About 200 people gathered at the Anaheim Hilton on Tuesday to celebrate the work of an Orange County prosecutor and two volunteers for their efforts to end family violence.
The work of the Orange County Family Justice Center began eight years ago — long before a video of a former NFL running back knocking out his wife put a national spotlight on the issue.
“I think we have all become acutely aware that all communities face in dealing with abuse,” Susan Bruegman, vice president of the OCFJC Foundation board, said at the awards luncheon.
Bruegman was honored for her leadership in creating the “Kids Creating Change” program, which teaches children of violence that “hands are not for hitting” and “love doesn’t have to hurt.”
So far, 611 Orange County children have graduated from the program – and another graduation ceremony is scheduled for Wednesday. Many said the program changed their lives, Bruegman said.
Last year, nine people died as a result of domestic violence for every death related to war, said board member Kandee Baes, quoting a recent World Economic Forum article.
Another honoree, Johanna Gonzalez, said many of the juveniles she ran across while working with the Orange County Probation Department had drug problems.
“One of the things that led them to use drugs as a gateway was to get away from the violence that they endured with their families,” she said.
Orange County Deputy District Attorney Jess Rodriquez was honored for putting about 80 rapists and pedophiles behind bars while working at the OCFJC during the past four years.
“Unlike any other type of crime, you know for a fact that you’re not just taking care of this crime, you’re preventing other crimes,” he said.
Supervisor Todd Spitzer told the story about a woman who had a breakdown after an emotional confrontation with her daughter’s killer at a parole hearing several years after the killing.
“Do not tell me that violence does not impact our lives,” Spitzer said.
State Sen. Lou Correa shared a story about family violence that he witnessed growing up in Anaheim.
“These are not abstract issues,” he said.
At the event, Disney’s VoluntEARS program (voted on by employees) donated $5,000 to the Kids Creating Change and Real Teens/Real Talk prevention programs.
OCFJC Foundation Executive Director Kerith Dilley said without intervention, children, teens and others exposed to violence are at a high risk of repeating the cycle.
“We are trying to solve violence instead of just dealing with its symptoms,” she said.