaining my independence. I am now able to live on my own and take care of my family. I am so grateful for Tahoe SAFE Alliance and the staff at the Safe House.
– Sally, former Safe House Client
by Edgar Sanchez
After surviving the darkness of domestic violence at the hands of her partner, Isobel Contreras* fled to a bright, peaceful refuge. She left the Southern California home where she had been repeatedly beaten in front of her children, one of them an infant.
“I wanted to be far from the place where this problem occurred, because it reminded me too much of what I went through,” says Contreras, now 35. “I wanted to live in peace.”
In late 2009, her abusive partner was deported to Mexico. She and their children — Amy*, now 10, and Samuel*, now 7 — moved north, to sun-dappled Truckee.
For years, all three carried emotional scars. Contreras suffered from depression and low selfesteem; the siblings resented their father.
In early 2015, Contreras and her kids stepped into the sparkling Tahoe SAFE Alliance office in Truckee. She was greeted by a Spanish-speaking staff, which was particularly helpful since Contreras does not speak English. The family found a welcoming atmosphere at the nonprofit, receiving free therapeutic counseling and other services. Within days, Contreras and her children began individual counseling, which is ongoing.
– Isobel Contreras*
Mother who received services from Tahoe SAFE Alliance
“When Isobel initially came to us, we provided her with education regarding the effects of domestic violence witnessed by children,” says Penny Morris, Manager of Tahoe SAFE Alliance’s Children’s Program.
“The brother and sister have done some family therapy with each other that has allowed them to talk to each other a little better,” Morris says. The children also participate in Tahoe SAFE Alliance sponsored field trips like hikes in Lake Tahoe.
Contreras has seen a marked difference in her children’s behavior since commencing therapy.
“Samuel is the one who’s suffered a little more,” Contreras said. “As a little boy, he was violent. He argued a lot with his sister … He doesn’t argue as much anymore.”
Amy became introverted after witnessing her father abuse her mother.
“Amy was very timid, very quiet. She didn’t want to make friends with anyone,” Contreras says. “Now, she has befriended some of the little girls at her school.”
The effects of the children’s trauma are receding. So is their mother’s pain. “I don’t have the words to thank Tahoe SAFE Alliance for all it has done for us,” Contreras says. “My goal is to support my children in their studies … and see them become good people,” she says.
*Name has been changed.
Overwhelming national and international research suggests that children who witness domestic violence often have the same symptoms as children experiencing physical abuse.
The long-lasting impact of witnessing domestic violence can cause children to suffer from the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, which include anxiety, hyper-vigilance, insomnia, depression, bed-wetting, poor concentration and aggression.
Most alarmingly, the effects of witnessing domestic violence has been shown to disrupt and delay normal brain development.
Tahoe SAFE Alliance offers a range of services for children, including individual counseling, a weekly support group and education programs for both parents and children. In partnership with several community-based mental health service providers, they are able to provide counseling in Spanish and other languages, if needed.
In addition, Tahoe SAFE Alliance provides crucial advocacy and accompaniment services for children and their parents, helping community members maneuver within the medical, legal, mental health or educational systems.
They also run the Youth Empowerment Project at various schools in the area, designed to improve self-esteem and mitigate the
negative effects of peer pressure. For the snow lovers, in partnership with Northstar at Tahoe, they provide children with free ski/snowboard lift tickets, lessons and rentals.
These children’s programs would not be possible without the work of volunteers and generous donations from community members and corporate partners.
At 10 years of age, Mona was a victim of sexual assault which seriously traumatized her. When she came to Tahoe SAFE Alliance she was spending a lot of time alone. She didn’t smile. She didn’t laugh. She had no interest in friends. She didn’t like herself and was suffering from low self-esteem and poor body image.
As part of Mona’s therapy, we enrolled her in our Yoga Group. At the outset, she was so shy she could not say her name out loud to the group. She wouldn’t interact with the instructor or with the other children. She did not put forth the effort to learn yoga poses. As soon as she made one small mistake, she usually gave up and sat down. She preferred to quit before failing or possibly being judged.
