Our Story


For over 35 years, the Houston Area Women’s Center has worked relentlessly to help survivors affected by domestic and sexual violence build lives free from the effects of violence. Given our humble beginnings – we started with nine active volunteers answering donated phones – we are proud at how we have grown. Today, we have 115 paid staff, a counseling and administrative building, a residential shelter for 120 women and children, a state-of-the-art hotline call center and over 1,000 active volunteers.


1970s | 1980s | 1990s | 2000s | 2010s 


  • The Houston Area Women's Center is incorporated.
  • Women's Information & Referral Exchange Service started by volunteers of Women in Action to provide much needed resources to women who are battered.




  • The Center opens first shelter with eight beds.
  • The University of Texas School of Public Health loans the Center a one room office.
  • The Women's Information & Referral Exchange Service (WIRES) becomes a program of the Houston Area Women’s Center.




  • The Houston Area Women’s Center expands shelter to accommodate 19 women and children.




  • The Houston Rape Crisis Coalition becomes the Rape Crisis Program of the Center.
  • Sexual assault and incest survivors support groups are offered.




  • The Women’s Center becomes a United Way Agency.
  • The Center's counseling and education offices move into a new facility, generously loaned by the Woman's Club of Houston.




  • The Hilda & Reuben Askanase Library of the Houston Area Women’s Center opens with books and journals available to staff, clients and community on issues related to domestic and sexual violence.
  • Sexual assault hospital accompaniment program begins.
  • The Center participates in legislative committee responsible for overhaul of sexual assault statutes.




  • The Center remodels the shelter facility to accommodate 45 women and children.
  • The Houston Police Department announces a new administrative policy calling for arrests in cases of domestic violence. This announcement came after a year-long task force, including representatives from the Houston Area Women’s Center, study of the issue of police response to domestic violence.




  • The Center opens the Non-Residential Counseling and Outreach Program which offers counseling and advocacy for battered women in the community.
  • The Rape Crisis Program establishes a satellite office to provide technical assistance to the Fort Bend County Citizens Against Sexual Assault.
  • After years of lobbying by the agency, area law enforcement agencies agree to transport rape evidence kits from hospitals to law enforcement labs.
  • Congress enacts Victims of Crime Act (VOCA), a federal law that provides financial assistance to support a variety of services and activities to assist crimes of crime.




  • The Center opens Treasure Chest Thrift Shop (later renamed Second to None Resale Store).
  • The United Way invites the agency to open a domestic violence program in Montgomery County.
  • The Rape Crisis Program establishes a satellite office in northwest Harris County to provide counseling, support and advocacy to sexual assault survivors.
  • The Fort Bend Satellite office merges with the Fort Bend County Women's Center.
  • Opens a satellite office in the United Way building in southeast Houston.



1987 – 10th Anniversary

  • The Center’s Family Violence Outreach becomes the Montgomery County Women's Center.
  • Marital rape legislation passes in Texas




  • Houston Area Women’s Center designs multicultural outreach program with 12 cable TV programs.
  • The Center participates in Texas State Task Force that develops the Texas Evidence Protocol in 1988 (and participates in 1992 when task force reconvenes to make revisions). These protocols became a blueprint for other states.




  • Houston Area Women’s Center holds in-service for lawyers on the legal needs of battered women.



  • Due to increasing expansion of services and staff, the Houston Area Women’s Center moves its counseling, administration and education offices to 3101 Richmond.
  • The Rape Crisis Program begins peer counseling services to survivors




  • The Houston Area Women’s Center assists with the creation of the Domestic Violence Unit within the Houston Police Department.
  • The Center hires Disabilities Specialist for the Rape Crisis Program with Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) monies.
  • The Community Education Program begins outreach education in Spanish.




  • The Safe Harbor Program begins, which provides emergency safe shelter for women in local hotels when all battered women's shelters are full.
  • The Family Violence Non-Residential Program establishes satellite offices to assist Spanish speaking women in Southwest Harris County and in Spring Branch.
  • Sexual Assault Outreach Program in the Hispanic community begins.




  • The Houston Area Women’s Center supports the passage of the Stalking Legislation in the Texas legislature.
  • The Center establishes Children's Program as part of the Rape Crisis Program to assist child survivors of non-familial sexual assault.
  • The Center creates an Asian Outreach Committee and begins outreach in the Vietnamese community.




  • The Houston Area Women’s Center begins a $2 million capital campaign for new counseling and education offices.
  • African American Outreach begins in the Family Violence Program with the establishment of satellite sites at Kashmere and Sunnyside Multi-Service Centers.
  • The Center supports the passage of the National Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) to expand training on domestic violence and sexual assault issues, provide protection for battered immigrant women and allot financial assistance for sexual assault and domestic violence programs.
  • The Center’s Children's Program successfully establishes a Task Force for Children within the Texas Council on Family Violence.
  • Second to None Resale Store moves to 1435 Westheimer and opens a furniture store.
  • The Center supports legislation in the Texas legislature that eliminates the need for extra evidence in marital rapes.




