My Sister’s House helps domestic abuse survivors in a culturally sensitive and holistic way

For a little over two decades a women’s shelter in Sacramento, Calif. has helped domestic abuse survivors in a culturally sensitive and holistic way. While its longtime executive director, Nilda Valmores, stepped down last year, My Sister’s House continues to support survivors of domestic violence, sex trafficking, human trafficking and sexual assault.

Yen Marshall took over My Sister’s House from Valmores, who led the organization for 18 years. Marshall, who had served on the organization’s board for more than eight years, stepped down from the board to take the job.

STANDING AGAINST VIOLENCE ­— My Sister’s House supporters rally against violence in Sacramento, Calif. a year after the 2021 Atlanta, Ga. spa shootings. photo courtesy of My Sister’s House

Marshall said My Sister’s House is the only organization in the area operating both a shelter and a pair of enterprises to provide its clients job training, with staff capable of speaking approximately 15 different Asian languages. They provide a variety of support services to survivors, including legal services, therapy, support groups and career building opportunities.

When the organization’s board explored how best to expand its services eight years ago, Marshall said they recognized many abusers controlled their victims’ finances. In order to help clients build job skills and a resumé to find better employment opportunities, Marshall said they opened My Sister’s Cafe on the Capitol Mall in the state’s capital. The cafe has helped provide job training for women, especially those who wanted to work in the food service industry, build the necessary skills.

“Here we are, eight years later, it’s thriving. And (in 2021), we opened up a second enterprise, which is the Asian boutique that we have in downtown Sacramento,” Marshall said. “So, depending on what our clients aspire to become, they can either go through the food industry type of program, or the retail stores type. Either place provide(s) hands-on training for that kind of career, and if they want something else, we provide the support for that, encouragement to move towards their goals.”

My Sister’s House Treasures opened October of 2021. Headed by the store’s enterprise manager Marta Pena-Lane, the shop has succeeded both in business model and in training its employees.

“I had a little bit of skepticism when they approached me about the store opening up, with it only being Asian used items. I thought, ‘Is there going to be enough for an entire year?’” Pena-Lane told the Nichi Bei News. “And Nilda looked at me and she said, ‘You don’t have to worry. There’ll be plenty.’”

Pena-Lane said new donations to the store come almost every day and customers continue to buy kimono, Hawaiian shirts and art.

More importantly, the women who work at the cafe and shop have gained the job skills they need to find better jobs. She said two women who previously worked at the shop over the last year have since found stable jobs, with one of them on “a fast track to becoming a shift manager at a fast food location.”

“What we try to do here is find what their skill levels really are and what their gifts are, they have treasures, we all have treasures and really honing in that,” Pena-Lane said. “This program also gives them the benefit of resumé building, we help them in job searches.

So it’s not just what they’re getting from here, but it’s ongoing, because we’re their community, and the community never stops just because the program ends here.”

Employees at the cafe and thrift store both echoed Marshall and Pena-Lane’s sentiments. One woman said she has felt a lot of support from My Sister’s House, and felt like the survivors had been taken in like “family” since she moved into the shelter more than a year ago. Another woman, who wished to only be identified as “Lotus,” said she accessed a number of services through the organization, including the legal services to file for a restraining order against her former husband and attending group counseling sessions to help her work through her experience. She said she was thankful that the My Sister’s House staff, including Marshall, who would show up at the shelter with food, but most of all for the in-language support she could receive while discussing her case.

“My English, not so good, but what about those who cannot speak any English,” she said.

RUNNING FOR SURVIVORS ­— The Run for a Safe Haven 5K run/walk raises funds for the My Sister’s House. photo courtesy of My Sister’s House

Aside from the Asian languages staff can speak, however, My Sister’s House also has ties to the Asian American community, especially the Japanese American community. Its cafe is located where Sacramento’s original Japantown once stood before redevelopment in the 1950s, and Treasures moved in after longtime Japanese gift shop Sakura Gifts closed due to rent increases in 2021. In wanting to take a more active role within the ethnic enclave’s community, the organization has been working to host quarterly events at Treasures to promote the Japantown community, working with neighboring businesses.

“We have been conducting a variety of events that bring attention to the old Japantown…,” Marshall said. “As a result, all the businesses around there benefit from the visibility that we’re bringing to the place.”

As Marshall looks at the next era of My Sister’s House, she said her organization will continue their work helping survivors, but also aim to do educational outreach for youth as well to help children recognize the patterns of violence they should not repeat when they grow up.

“I think it’s really important to provide a service for the whole cycle,” Marshall said. “Hopefully, by doing that, we can teach our young men and women to know what is the right relationship, and what’s the wrong relationship and how people should be treated within the relationship, at home or at work or anywhere. And that hopefully will end the violence that is taking place.”

For more information about My Sister’s House, call (916) 428-3271 or visit http://www.my-sisters-house.org.

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