NonprofitMeeting crises with compassion and business realismDenise Frey
Executive director and CEO
YWCA Sonoma County
1421 Guerneville Road, Suite 200
Santa Rosa 95401
SANTA ROSA -- One of the ugly realities of tough economic times is that domestic violence tends to spike, a phenomenon that YWCA of Sonoma Executive Director and CEO Denise Frey is all too familiar with. At the same time, economic downturn also leads inevitably to funding cuts and a decline in charitable giving in the nonprofit world.
Yet during the worst financial crisis since the Depression, Ms. Frey has managed to expand YWCA Sonoma County services for battered women and their children by doubling the agency’s private funding sources – which now cover a third of the agency’s budget – and to develop a significant cash reserve while streamlining operations.
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Ms. Frey also led the cause to create the Family Justice Center of Sonoma County over the past three years, building collaborative relationships between public and private partners that have resulted in $1.5 million in federal and private funding. Ms. Frey has advocated in Sacramento for victims' rights to secure emergency funding and raise awareness about the need for the center, where the YWCA will play a crucial role in providing coordinated delivery of social services.
YWCA Sonoma County, founded in 1975, serves women and children who are either victims or at risk of domestic violence. YWCA operates the Safe House, a shelter for battered women and their children that temporarily houses and supports up to 24 families, as well as A Special Place Preschool. Other services include individual and group therapy, peer support groups, legal services, educational counseling and housing placement assistance.
Ms. Frey began her nonprofit career in 1980 as a volunteer for a battered women’s shelter in San Diego, herself a survivor of domestic violence as a young woman. She was hired as a community educator to speak in schools about healthy relationships and domestic violence. This led to developing that program’s curriculum, and then in 1985, Ms. Frey became the director of domestic violence services and programs for the YWCA of San Diego County.
“I was very fortunate to be working in San Diego at a time when domestic violence had reached national consciousness,” Ms. Frey said. Congress passed the National Violence Against Women Act in 1995, creating the U.S. Department of Justice's Office on Violence Against Women and establishing the National Domestic Violence Hotline, among many other initiatives.
Ms. Frey was also involved in creating the Family Justice Center in San Diego during that time, the very first such center to bring critical services for victims of family violence under one roof, becoming a model for the rest of the nation.
When Ms. Frey came to Sonoma County in 2003 to become the national development director for Canine Companions for Independence, she was aware of the campaign to establish a Family Justice Center in Sonoma County.
Though Canine Companions represented a departure from the cause that built her career, working with a team of fundraising professionals served to hone the fund development skills she brought to the YWCA in 2006.