Blog: We’re safer together – even while 6 feet apart

This blog is the third in an occasional series written by local people and businesses as they navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. This week, Route Bay City features Cierra Hessbrook, who works for the Bay Area Women’s Center.  

Hello Bay City! I am a young preventionist pursuing a master’s degree in public health. My goal is to continuously educate myself regarding ways I can serve others and support those in need. With the Bay Area Women’s Center, I’m able to do just that. My role at the agency is to provide prevention education to the community to help the agency reach its mission, which is to eliminate domestic violence and sexual assault.

The pandemic has drastically changed the way I work. Rather than going into classrooms and attending community events, I am working remotely. With all of the uncertainty, I am continuing to educate myself and update the agency’s programs in hopes that I will soon be able to provide relationship education to students and the community once again.

The Women’s Center, which opened in 1975 to serve survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic early on. We continue to feel the effects today. We have been operating with a skeleton crew since March and plan to remain working in this fashion until health professionals deem it safe and responsible to return to life as normal.

This pandemic has surely impacted us as a business, but also those we serve. Due to the orders to stay at home, many survivors of violence have been trapped inside their homes with their abusers. While we wait for the pandemic to come to an end, violence has not been put on pause.

With this being said, we at the Women’s Center remain committed to providing high quality services to those in need. Our has stepped up to ensure that our residents are well taken care of and have access to the services they need. We have created ways to engage residents during their time at the agency, while also providing virtual and remote service options for survivors.

The services we offer have not changed, but they have taken a slightly different form. We continue to operate our safe, emergency shelter for survivors who are in immediate danger and require a safe space immediately. Due to the pandemic, we have had to make the difficult decision to reduce our capacity to shelter. Rather than housing 32+ people at any given time, we house roughly 20-27 people. This decision helps us to appropriately distance residents. It also allows space for a resident to quarantine in isolation after a known COVID-19 exposure. Counseling services are offered over the phone and through tele-health. Our Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program continues to operate in person as normal for survivors of sexual assault who request exams.


Not only have we had to make adjustments to everyday operations, but we have also had to re-structure one of our fundraising events, Power of the Purse. Generally speaking, Power of the Purse is a huge fundraising event that provides the agency with $40,000. The money is essential for shelter operations.

 This year, the event took place virtually on Aug. 11 in an effort to keep our staff, committee members, and valued donors safe and healthy. We offered a sneak peak at the auction on our Facebook page.

We are uncertain as to whether we will be able to raise close to what we have before during this virtual method of fundraising so that we can continue to afford our operations during this unprecedented time.

As an agency, we have hope that we will once again be able to meet our clients face-to-face and without masks or physical distancing measures. We also have hope that we will be able to provide prevention education in person again to continue pursuing a future without violence. For now, we will remain committed to keeping our staff and residents safe.