It is hard to imagine 180 Turning Lives Around Inc., the private Monmouth County nonprofit organization dedicated to ending domestic violence and sexual violence, without thinking of Anna Diaz- White.
During her tenure, Diaz-White has expanded the agency’s programs and services to include client advocacy, transitional housing, creative arts therapy for victims and their children, community education, professional training and an array of group counseling and support services, according to information provided by the nonprofit.
The addition of these services more than quadrupled the number of clients served each year.
In a major effort to address prevention, Diaz-White has initiated a youth helpline and taken it from a small pilot project to one that is available to more than one million young people throughout the state of New Jersey. She is currently working toward a goal that she and the 180 board of trustees have made a priority: constructing a larger safe house for women and their children who must immediately leave abusive situations.
In recalling how 180 began, Diaz-White pointed out that just a little more than 30 years ago, Monmouth County victims of domestic violence or sexual assault had nowhere to turn: no hotline to call or shelter that could take them in or even laws that would protect them.
In Monmouth County, a small group of women decided to change all of that and started a rape hotline. They took turns answering the phone, met callers at a local diner and afterward brought the women and children who needed protection into their own homes.
Over time they began to notice an increasing number of calls from domestic violence victims. These “Founding Mothers” testified in Washington, D.C., about the need for shelters, and in 1976, they incorporated as the Women’s Resource and Survival Center, becoming the first federally funded battered women’s shelter in the nation, according to the nonprofit.
It would be another five years before New Jersey passed the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act in 1981, which gave legal rights to victims. Six years later, 180 added family court and municipal court assistance to help clients navigate the legal system.
“It is very humbling to follow in the footsteps of the ground-breaking women who founded our organization over 33 years ago. I am proud to continue the legacy of providing services that the community needs that no one else is providing,” Diaz- White said. “Since those early years, tremendous gains in awareness have been made, and victims are not staying in abusive situations for as long as they once did.”
Diaz-White, whose background was in banking and who has a Master of Business Administration degree from New York University, started working for the nonprofit 25 years ago as the agency’s financial manager. Eight years later when the position of executive director opened up, Diaz-White was chosen from a field of more than 100 candidates.
She has seen the agency’s annual budget increase from $350,000 to more than $4.5 million, reflecting 180’s growth in programs and services. 180’s staff and army of volunteers also increased under her direction, expanding from 17 staff members and fewer than 50 volunteers to some 90 staff members and more than 600 volunteers, including a 25-member Board of Trustees, according to the nonprofit.
In recent years, 180 launched a small pilot project that would become the 2NDFLOORYouth Helpline, a phone line operated by professional staff and trained volunteers. The professionals and the volunteers handle calls from young people and deal with a variety of issues.
Last year 2NDFLOOR made 180 history when federal and state funding helped it become the agency’s first statewide program, serving young people in all 21 counties throughout New Jersey, 24 hours a day. It is also the first such statewide helpline in the nation.
According to the nonprofit, much remains to be done: the location of the proposed safe house must be finalized, funds must be raised in a challenging economic environment and ground has yet to be broken. Asked how she can forge ahead before all of the details have been settled, Diaz- White shared a Zen expression she finds inspiring: “Leap and the net will appear.”
180 board of trustees President Philip Murphy said, “Anna is determined, smart, has a great sense of humor and stands up for her people. I have never worked with a nonprofit where an executive director was more in touch with the mission. Anna gets what we are trying to do in her soul and it shows.”