A Survivor’s Letter

To My Son – A San Diego Survivor’s Letter

You are only months away from entering this wonderful world as I write this, and I am already imagining what you will look like as a grown man and how you will feel reading the stacks of letters I am writing to you now. One day you will be old enough to understand that this wonderful world can also be brutal, and that will be when I hand you the letters because I want you to know the cycle from which I have worked so hard to free you. It is my hope that I have done a good job raising you and that your uncle and other good men in your life have shown you how to let kindness and goodness guide your life and relationships. Every bit of good in you as a grown man will help me to forget a bit of pain from the beatings I endured from a man I once loved, your father.

In the beginning, it was only my heart that saw your father. I missed the little signs early on, and like a slow boil, the excitement of true love had become a grotesque union of an abuser and a victim. To the outside world, your father was a respectable, charming person. No one knew the dark universe of our marriage and what happened inside the apartment that I came to see as my prison. I had become a shell of a person after more than two years of mind-blowing cycles of bloody fights, being dragged along the floor like a felled tree, and the maceration of my dignity each time my spirit shined too bright. When the attacks would come, I would typically be frozen with fear, knowing I could not escape them. I remember clearly the one time I did run. Your father had thrust my face so hard into a wall that he fractured my nose, and an animal-like sense of impending death took my legs toward the door and I found myself running faster than light and into the arms of my mother, who called the police yet another time. And yes, the flowers and the chocolates came and worked on my heart again. . . and again.

And then one day it was not a brush with death that finally caused me to walk away forever. It was a brush with life, new life, growing in my belly. I knew I could not have a child witness this brutality and possibly imitate it later. So, when I found out I was pregnant with you, I walked away and made this confidential shelter our temporary home. As you grow inside me, I feel your miraculous, gentle kicks as you turn in my belly. Every month until you are born, I will write letters that I plan to give you when you are ready to understand the importance of ending the cycle of violence. This is the first letter. The next one will explain how I know that your father loves you, but that it does not excuse the violence. The next one after that will explain how violence was a generational tragedy for both sides of your family. I came from a long line of broken abusers and victims, and surviving was literally the way I lived. Your father also saw violence every day, and his mother lost her life to domestic violence—the last human touch of her life was a brutal blow to the head.

You will have a stack of letters to read, and each word was written with my new-found courage and deep love for you, my son. We will end this cycle for our families, you and I together.


October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month 

The number one thing that will end domestic violence is our collective power. By speaking openly about domestic violence, we can help stop the cycle of abuse. If you or someone you know needs someone to talk to, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE), direct them to the San Diego Family Justice Center, or SAY’s domestic violence resource page.

Strengthening Families

From Nancy Gannon Hornberger

Parents and families are the first and most important adults in a child’s life. Even in the best circumstances, raising children and growing up are complicated. So, when families face personal, social and economic challenges, attending to their children’s basic needs, connecting to their children’s schools, and building a nurturing environment at home may be difficult. This is where skillful community organizations, like SAY San Diego, step up to offer help!

SAY San Diego is honored to be featured in Live Well San Diego’s October newsletter. Click here to read Nancy’s message.

A Busy Mom’s Heartfelt Thank You

Mrs. California, Andrea McClew, speaks at Play 4 SAY 2018.

Andrea McClew is a working mom of two, a military wife, and the reigning Mrs. California US America. To say she is busy is an understatement. Fortunately for Andrea, SAY’s after-school program provides her with affordable, trusted care for her children. “When my husband was deployed for seven months, I was essentially a single-parent, juggling work and appearances as Mrs. California. I really don’t know what I would’ve done without the after-school program. It’s a safe haven for my kids,” said Andrea.

Andrea’s children have been involved with SAY’s after-school programs for about three years, and she knows her kids are in good hands. “The staff have a lot of experience with military kids. Some even grew up in military families themselves, so they really understand what the kids are going through. They are able to help the kids in the program talk about deployment life.”

