Harbor House Recognizes Community Champions

Posted on: October 10th, 2018

They live in the shadows, but we see it too many times throughout news headlines – in our very own backyard with a tragic ending, in the NFL, and recently from Ohio State University. Domestic violence is a disease encompassing our community, state and world. Most of the time, it’s happening right in front of us and we’re not even aware, because survivors are hiding – to save their lives.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 1 in 3 women in the United States have been victims of domestic violence within their lifetime. Even worse, 1 in 15 children are exposed to this violence every year, and 90% of these children are eyewitnesses. More than half of the survivors who temporarily reside at the emergency shelter at Harbor House of Central Florida… are children.

Harbor House is on the frontlines every day, helping more than 10,000 survivors in Orange County every year; but it takes a community to truly make an impact. During this year’s annual Purple Door Luncheon on Wednesday, October 17, Harbor House will recognize community advocates who have placed their own stake in the ground to end the cycle of violence and help survivors. They are this year’s Champions of Courage.

Orange County Circuit Court Judge Alice Blackwell is the Champion of Justice. Her leadership and passion for survivors drove her to establish a more effective, compassionate and improved court process. As the co-chair for the Orange County Domestic Violence and Child Abuse Commission, she continues to make recommendations for improvements to services for impacted Orange County families.

The Champion of Advocacy is Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, who throughout her eight years of elective service has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to creating an environment in which children and families can thrive and succeed. She has focused attention and brought resources to this issue.

Bank of America is the Champion of Community and a passionate partner in the quest to end domestic violence. In addition to sponsoring numerous Harbor House events, they’ve donated countless hours of volunteer time, and awarded Harbor House $250,000 through their Neighborhood Builders program, the largest national philanthropic investment in nonprofit leadership development.   

The Champion of Equality is Heather Wilkie, executive director of the Zebra Coalition. As former COO of Harbor House, she led the statewide LGBTQ caucus for the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence to enhance services for survivors of abuse. She continues to serve on domestic violence committees and leads LGBTQ trainings at Harbor House and statewide through FCADV.  

As a law enforcement agency, the Orlando Police Department has worked hand-in-hand with Harbor House to combat domestic violence, which is why it’s the Champion of Courage. Harbor House’s Law Enforcement Hotline was initially launched in partnership with them. The organizations have also partnered for It takes Courage and Invest/Eve, where a position was created to solely focus on domestic violence.

Finally, as a long-time volunteer who’s worked tirelessly for women’s and children’s rights, especially domestic violence survivors and the sexually assaulted, Beverly Paulk is the Harbor House Legacy Leader. Since the mid-1980s, her caring heart, business savvy and life perspective helped Harbor House grow into one of the most comprehensive and progressive domestic abuse organizations in Florida.

The gravesite of Raquel’s daughter.

In addition to the recognition ceremony, guests will have the opportunity to meet a survivor who will heroically share her story. Raquel Gonzalez’s life changed forever on May 21, 1999, when a better day than others quickly turned tragic. Imagine living with someone who came home happy from work and wanted to spend a nice evening out with the family. While this is what most of us experience, what could be so tragic about this scenario? Well imagine returning home from pampering to verbal outbursts and violence – over a nail polish color. Raquel’s 2-year-old daughter was used to get to her; and two days later the baby passed away.

Today, Raquel is safe, thinks about Natalie every single day and what more she could have done to prevent this from happening. Every year, she and her family visit Natalie’s grave to celebrate her life and continue to grieve. Her ex-boyfriend is serving life in prison without parole.

These are stories those working the frontlines at Harbor House work through every day. They are truly saving lives and providing survivors with the light and hope they deserve to make a fresh start for themselves. A loving, healthy, intimate relationship shouldn’t hurt.

Visit harborhousefl.com to learn more about the Purple Door Luncheon. If you or someone you know could be experiencing domestic violence, contact the confidential statewide helpline at 800-500-1119.