Women’s Center also offers support to men

Women’s Center also offers support to menBy LAURA QUEZADA

News Review Staff Writer

Two times per month, the second and final Thurday of the month at 3 o’clock, local men have the opportunity to meet with other men for support in navigating the often difficult journey of being a man in our society. “Most men mask their sadness with anger or trying to be funny,” says Manny Arias, Special Project Coordinator at the Women’s Center High Desert Inc. The Mens Group offered by the Center offers an option for men to express their experiences and feelings in a nonthreatening supportive environment.

Arias offered the first group meeting to the five male employees at the center; he had concerns. “I came from a big sports background. I started the group to experiment to see how the guys here at the Women’s Center would react to this kind of stigma in this kind of setting, being amongst men. We brought up problems like ‘What would you do if your girlfriend left you in high school? Like how would you handle that scenario?’ And we all had different answers. And each of us wasn’t trying to be right. That was the beauty of it; we all went through different scenarios.” This led to insights. One man said, “I want to help my kids out to find a way for them to master emotions in a better way.” Arias remembers, “He said, ‘before I probably would have never thought about that.’ And we all we weren’t ganging up on him. And that’s what my biggest fear was being in a men’s group; it’s a lot easier for a lot of guys to gang up on somebody. And make fun of them or something like that.”

Arias clears up some likely misconceptions, “A lot of people have the notion that if we help out men, we’re usually helping out the abusers. But we aren’t. We are actually helping out the ones who are abused or have experienced some kind of traumatic event in their past. So when we help these men, it’s actually men trying to hold other men accountable for what’s going on. That’s why we have opened up this group to men.”

The group was first opened to staff and volunteers and now it is offered to the public. “These services are for men who have either experienced some sort of violence towards them, or they feel like they have something there that they feel like they’re empty or if they feel like the stigma as a man is to be violent to be in control all the time. It’s for people who feel that they don’t have a safe space, a safe place to talk about these kinds of things amongst other men.

I played college baseball. And in that space, you can’t talk about certain type of things. You can’t talk about your feelings. A lot of people think if you talk about your feelings, it’s very feminine. It’s not very open to that point. So it’s hard to for men to come out that way and talk that way to each other but this group allows them to talk that way to be in touch with their sensitive side.”

Arias and some of his staff recently attend a training about the Man Box theory. “They explained how men are wrapped up in this box: they’re supposed to be angry, they’re supposed to be violent, they’re supposed to be controlling, they’re supposed to worry about the money and the females worry about the kids and all the other stuff that stereotypical worldview of what a man should be. So this space allows them to be more than that box, to get outside the box, to have feelings. It’s okay to cry. As a man you don’t have to rub some dirt on it. It’s okay, that hurt. You can understand why you’re hurt. You don’t have to go to anger all the time. That’s why we have this group so they can feel vulnerable. They’re allowed to feel vulnerable and allowed to share stories that they had in the past that they couldn’t share before.”

Arias says, “I’ve grown a lot from it. Every group is different. One week, we’ve had three or four guys in here crying. It seems simple that a man wants to ask for help, but it’s such a huge step. Because a lot of males don’t ask for help. They keep it quiet. It’s like ‘Who do I turn to?’ If they feel like there’s nobody to turn to? But in this instance they can. They have that kind of hope. They have those kinds of resources.”

The Women’s Center started in 1978 with rap sessions with women in the area. “We started off very small, a lot of volunteers were letting females into their homes. Not too recently, we started helping out males and all people. We help out everybody: transgender or binary, we help out any human being. We do everything from emergency shelter, restraining orders only in Kern County. We offer food, we offer emergency housing when it comes to somebody who now due to COVID have back pay on rent and stuff like that. We can help them get into a new place as long as they have an income. We can help them sustain that place for up to six months. Since 1978 we’ve had two shelters, one used to be very old and we built a brand new million dollar facility that we operate here in Ridgecrest; you just cannot give out the location.”

The new facility “holds 52 beds and is a 35-day emergency shelter with transitional housing to stay up to a year. Transitional housing is a program that the females or males can go through to help them get back on their feet if they need longer than 35 days. They’re not in immediate danger but they’re trying to make it again. So that gives them ample time to get the skills again to learn how to apply for a job, do job mock job interviews.”

The Center covers all of Eastern Kern County with outreach offices staffed with advocates in Tehachapi, Mojave, Lake Isabella and Ridgecrest. Volunteers play a big role and the Center is always looking for more. Call 760-371-1969 if you are interested.

Arias runs the volunteer program and says, “When you decide to be a volunteer, there’s two types of work I can have you do. There is basic flier handing out, going out to events, spreading awareness. Then there’s more intense volunteering, where you can actually be an advocate and go out on police responses, go to the hospital and respond to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. There are two programs: domestic violence and sexual assault. Domestic violence is a 40 hour training class and sexual assault is another 40 hour training class; we have a dual training class that goes through 65 hours for both because a lot of it overlaps.”

The training is followed by shadow outings, on-the-job with a staff advocate. One is trained to assist the survivor through a very difficult process and prepare them for what they can expect. Arias says they say, “This is what’s going to happen. The officer is gonna ask very abrupt questions, they’re going to ask you very needy questions. It’s gonna seem very vulgar and very direct, but they’re just trying to get the information so that way they can help you. So that’s what we do.” He adds, “We can go through 100 million responses, but each one’s going to be different for that survivor. So we’re the person trying to help them get to their services, try to help them understand what’s happening from here on out.” They tell the survivor their options and the services that the Center offers.

Confidentiality is key at the Women’s Center. The support groups meet at 134 South China Lake Bouolevard, but the shelter is at an unlisted location. They are grant funded through California Operations of Emergency Services. Arias concludes, “I love what I do. I love helping people and each and every staff member here loves helping people and we’ve all come from different backgrounds, whether it be master’s degrees in psychology or master’s degrees in business. The best feeling is helping somebody restart their life; there is no paycheck for that.” You can find them on Facebook: WomensCenterHighDesert

Laura Austin Photo: Manny Arias and staff offer a welcoming, safe environment at the Women’s Center for those seeking support.

Story First Published: 2021-12-10