Story by: Jeff Pack

During the annual meeting of Safe Alternatives for Everyone Friday, Feb. 8, Melissa Donaldson, the Riverside County director of victims services and former S.A.F.E. CEO, surprised the audience with a big announcement.

“As of now, we are merging (Riverside County Family Justice Center) and S.A.F.E., and we’re going to have four Family Justice Centers throughout the county,” Donaldson said to the audience. “It makes sense because single source agencies are not the way to go anymore. People need more than one thing because they come to us with so many issues. The best way to do it is for everybody to come to the table. It just makes sense to say let’s all just be one. So that’s what we’re doing.”

The announcement was met with cheers from the audience that consisted of county employees, officials and S.A.F.E.’s executive board, volunteers and donors.

Until Friday’s announcement, the Family Justice Center had three locations – Murrieta, Riverside and Indio. Adding Temecula, Donaldson said, will best serve the entire Riverside County community.

S.A.F.E. had been using the center in Murrieta for most of its domestic violence training and service already, this agreement just makes that partnership permanent, she said.

“Family activities and training will happen over (at the Temecula office) and then the Murrieta office will provide all the services that will include elder abuse, human trafficking, child abuse, everything,” Donaldson said.

Riverside County Family Justice Centers describes itself as “a safe place for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, child and elder abuse.”

S.A.F.E. has been “committed to providing services for children, youth and families, who have experienced or are at risk of abuse and violence” in the area since 2001.

The merger between the two organizations also means some of the services and programs that have been effective at S.A.F.E. will be implemented at the county centers.

“S.A.F.E. provided services that the FJC did not, because S.A.F.E. wasn’t built to be much more broad,” Donaldson said. “So we’re bringing some of that good stuff that S.A.F.E. has done at the other three sites as well. Starting in March, I think our Girl Circle program, which I love because it really changes lives, will be applied to the other sites. We’re going to spread this service model that S.A.F.E. developed with the Family Justice Centers, and we’re going to be able to provide much more comprehensive services and programs.”

Donaldson assured the audience that there will be no changes to donation processes.

“If you want the money you donate to stay in Temecula, it’s going to stay in Temecula,” Donaldson said. “We’re going to have different arms throughout the county.”

S.A.F.E. now has a new mission statement in addition to a new title – S.A.F.E. Family Justice Centers – and logo.

“S.A.F.E. Family Justice Centers are committed to providing comprehensive, co-located services that help protect families, seek justice and promotes safe futures for children, youth and families affected by violence,” Donaldson said.

“S.A.F.E. is still S.A.F.E.,” Donaldson said. “We’re still doing the great services we’re doing, we’re just going to do it a little bigger, a little more grand. With the FJC, now I know we’re the biggest one in the country, so we should be getting good stuff coming our way.”

Donaldson said the county has also applied for new grants that could bring in about a million dollars.

Donaldson said the move wouldn’t have been possible without the support of Riverside District Attorney Mike Hestrin, and they have named an award in his honor.

Riverside County Supervisor Chuck Washington was awarded the first-ever Mike A. Hestrin Family Justice Award.

“What you started here in the southwest part of this county is now going to, through the vehicle of family justice, be transported and replicated and basically franchised around the entire county,” Hestrin said to the audience. “You should be very proud.”

For more information on S.A.F.E., visit http://www.safefamiliesca.org and for more information on the Riverside County Family Justice Centers, visit http://www.rivcofjc.org.

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