By Almendra Carpizo
Record Staff Writer

STOCKTON — It was about six years ago when 11-year-old Alex became so enraged that he charged another boy and threatened to kill him.

Casey Gwinn caught the boy and held him, telling him to breathe with him, said Gwinn, president of Alliance for HOPE International and founder of Camp HOPE. It took 45 minutes for Alex to calm down, at which time he gave Alex two choices: Attack the boy and go to juvenile hall or go to the lake and learn how to use a canoe.

“He said, ‘Keep holding me while I think about it.’ ”

Alex needed to process the cause of his rage, Gwinn said during a poignant keynote address at the 36th annual Women’s Center-Youth & Family Services Luncheon.

Childhood trauma and exposure to abuse and addiction have an impact on domestic violence, Gwinn said.

“If you want to stop domestic violence homicides in America, you don’t stop them by prosecuting some 45-year-old man right before he’s going to kill his partner,” he said. “You stop it when he’s 10 years old and he needs to figure out why he’s got so much rage inside him. That’s where you change the world for kids.”

The Women’s Center, which joined Youth & Family Services in 2012, is the place where people can help, said Gwinn, who mentioned he attended the event because of his respect for Women’s Center CEO Joelle Gomez.

Through these relationships people can create change, he said to the hundreds of people at the Stockton Memorial Civic Auditorium. And that’s just in the room. “The power of we,” the power of this room can help transform lives, he added.

One of the lives changed by the Women’s Center was that of Mary, who requested her last name not be used.

Mary, her five sisters and her drug-addicted mother lived at the Women’s Center’s DAWN (Directions for Abused Women in Need) House when she was a child, she said during a testimonial. They had been placed there after her mother stabbed her father.

The staff and women who were living at the shelter treated Mary and her sisters as family, she said. They made them feel loved and safe.

Although young when she left the shelter, Mary said she told herself she would never be like her mother and she would never turn a blind eye to children in those situations.

Mary has since returned to the Women’s Center, but this time to deliver toys for children living there, she said.

Gomez, who introduced Mary, recalls first meeting her during one of the times she dropped off toys. She had stopped to thank her and said she didn’t know how much this would mean to the kids, which is when Mary shared her story with her.

For 40 years, the Women’s Center has been providing hope, safety and refuge, Gomez said, adding that people weren’t just attending a luncheon; they were saving lives.

Gwinn said that through his travels across the U.S., he’s known of agencies that are closing or having to revamp, but the Women’s Center continues to build, and it’s a good legacy to be a part of.

“You’re going to change the world for hundreds if not thousands of women and children in the years to come,” he said.

Gwinn, a former prosecutor who worked on child abuse and domestic violence cases in San Diego, also shared about his family’s history with abuse, including his grandfather striking Gwinn’s father every morning for 13 years.

“ ‘Wee, Willie, wee, wake up’ and a closed fist to the side of the head of my father,” Gwinn said.

The cycle continued with him and his father, whom he said did things to him in the name of discipline that Gwinn, as an adult, sent men to prison for.

“In America, we raise our criminals at home,” he said. “And the vast majority of those who grow up to populate the juvenile justice system and the criminal justice system in the state of California grew up in homes (exposed to) child abuse and domestic violence and or drugs and alcohol.”

But, the cycle can be broken, the father of three said, challenging men to stand up against violence and be role models for boys.

Gwinn, who said he’s never spanked his kids, added, “The cycle is breaking in my family.”

For information on the Women’s Center-Youth & Family Services, call (209) 941-2611 or visit womenscenteryfs.org.

— Contact reporter Almendra Carpizo at (209) 546-8264 or acarpizo@recordnet.com. Follow her on Twitter @AlmendraCarpizo.

To read the original article click here: Keynote Speaker for Women’s Safety Center Event