Susana & Rose

Susana came to SAFE’s Family Shelter with her daughter, Rose, who was about to start junior high. They were fleeing Susana’s long-time partner, who emotionally abused them both and physically attacked Susana on multiple occasions in front of Rose. Susana also grew up in a violent home, regularly witnessing and experiencing abuse at the hands of her father. When she got to SAFE, Susana told our staff that she suspected her daughter was not on track developmentally. But our counselors reassured her and told her about how children can be impacted by violence and trauma.

By coming to the SAFE Family Shelter, Susana and Rose had access to more than just a safe place to sleep. They had access to counseling, to a trauma-informed school, health care, housing assistance – all opportunities for healing.They are now working to stop the cycle of violence in their family.

Shawn Garner, Transitional Living Youth Care Worker

While coaching youth basketball in college, Shawn Garner realized his players needed just as much guidance off the court as on the court; many spent their time at the gym to avoid facing issues at home. That’s when he decided he wanted to pursue social work, leading him to the SAFE Children’s Shelter Transitional Living Program, which houses young adults who are aging out of the foster care system. Shawn again found that basketball was a way to build trust right away – and gain the trust the kids need to finally feel safe.


Lucinda experienced severe sexual assault in her early teen years, followed by a long-term abusive relationship, which resulted in post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks and difficulty living a normal life. When Lucinda finally decided to leave her long-term abusive relationship, she came to SAFE’s shelter in hopes of finding safety. Counselors at SAFE helped Lucinda develop coping strategies and regain her confidence. Lawyers at SAFE worked with her to obtain a protective order. Now Lucinda lives in her own apartment, has a steady income and ongoing support services.

Kristie Gonzales

SAFE Board Member Kristie Gonzales is the President and General Manager of KVUE, the abc affiliate in Austin, Texas. She leads a staff of more than 120 employees who produce 33 hours of award-winning live news each week.

Previously, Kristie held various television management roles across the country, specializing in news branding, multi-cultural marketing and harnessing the power of digital and social media. She has served with anti-abuse organizations for more than 15 years after experiencing domestic violence. She now shares her personal story and the motto given to her by her mentor, “As you climb, lift,” with others facing adversity.


Ally took her children and fled a physically and emotionally abusive home to find a new beginning in Austin. She wanted to continue the nursing education that her abusive partner had forced her to abandon.  But with nowhere to go in a new city, she felt hopeless. She didn’t have a permanent home for her and her kids. Ally began meeting with a SAFE advocate and case manager to conduct a housing search and, through SAFE and our community partners, found an affordable apartment that worked for her family. Since moving in, Ally has been accepted into the nursing program at a university!


Only a week after enduring severe violence by her partner, Michelle was able to access SAFE’s counseling services to address the trauma that she faced. Michelle’s counselor worked with her using a type of therapy called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) to restore her sense of safety and help her prepare to testify against her abuser in court. The counselor also accompanied Michelle to court and had the honor of witnessing Michelle courageously speak truth to power from the witness stand. Since she started seeing counselors at SAFE, Michelle has released her feelings of guilt and shame and now lives free of fear of her abuser.

Melinda Cantu, Vice President of Housing, Healing, and Support Services

Melinda has been a part of SAFE for over 30 years in both direct service and leadership positions. Melinda has been the driving force behind many of SAFE’s programs that directly support youth and adults. She has presented nationally and internationally on operating barrier-free shelters and services. Statewide, she has been active with the Texas Council on Family Violence, and locally as part of the Ending Community Homelessness Organization. Melinda and the staff she works with are dedicated to supporting survivors as they find their strength and start their journey to healing.

Virginia Manders, Data entry volunteer for the Sexual Assault Victim Advocacy program

Virginia has dedicated more than 250 hours volunteering with SAFE’s Sexual Assault Victim Advocacy program, which accompanies sexual assault survivors who undergo forensic exams in Travis County. Her work involves entering data for medical accompaniment reports. Virginia understands the complex issues that sexual assault victims face and her sensitivity to accurate documentation impacts the quality of follow-up services. Virginia also researches grants and writes summaries of research studies that SAFE uses when applying for grants. For her tireless dedication, Virginia was named the 2018 Frankie Fowler Volunteer of the Year.

