Live Violence Free honoring its founders, celebrating 40 years of serving South Lake Tahoe
Live Violence Free will honor the following founding members at its annual Sunset Gala on Friday, Sept. 15: Cindi Smith, Vonnie Pugliese Kranz, Judy Slagle, Evelyn Roberson, Betty Mitchell, Del Laine, Ann McVay and Maureen Price, along with the first director and first paid employee, Dianne Kushner.
Who would have known a horseshoe game at TJ’s Peanut Farm (now known as Steamer’s Bar and Grill) in 1977 would so greatly impact a community? It was this game that raised the first dollar to fund an organization that would go on to help thousands of South Lake Tahoe (SLT) community members affected by domestic violence, including more than 1,000 last year.
As Live Violence Free (LVF,) formerly the SLT Women’s Center, celebrates 40 years of serving the community with its annual Sunset Gala on Sept. 15, board members, staff and volunteers are honoring their predecessors.
It took a horseshoe game, a 2-bedroom cabin, a handful of dedicated and determined women, and a vision to catapult the now thriving nonprofit. In the beginning, the aim was to create a safe space for women and youth, and as the organization grew, so did its services and client base. Now LVF offers a multitude of services for women, children and men who are survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse, or family members of those impacted by these issues.
“Looking back on this time, I would say we did everything on faith, that what we needed next would be provided, and somehow it was,” recalls founding member and first board president, Evelyn Roberson in her essay “How the Women’s Center at South Lake Tahoe got its start.”
After South Lake Tahoe City Council donated the then-vacant cabin in 1976, dozens of community members quickly came together to transform a cinderblock building into a true center for women. They came with tractors to dig out a parking lot, donated sliding glass doors, and old telephone poles gifted from Pacific Gas and Electric, reused to suspend the cabin’s deck, Roberson writes. The founders arrived with paintbrushes in hand, and one stroke at a time, they created the original SLT Women’s Center.
Roberson, then city clerk of the city of South Lake Tahoe and a divorced mother of two, was already an active member of the County Commission on the Status of Women, along with first Women’s Center board members Kathy Fitrakis, Susan Spears, Grace Carrinker and Gail Sanders. It was this group which sparked the Center’s establishment. And thanks to other local organizations, the center opened for service by 1977.
The nonprofit rapidly took off, hosting workshops on assertiveness training, labor trade opportunities, runway youth services and women’s discussion groups every Wednesday at noon. The nonprofit’s first rape crisis hotline was a crucial resource for the community. Additionally, the board gained funding in 1979, and hired Dianne Kushner, the first center director.
With the nonprofit in full swing, its influence on the community was already reaching great heights. In Kushner’s first year as director, she reported to the Tahoe Daily Tribune that 540 referral and information requests were made, more than 56 people attended educational activities and 2,300 people attended programs and contributing services.
Kushner would go on to obtain nearly $9,000 in grant money to maintain the crisis hotline 24-hours and seven days a week, which later became the Sexual Assault Program.
Throughout the decades, the nonprofit continued to grow and create a wider safety net for abuse survivors. More educational programs and services were being offered, including an emergency domestic violence Shelter, transitional housing, response teams, educational programs taught in the South Lake Tahoe School District, prevention education programs and eventually an branch in Alpine County.
“I’m most proud of this board for its thoughtful and quiet governing style,” said Cristi Creegan, board president and 7-year-board-member alum. “This isn’t a board that’s about being noticed or thanked; it’s about being effective and doing what needs to be done to support the agency’s goals.”
The same can be said about past board members. One board member held in high regard by her colleges and the community is South Lake Tahoe’s esteemed Betty Mitchell.
For Mitchell it was always about doing what is best for the beneficiaries of the nonprofit’s services, and “doing what just had to get done,” Jane Flavin, LVF executive director, recalled.
Working as a social worker for 14 years, Mitchell was driven and focused by how best to serve and fight for a stronger, safer community even if that meant stepping up as the executive director for a year.
Over the years, many powerful and respected women have aided in the efforts of LVF, often doing so not for notoriety but in order to serve the driving mission of the organization.
“We have a professional team here. Their strong sense of purpose and belief in our mission has helped so many people in our community,” said Flavin. “Much of what goes on here at LVF is empowering those that need our support and providing them with the resources to help them with their goals. The current staff is as dedicated and devoted to helping their community as the founding women.”
“I like to say that I am involved in LVF so that my daughters will never have to go there,” Creegan said. “If there is one thing we can do to honor the vision of the founding board members, it is to continue their work with the hopes that one day Live Violence Free will close its doors, having successfully met its goals.”
This story was provided by Live Violence Free.