It’s a relief knowing that her children are in a safe place with staff who really care, but the best part is seeing how much they truly enjoy their time spent learning and participating in extracurricular activities. In fact, Andrea’s son has been known to look disappointed when it’s time to go home. “It makes me feel good knowing that when I’m working or at an event, my kids are having a great time. Every parent just wants to see their kids happy.”

“Thank you to SAY San Diego for your after-school program and for your support of military families. I hope this program continues on long after my kids are grown.”

SAY San Diego Before and After School Programs provide a welcoming, safe place for more than 4,000 elementary and middle school aged youth, every day, enabling them to experience academic enrichment and recreation during the hours before and after the regular school day. Activities include homework assistance, arts and crafts, sports, creative and performing arts, and STEM. SAY San Diego partners with San Diego Unified Schools to run PrimeTime programming at 22 schools in the district. We also offer Licensed Fee-based Extended Learning Programs at 18 additional sites throughout San Diego.

Welcome Summer!

From Nancy Gannon Hornberger, CEO

(L-R) Councilmember Georgette Gomez, Police Chief David Nisleit, and Nancy Gannon Hornberger

SAY San Diego kicked off summer with the 4th Annual San Diego Unity Games on June 23. What a fantastic day! More than 200 youth and community members participated, including local leaders, San Diego City Councilmember Georgette Gomez, San Diego Chief of Police David Nisleit, and San Diego County Probation Chief Adolfo Gonzales.

Youth, faith groups, community organizations, law enforcement, probation, and city and county elected officials, all partnered together to host the games and further goals of shared neighborhood solutions, positive activities for youth and families, and increased use of the Willie Henderson Park in Southeastern San Diego. We are very grateful to all who helped make the San Diego Unity Games possible!

Also this summer, Camp Move, our camp program promoting active and healthy living for school-age children, is in full swing; we get a fresh start, as July 1st marked the beginning of our new fiscal year; we are already preparing for our Back-to-School supply drive; and of course Play 4 SAY – our annual, signature fundraising event is later this month!

Summer can be a time of high need for children and families who rely on the school meals program, but do not have access to meals during the school break. SAY is happy to partner with organizations that ensure that all kids have access to healthy meals over the summer. For more information, see: http://211sandiego.org/resources/food-assistance/summer-lunch-program/

Celebrating Families

From Nancy Gannon Hornberger, CEO

June offers time to reflect on the importance of family, in its many forms. At SAY San Diego, we invest in the whole family, as defined by the family, and in improving neighborhood and social conditions, to empower equity, opportunity, and well-being for children. One hallmark of our work is use of family strengthening practices across many programs. The evidence based family strengthening approach is family centered, valuing and recognizing family input and involvement; family-strengthening, engaging multiple solutions to enable families to be strong, healthy, and safe; embracing of diversity; and supportive of community connections and collaboration.

In keeping with the family-strengthening approach, last month we wrote about Project KEEP, which provides a solid support system for foster and kinship caregivers of children ages 5-18 years. Below, you will learn more about Dads Corps, SAY San Diego’s unique program that provides peer support and educational opportunities for active duty and veteran military fathers.

This month, we are also thrilled to announce that SAY San Diego has been recognized for its leadership with two awards. Our Cognitive Behavioral Therapy program and its entire staff team were recognized by the San Diego County Probation Department for their leadership in Evidence Based Treatment Practice. Then on June 14, SAY will receive national recognition with the Organizational Excellence Award given by the Network for Social Work Management.

National Foster Care Month

From Nancy Gannon Hornberger, CEO

May is National Foster Care Month acknowledging foster parents, family members, volunteers, mentors, policy makers, child welfare professionals, advocates, youth in foster care, former foster youth, and all members of the community who advocate for youth in foster care and their families, and who provide permanent, safe homes and caring connections for them.