At just 19 years old, Catherine came to SAFE after escaping her trafficker who was drugging her and exploiting her for sex. Catherine contacted the SAFEline and was able to come to SAFE for shelter. Because of your support, Catherine is now not only safe from the people who were hurting her, but she is connected to our CARES program for survivors of trafficking, and has the wraparound care and resources to rebuild her life and to heal.

Charles came to the Children’s Shelter at 17 years old due to extreme abuse and neglect throughout his childhood, including not properly caring for Charles’ thyroid cancer. Because of the support from our community, Charles was able to be immediately seen right on campus when he arrived by medical professionals to help care for his health. Charles had multiple medical concerns that were simply being ignored, but now he is getting the support and care he needs.

Nick has been in foster care most of his life, and has been shuffled from placement to placement over and over again. He finally found stability and built a community here at SAFE in our housing program for teens aging out of foster care. During COVID-19 Nick was scheduled to transition to live on his own, and was understandably nervous given the pandemic. But with your help, Nick was completely supported and our teams pulled together resources to provide Nick comfort and safety every step of the way.

Betty and her kids came to SAFE’s Family Shelter 2 years ago, and have since been living all together in our supportive housing program. Since being in the program, Betty has worked closely with her advocates across many programs to achieve her goals of finding her own place out in the community, figuring out all of her challenges related to her medical condition, and to continue building autonomy in her life. Now, because of donor support, Betty expects to move into her own home by the end of the month!

Rhonda moved into SAFE’S permanent supportive housing last year after a natural disaster in another state left her homeless and struggling. Relocating to a new community has been hard on Rhonda, but she has successfully worked through her challenges, and has diligently worked with many staff members and in a variety of SAFE’s programs. Thanks to the support of our community, Rhonda is now looking forward to being in her own home and is continuing to utilize many of SAFE’s services.

Your generosity makes stories like this possible: Susana and her daughter Rose came to SAFE’s Family Shelter after fleeing Susana’s long-time abusive partner. Susana told SAFE’s counselors that she was concerned that Rose was not on track developmentally and was worried about her behavior problems. Susana was worried that we would think she was a bad mom. But here at SAFE, Susana and Rose were able to get wraparound support to help them to heal from their trauma, and Susana was able to be reassured as a mom and support system for her daughter.

After COVID hit, we heard from many clients in need of guardianship documents, wills, and powers of attorney, should they suddenly become ill. So, at the beginning of the summer our legal services team launched a drive-thru wills clinic! At the clinic, we were able to help multiple clients with full sets of legal documents to help protect themselves, their children, and their assets. It was such an overwhelming success! One client cried at signing day, saying she was overwhelmed with gratitude because she could now protect her newly adopted daughter!

a child began coming to SAFE’s peer support groups. After listening to other women in the group, she had a revelation: she realized she was being raped repeatedly in her current relationship. Through open conversation about personal and emotional rights, she got the answers to questions she had been too afraid to ask. Thanks to your support, and with the support of the group, she was able to get the help she needed and make a safety plan to get out of her current situation.

Recently, we had a mom call our SAFEline needing shelter for herself and her three children after her husband had strangled and hit her when she was defending her children. This mom needed immediate safety for herself and her children, but unfortunately, our shelter was full. Regardless, our staff figured out how to move other families that were now safe and waiting on permanent housing out to a hotel, paid for by donor dollars, so we could move this young family in, thus keeping the mom and children safe. Had we not been able to figure it out, the likely outcome would have been continued abuse of the children and the mother.

Bethany, a five-year-old little girl, was placed at the Children’s Shelter after being separated from her mother because of drug use. When Bethany arrived, we noticed that she had never been taught basic hygiene, so our staff came together to help teach and support little Bethany in learning these basic skills. Bethany learned how to use the bathroom, brush her teeth by herself, and bathe. Thanks to your support, while here at SAFE Bethany can learn these basic skills, and also work with an on-site individual play therapy to help her through her trauma and separation from her mom.

Marie recently arrived at SAFE to complete a forensic exam and receive medical care at Eloise House. Her attacker sexually assaulted her and threatened to hurt her children if she told anyone. She arrived at our clinic with her children, but without a support network, money, transportation, or even a safe place to stay the night. Advocates and forensic nurses all collaborated to support Marie, and after securing funds for her to spend two nights in a hotel, Marie and her children were able to get into shelter at SAFE. The combination of support and resources that you make possible made all the difference in supporting Marie and her children to find safety and begin to heal.

