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The women I admire

Editor’s Note: This is a part of a collection of stories SDNN will publish throughout the month of March to celebrate Women’s History Month. Join us as we recognize Women’s History Month by sending in your stories too and checking SDNN every day for stories from other women in our region. Happy Women’s History Month!

Growing up in Norfolk, Virginia, I lived in a quiet neighborhood. Quiet, that is, until the mothers started calling their children for dinner. Rose Evelyn didn’t delay when she heard her mother call her name. She was usually the first to leave the clipped green grass of my front yard, pedaling her bicycle furiously up the street. Her mother must have had the earliest dinner time on the block.

Judy’s mother would be next. She put her hands to her hips, arms akimbo, and in a trilling voice that carried from one end of the block to the other, calling “Juuuudy. Come ho-ome.” Judy’s goodbye was quick, too, as she ran, waving her arms so her mother would know she was on her way.

Kids liked to gather around my house. Its fence was for sitting, the weeping willow tree was for resting, and our wide driveway was perfect for roller skating, until the back of one skate or the other came off and jabbed the back of your heel.

My mother was in charge when dad was at sea or on 24-hour duty at the Naval Base. Mother made moving every three years seem natural. She’d pack up the house, give away clothes that didn’t fit, watched my brother and I choose which toys could fit in the toy-box. She had the paperwork necessary to enroll us in school, and never let on that moving might have been a struggle. New friends would be made, and if we were lucky, old friends got to talk long distance on the phone until that became impractical.

My life and that of my younger brother could be defined as relatively normal. We had some adventures here and there, but mostly, our life was just normal.

When I think of the strength and character in women who I admire and have looked to as models throughout my life and career, I think of those who skillfully raise their families, and those who struggle mightily to do so. For some, domestic violence preys in a monstrous way. My family willfully relocated in accordance with my father’s military reassignments, which was difficult. But, imagine being forced to flee your home or apartment in the middle of the night, toddler in tow and baby in your arms, because being slapped around means putting your children in danger. Normal? It should never be.

So where do they go? Chula Vista has Kathie Lembo, Executive Director of South Bay Community Services, who works miracles in winning grant funding, tying a federal program to a school program, making no bones about needing money for “my families,” “my preschoolers,” and “my teens.” From creating successful fundraising events to tending to the needs of women and families in dire situations, South Bay Community Services has a wonderful staff and group of volunteers to benefit our region. But most of all, we have Kathie. She’s the advisor, the financier, the mother.

She makes life just a bit better than normal for anxious three-year olds, for teens who think that being lost might be better than being found, for their mothers, who find a safe place with Kathie.

Since taking over the leadership at South Bay Community Services in 1982, one of Kathie’s many successes is opening Casas Seguras in 1995. It is the only confidential shelter and transitional housing for victims of family violence and their children in South San Diego County.

As a part of the Casas Seguras program, South Bay Community Services offers a safe place for families to start learning how to rebuild their lives. Hundreds of women and children are provided with short-term and long-term shelter and transitional housing. Their Mi Escuelita Therapeutic Preschool is a way for children who have experienced violence in the home to get a fresh start in a school environment that is sensitive to their specific needs and challenges. Mi Escuelita students show high rates of cognitive development and can look forward to a much better future.

In many ways, Kathie is like the Marine for whom the difficult takes time; the impossible takes a little longer.

Never one to lose hope; she always says, “We’ll find a way,”

I admire the women back when I was growing up on the naval bases who knew the kids in the neighborhood, who watched us play, and watched out for us. My mother was one of those women, and she was both admired and loved.

I respect and admire Kathie for facing adversity and taking it on, for the women and children who need her so much.

If you would like to help make the lives of children affected by domestic violence a little better, contributing to South Bay Community Services, 1124 Bay Blvd., #D, Chula Vista, 91911, is a good way to start.

Mayor Cheryl Cox lives in Chula Vista with her husband of 34 years. They have two adult daughters.