Here at SAY San Diego, this month and every month, we are committed to ensuring a bright future for more than 2,100 children and youth in foster care in our county (down from nearly 4,900 a decade ago). We celebrate all who work daily, as we do, to prevent child abuse and neglect, prevent out of home placements, heal trauma, cultivate nurturing family bonds, and make a meaningful difference in the lives of children who suffer the trauma of abuse and neglect.

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Day of the Arts

Over the past 9 months teens from Mid City and Southeastern San Diego directed their creativity and passion toward understanding why so few clean and safe outdoor areas exist in the community and finding solutions to those negative influences. Opening the Outdoors is a project spearheaded by SAY San Diego, in partnership with AjA Project and local schools in the Mid-City area, and with Project Aware Inc. and The SOULcial workers in Southeastern San Diego, with generous funding support from the San Diego Foundation. Through the prism of photography, teens identified Officer Jeremy Henwood Memorial Park as an important asset for the community and asked that more events and opportunities for artistic expression be offered to youth and families in City Heights.

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Celebrating SAY San Diego Volunteers!

From Nancy Gannon Hornberger, CEO

Each and every day, volunteers, business partners, community and student service groups, and interns pursing their academic goals give the gifts of their talent and time to SAY San Diego. They form the heart of our community!

Our volunteers contribute in a wide variety of ways, as role models, experts in law, tax, design, real estate, and as tutors, event organizers, counselors, video producers, photographers, interpreters and translators, coaches and leaders of youth development and recreational activities, as well as community leaders and board members. SAY’s fantastic volunteer force outnumbers our workforce, allowing us to reach more people than our financial resources would otherwise allow. Our volunteers and interns give meaningfully of themselves to the tens of thousands of children, youth, and families who make up SAY San Diego’s clients and communities.

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Celebrating Early Literacy in March and Every Day!

From Nancy Gannon Hornberger, CEO

Early Literacy Month is inspired by Dr. Seuss’ birthday in early March, as well as broad-based research and understanding of how early language development and literacy are essential for cognitive growth and learning in young children. What we see every day at SAY San Diego is that children who have lots of engaging experiences with stories, books, songs, poetry and language in general absorb the rhythms and patterns of language and, at surprisingly early ages, begin to imitate the language and gestures they see and hear.

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2nd Annual LCAP Community Dialogue on Education

By Lucia Acevedo
Program Director – Crawford Community Connection

On Saturday, February 24th, over 150 City Heights parents, students, school principals, and district leaders came together at Monroe Clark Middle School for a morning gathering to participate in a unique effort to dialogue on the complex and varied factors affecting our schools and provide direction to the district on how it should budget to address these factors. The 2ND ANNUAL LCAP (Local Control Accountability Plan) COMMUNITY DIALOGUE ON EDUCATION was hosted by SAY San Diego’s Crawford Community Connection – Parent Student Resident Organization (PSRO), in partnership with SDUSD, The Global Arc, Hoover Wellness Council, United Women of East Africa, Comite Organizador Latino de City Heights, the International Rescue Committee, Karen Organization of San Diego, Sterlington Consulting, and the California Endowment. Attendees collectively reviewed data regarding student chronic absenteeism, school suspension rates, English Learner progress, college and career preparedness and other issues. They were then invited to explore and identify ways to address these pressing issues.

Mr. Tang, the principal from Mann Middle School said “It was great to see so many community members and parents having a voice in the budget process.  I valued the dialogue, how we were talking with each other instead of at one another. And I really appreciated the involvement of the students there from Crawford High School.”

One of the participating parents said “Our community as parents, schools and community have to work together for our kid’s well-being. We have a lot of great ideas and leaders in our community, we have to take advantage and do it.”

Another parent from Crawford High School noted “It helped me know that most parents are finding the same hardships and we can work together to solve them together for our children’s good.”

At the end of the day all of the feedback was collected and folks were invited to be a part of the process to compile the information and develop a document to be presented to the SDUSD in the next month.

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