Recently, a young woman named Paula reached out to our SAFEline after being badly beaten and her clothes burned by her boyfriend. When she called, Paula was living in her car. The SAFEline advocate learned that Paula had relatives in another state who were willing to let her live with them, but they wanted Paula to quarantine herself for two weeks before coming to make sure she wouldn’t spread COVID19. Because of the support from our community, we were able to pay for a hotel for her to quarantine as well as a bus ticket for her to get to her family. So often all that stands between a survivor and safety is one time funding to get them back on their feet.

Francesca has been in foster care since we was a very young due to neglect and drug use by her parents, and she arrived at the Children’s Shelter after her third adoptive home placement failed. Francesca was angry and would frequently have aggressive outbursts blaming CPS and her adoptive family. She shared with us that she struggled to understand why her adoptive placements continued to fail and wanted nothing more than a long-term family. We cannot undo what Francesca has experienced, but through frequent check-ins each day, individual therapy, and wraparound support from staff, we can help her to know that she matters, and that there are adults who care for her, that she can trust.

This year, a local school reached out to SAFE’s Expect Respect program and requested counseling for a student who had experienced sexual harassment and bullying during the previous school year. The student, Amara, was depressed and needed support. Amara was able to connect virtually with an Expect Respect counselor, as well as join a support group with other kids her age who were all navigating teen relationships. Amara learned how to safety plan if the bullying continued, and is also building strong relationships and connections with her peers that she didn’t have before.

Anna was placed at the Children’s Shelter in August, and when she arrived she had many medical concerns, and a complex medical history. Anna shared stories of times when she was younger and couldn’t control her breathing, and how she went many years without medical care. She was later diagnosed with asthma. But thanks to your generosity, here at SAFE, Anna felt safe enough to be vulnerable and was very emotional as staff acknowledged and validated how she was feeling. Anna struggles with trusting adults, however, as we continue to show her we care about her, her physical and mental health, that trust can be rebuilt.

Like many students, the transition from in-person learning to online learning last April was not easy. Jess is a student in the SAFE charter school, and he found the online learning format to be very challenging and, as a result, stopped showing up to his classes and small group instruction. We immediately connected with Jess to figure out how to support him, and learned that Jess felt uncomfortable using the camera on the computer, and was feeling incredibly anxious about taking finals on the computer. With this information in hand, we were able to get different processes in place for him. Because our community supported him fully, Jess finished out his school year strong.

Earlier this year, Ruth, a young mom of 3, was stabbed by her husband in multiple areas of her body. Ruth’s children were placed into the foster care system while she was hospitalized for her injuries, going through intense physical therapy, and navigating the justice system after her husband was arrested and charged. After leaving the hospital, a friend from Ruth’s faith community told her about SAFE. Our legal services team was able to work closely with Ruth on her case, and all of her children have since been returned to her care!

Earlier this year, Ruth, a young mom of 3, was stabbed by her husband in multiple areas of her body. Ruth’s children were placed into the foster care system while she was hospitalized for her injuries, going through intense physical therapy, and navigating the justice system after her husband was arrested and charged. After leaving the hospital, a friend from Ruth’s faith community told her about SAFE. Our legal services team was able to work closely with Ruth on her case, and all of her children have since been returned to her care!

Janice is a military veteran and mother to a 3 year old. Janice’s partner was extremely controlling and emotionally abusive, and the abuse eventually became physical. During one fight, her neighbor called the police, which resulted in CPS removing Janice’s daughter and placing her in foster care. Janice then connected with our SAFE Futures program that helps domestic violence survivors who are now are involved with CPS. Janice got legal help, joined a peer support group, and has built a great relationship with her advocate. Janice’s advocate helped to educate CPS on the ways in which Janice was protective of her daughter through this situation, and was able to reunify Janice and her baby.

People with disabilities are at a significantly higher risk for abuse and trauma, and at SAFE we engage with survivors with disabilities through holistic healing classes across the city. When the pandemic hit, many class participants were overwhelmed by feelings of fear, worry, and stress. But part of the classes was to work with survivors on healing from within, and learning tools to provide relief from strong emotions. So even though in person classes were not possible, thanks to community support, healing is still happening.