We gave Mona a lot of attention and positive reinforcement and before long we noticed positive changes in her behavior. One day, the yoga instructor kept making funny faces and tipping over so that Mona would realize that mistakes are a fun and normal part of yoga practice. At the next class, Mona confidently articulated her name to the rest of the group. She even said she would practice some of the more difficult moves at home to prepare for the next class! By the last class, Mona was able to demonstrate the Wheel Pose before the group – this was her greatest yoga challenge.
We are so pleased with Mona’s progress and to see such a dramatic change in her new-found confidence that now radiates into all facets of her life!
– Tahoe SAFE Alliance Children’s Program Manager
by Anna Quinlan
Shortly after her divorce, Michele Reynolds began receiving death threats from her ex-husband, causing her to fear for her life and the lives of her two children. A friend from Sacramento was familiar with Tahoe SAFE Alliance and suggested that Reynolds reach out to them for help. Looking back on the pain and loss her ex would cause, she’s so glad that she connected with the nonprofit.
Several family members and friends initially accused Reynolds of overreacting to the threats and suggested that she simply ignore them.
“The people at Tahoe SAFE Alliance were some of the only people that actually believed that something was really wrong,” she says. “I was comforted by the fact that I wasn’t crazy. They could see that [he] was a real maniac. It was very validating.”
– Michele Reynolds
Tahoe SAFE Alliance community member
Reynolds, her son and daughter had begun to receive counseling through Tahoe SAFE Alliance when her ex-husband tracked them down and murdered their 17-year-old son in 1990. The organization immediately connected her with a doctor specializing in grief counseling and provided legal assistance so that Reynolds was supported throughout her ex-husband’s trial and incarceration.
“[Tahoe SAFE Alliance] was really instrumental in keeping him incarcerated,” Reynolds says. “He was up for parole, and they connected me with the parole board so I could present all of the threatening letters he was sending from jail.”
After her son’s tragic death, Reynolds says it was hard to reach out for therapy.
“At first I was just too depressed to do much,” she remembers. Eventually, though, she got involved in a weekly support group, where she was comforted by people from all walks of life who could relate.
“You wouldn’t believe the people that showed up,” she says. “Doctors, lawyers … everyone. And we did such amazing work.”
Reynolds also utilized the organization’s art therapy services — an additional avenue for her to work through her pain.
“It brought me so much healing to sit down and do a collage about how I want my life to look without violence,” she says. “Tahoe SAFE Alliance has been such a supportive agency for me to walk this path with,” she says. “I know that I’m supported in what I’m doing. Instead of deadened by pain or numbed by the feeling of being chased by a monster, they’ve helped me feel alive.”
For survivors of domestic violence, child abuse and/or sexual assault, Tahoe SAFE Alliance provides a wide range of direct services, including crisis intervention, counseling, legal advocacy and case management.
Tahoe SAFE Alliance accompanies survivors to court and offers legal consultation, including assisting with protective and restraining orders.
And when Tahoe SAFE Alliance knows of other resources that can help, they work to connect community members to outside organizations.
In 2015, they made over 1,000 referrals helping community members gain access to food, shelter, unemployment and legal assistance, outside counseling, preventive health services and more.
Several of these organizations are partnered with Tahoe SAFE Alliance and operate both out of the Kings Beach Community House and the Donald W. Reynolds Community Non-Profit Center in Incline Village. Both locations are one-stop shop for direct services. Under one roof, community members are easily guided through the services for which they qualify.
All of Tahoe SAFE Alliance’s services are free. Generous donations and help from volunteers ensure that survivors continue to get the help they need and deserve.
