Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Remodel provides more comfortable refuge


Lynnette Irlmeier, right, executive director of the Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Center, and Sonia McLaughlin, director of the Wallace and Vannucci Shelter, take a reporter on a tour of the recently refurbished shelter. While big strides have been made in comfort, the shelter still is bursting at the seams. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

You can help

What: ”Rebel with a Cause” fundraiser for the Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Center

When: Saturday, Oct. 26, 7 to 11 p.m.

Where: Reiff’s Gas Station Museum, 52 Jefferson St., Woodland

Tickets: $30 each, available at; the Davis Food Co-op, 620 G St.; or the Woodland Chamber of Commerce, 307 First St.

Info: 530-661-6336

Yolo County’s only shelter for battered women and their children could not get any busier.

Last year, the Wallace and Vannucci Shelter, a homey, comfortable place tucked away on a fairly nondescript, tree-lined residential street, provided 9,300 bed nights. That’s the equivalent of 26 people per night in a shelter with 25 beds.

Women arrive here, often with children in tow and no more than the clothes on their backs, and find safety and security — warm, comfortable beds to sleep in, food, counseling, support services and more. They stay for as long as they need to get back on their feet again and provide a life for their families free from violence.

When the shelter was built back in 1998, it was easy enough to meet demand. But a few years ago, that started changing. For whatever reason — some blame the recession — more and more women, and more moms with children, began seeking shelter.

Five years ago, the shelter provided 2,804 bed nights. Two years ago, it was up to 6,880. Now the shelter is so full that women are turned away on a regular basis.

“We’re seeing more moms and kids here and they’re staying longer,” said Lynnette Irlmeier, executive director of the Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Center, which operates the shelter. “We are full all the time now.”

“I had eight calls just today,” confirmed shelter director Sonia McLaughlin one recent afternoon.

The best she could do was try to help those women find another safe place — a difficult task given that the other options in the area generally just provide a place to sleep at night, and these women need more than that.

“Our clients need safety,” McLaughlin said. “A place to sleep is secondary.”

Telling people “no” is so difficult, Irlmeier and McLaughlin said, and sometimes they just can’t bring themselves to do it, especially when women and children show up desperate in the middle of the night.

They’ll put a futon down, open up a sofa bed “and figure it out in the morning,” McLaughlin said.

“I need to know that night that they’re going to be safe,” she added.

One thing providing some solace to McLaughlin, Irlmeier and the many volunteers who keep the shelter running is a recent remodel that has made the shelter an even better, more comfortable place for the families who do stay here.

The shelter — an airy, expansive building that is so much larger than it appears from the outside — hadn’t been remodeled since it was built. The original bathrooms were dormitory-style, with rows of toilets and showers with no more than curtains for privacy. Mold was a problem, not to mention the fact that the shelter doesn’t have an age limit for boys — so teen boys staying here with their mothers had minimal bathroom privacy.

Meanwhile, the bedrooms had dingy carpet and old beds and the whole place was in need of a new paint job.

Clearly, changes were needed.

Shelter operators approached the Yoche Dehe tribe, seeking grant funding to remodel the bathrooms and add two bedrooms. The tribe was able to provide half of what SADVC requested, but offered to help leverage that money to bring in additional resources. It worked.

So helpful was the community in terms of providing free labor and supplies, the shelter ended up spending only half the money the tribe provided for the initial request and used the rest to redo the bedrooms — replacing the flooring and beds and adding a fresh coat of paint.

The bathroom, meanwhile, underwent a complete transformation. Gone are the rows of toilets and showers, replaced by six individual bathrooms, each with a toilet, sink, shower and/or bathtub and — perhaps best of all — a door to close.

For these women who’ve had to uproot their children and their lives to seek shelter and safety in an unfamiliar place, the shower is often the one place they can let themselves break down and cry, McLaughlin said. Now they actually have a little more privacy to do that.

“It’s like giving them a gift,” said McLaughlin of the bathroom remodel. “And they’re not just safe, they’re comfortable.”

The remodel took place over the spring and summer. With no running water available during construction, the shelter needed to move occupants to a temporary location, which ended up being provided by the Davis Community Church. And the rest of the community came through in a big way.

Woodland Rotary clubs provided labor, Sleep Train provided 31 new mattresses, architect Betty Woo donated her time as did project manager Joe DeUlloa.

Sherwin-Williams and Kelly Moore donated paint, Home Depot and Lowe’s provided big discounts on supplies and Costco, as it always does, provided things big and small, completely free.

Irlmeier was stunned by the community’s generosity.

“Usually we had to beg for stuff, even little things,” she said. “Not this time. We had all these groups come forward and say, ‘What can we do? How can we help?’ ”

When an unwelcome surprise occurred — an overhead sprinkler started leaking — and there was no money in the budget to fix it, an anonymous donor found out, asked what it would cost to fix, and promptly provided the money.

There is still more work ahead — including construction of two additional bedrooms and a storage area — but the shelter has returned to the task at hand. The aroma of home-cooked meals lingers in the air, children play together in a large living room and women prepare for their new lives, taking advantage of financial planning classes, counseling, assistance with job searches and more.

When it comes down to it, the shelter may be a place where battered women seek refuge, but the services it provides are less about what has happened to these women and their children and more about where they go from here.

That’s one of the reasons the Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Center has decided to change its name.

“We want a name that encompasses everything we do,” Irlmeier said.

They’ll unveil their new name at a fundraiser on Saturday, Oct. 26, in Woodland.

The event, “Rebel with a Cause,” will feature live music, a ’50s-inspired costume contest, prizes and more, all at Reiff’s Gas Station Museum, 52 Jefferson St. Tickets are $30 and are available online at or may be purchased in person at the Davis Food Co-op, 620 G St., or the Woodland Chamber of Commerce, 307 First St., in Woodland.

Those who can’t attend but would like to donate to ensure the shelter’s ongoing operations can do so online at

— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy


Anne Ternus-Bellamy


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