I contacted Tahoe SAFE Alliance at the advice of a friend who was tired of seeing me in an emotionally controlling and abusive relationship for five years. My worst fear came true and my husband found out I was seeking support and resources and the threats began. After several more months, I finally found the courage to make changes and against his wishes became employed. But the more time I spent away from home the worse he became. I was at the end of my ropes when I went back to Tahoe SAFE Alliance. They were a godsend and let me stay in the Safe House while the legal advocate helped me get a protection order. She assisted me in filing for a divorce and helped me secure legal representation. Because of Tahoe SAFE Alliance and their competent legal advocate I’ve relocated and started a new life.
– Former Tahoe SAFE Alliance client
by Natasha von Kaenel
The best way to eradicate violence is to stop it before it can ever happen. That is the goal of Tahoe SAFE Alliance’s Prevention and Education programs, held at almost every school in the North Lake Tahoe and Truckee region. Each year Tahoe SAFE Alliance staff and volunteers engage with students of all ages about different types of violent and abusive behavior and teach them ways to stay safe.
Jessenia Ureña, Co-facilitator of the Teen Peace Project at Truckee High School, still remembers when Tahoe SAFE Alliance first came to her middle school to talk about personal safety and self-defense techniques. They told her to make eye contact with an attacker, and say, ‘No!’ While she has never had to use the techniques, she says, “It was a very empowering class and reminded me to not feel intimidated.”
– Ariana Ureña
Teen Peace Project member
Tahoe SAFE Alliance offers age-appropriate lessons for students when they are the most capable of comprehending the material. While
teens like Jessenia learn specific self-defense techniques, younger students learn to recognize and avoid dangerous
situations and how to go to trusted adults for help.
When Jessenia was a sophomore at Truckee High School she joined the Teen Peace Project, a school club that is facilitated by Tahoe SAFE Alliance staff and volunteers to increase awareness around violence prevention. The project organizes events both at their school and throughout the community.
During a prevention event on Mother’s Day, youth and adults painted together and learned about building healthy parental relationships. Teen Peace Project is also organizing a clothing swap and a number of educational movie nights.
When Jessenia graduated from high school, she stayed on as a Co-facilitator of the Teen Peace Project and made sure her younger sister, Ariana, also joined. Ariana, a freshman at Truckee High School, is equally passionate about preventing violence as her sister. Ariana hopes that the group will continue to grow while she is in high school, because she says raising awareness is the key to stopping domestic and sexual violence.
“People just having awareness makes a difference,” she says. “Parents need to tell their kids how to prevent it, and how to not be the person who commits the act. Then we can stop it at the base of the problem.”
Hopefully, Jessenia, Ariana and their peers will continue to inspire the community to join the cause and work toward a violence-free future.
Teaching children to recognize early
signs of abuse and violence is one of
the most effective ways to prevent
unhealthy behavior in their peers,
families and in themselves.
Tahoe SAFE Alliance provides annual
Violence Prevention Education in the
classrooms to students of all ages in the
North Lake Tahoe and Truckee regions.
The material is age-appropriate and covers
topics like bullying, healthy relationships
and bystander intervention.
In addition, Tahoe SAFE Alliance leads
Youth Empowerment and Leadership
groups encouraging participating
students to become active leaders in their
schools and communities, dedicated to
stopping violence in all its forms.
Support from donors and
volunteers is crucial to continue
providing these services.
I want you to know that here at the North Tahoe Boys & Girls Club I personally mentor 4 middle to high school girls. Last week one of them mentioned she had participated in the Tahoe SAFE Alliance session held at North Tahoe Middle School where you discussed pressures put upon girls for intimacy. She and I happened to be discussing intimacy when she said….”you know I was involved with a group today called (and then she pulled out your yellow handout) Tahoe SAFE Alliance and they talked about this stuff…it was really cool.” She said she found it really interesting and thought it was very good and helpful for girls her age.
So this note of thanks to both of you and your organization for getting into the schools on essential topics like this. I felt it was important to let you know that you “touched” a 14 year-old middle school female who found your presentation enlightening and educational and was willing to talk about it with her friends and me. Tahoe SAFE Alliance touched a middle school girl and had an impact. Thank you for everything you do for this community.
– Isabelle, Boys and Girls Club of North Lake Tahoe