  • The Houston Area Women’s Center purchases and renovates new counseling and education building at 1010 Waugh Drive.
  • Asian Outreach expands to include the Chinese community.
  • The Center assists with the Media Watch survey - an examination of Houston’s English-speaking media. As a result of the study, the Houston Area Women’s Center develops, designs and prints the first edition of the Guide to Female News Sources.
  • Begins short term rental assistance program resulting from funding from Child Care Council.




  • The Center establishes a support group for male survivors of sexual assault.
  • The Center establishes a support group for battered women in lesbian relationships.
  • The Houston Area Women’s Center’s Domestic Violence Hotline begins offering crisis counseling in Cantonese, Mandarin and Vietnamese, later expanding to include six south Indian languages.
  • The Center participates in a variety of research studies including a Center for Disease Control study on pregnant, battered women and a CIVITAS study conducted by child trauma programs within Baylor College of Medicine.



1997 – 20th Anniversary

  • The Center establishes a support group for friends and family members of survivors of domestic violence.
  • The shelter staff expands to include a career counselor and job development specialist.
  • Senior staff educates and provides testimony to help the Texas Legislature pass a revised anti-stalking statute.
  • The Center supports the passage of legislation designed to aid welfare recipients who are survivors of domestic violence.




  • Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Programs merge to offer comprehensive violence against women services.
  • Full-time school educator develops an anti-violence curriculum for middle and secondary schools.
  • Founder's Garden at Waugh Drive is donated and dedicated by founding board members of the Houston Area Women’s Center.
  • The Center hires an Asian Outreach Coordinator.
  • Transitional Housing program expands to offer six months of rental assistance.
  • A Violence Against Women support group forms, combining domestic violence and sexual assault issues.
  • The Children's Program begins providing domestic violence and sexual assault services for children.
  • Legal advocate services are added and two legal intern positions are established.
  • The Center develops a Spanish language training for mono-lingual Spanish language volunteers.
  • Furr High School adopts a model school-based anti-violence curriculum which can be incorporated into sophomore English classes at other high schools.
  • Job Training Program launches




  • The Houston Area Women’s Center begins an $8 million capital campaign to build a new shelter, increasing capacity from 45 to 120 beds.
  • A new training “When Domestic Violence Comes to Work” is created to educate employers.
  • Hotline Services are reclassified and become a service under the direction of the Direct Services Non-Residential program.
  • The Association for Women in Communications presents the agency with the Vanguard Award for the Catalyst newsletter.




  • Domestic Violence Accompaniment Advocacy (DVAA) program begins.
  • Advocacy Services add a client attorney.
  • Safe Harbor residents benefit from the new Hot Meal Program that provides meals at nearby restaurants. Hotline transportation program is renamed Safe Passage.
  • Monolingual Speaker’s Bureau training is held in Spanish.




  • Capital campaign raises $9 million to fund construction of 125-bed residential shelter, creating the largest in the country for woman and child survivors of domestic and sexual assault.



  • New 120-bed shelter & support services facility opens.
  • The Houston Area Women’s Center staff grows to over 120. Shelter houses over 1,500 survivors in its first full year of operation.
  • Children’s Court Services added to focus on advocacy for children, their parents and caregivers.




  • The Houston Area Women’s Center is ranked one of best nonprofits in Houston for careful stewardship of contributions by the Better Business Bureau.



  • The Civil Legal Assistance Program receives $25,000 for two years from Altria to provide services. This program is also selected as a participant in the Outcome Measurements Pilot Project for the Altria Doors of Hope grant-making initiative.
  • Children's Court Services expands services with Fort Bend County satellite location.
  • Education and Outreach Services sells over 50 copies of The Houston Area Women’s Center’s training exercise, Walking the Walk, to advocacy agencies in 18 states and U.S. territories.




  • The Housing Department receives a $300,000 grant to provide housing and supportive services for clients seeking safe and affordable housing options. This three-year grant is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Supportive Housing Program.
  • The Center launches the Houston Men Against Family Violence, a collaborative public awareness campaign with the Houston Police Department designed to encourage men to become involved in violence prevention efforts.




  • Charity Navigator awards the agency its coveted 4-star rating for sound fiscal management and the ability to efficiently manage and grow its finances.
  • Agency hires a Sexual Assault Services Coordinator to enhance services for adult sexual violence survivors. The agency establishes a Sexual Assault Services Coordinating Committee to address sexual assault services within the agency.
  • The Adult Sexual Violence Services Program offers a closed incest support group and reinstates a support group for male survivors of sexual assault. In addition, a closed group is offered to address the issues of shame, based on Women and Shame by Brene Brown, Ph.D.
  • The new Expanded Housing Program for residential clients provides up to one year of rental and utility assistance. The Expanded Housing Program provides comprehensive case management focusing on budgeting, life skills and the coordination of necessary resources needed to help clients reach self-sufficiency.
  • The Center collaborates with the U.S. Department of Justice to provide domestic and sexual violence education to adult residents and staff in three of Houston's 18 housing communities.
  • The Education and Outreach Department is chosen to participate in the CDC’s national launch of the Choose Respect Initiative, a primary prevention campaign targeting 11-14 year olds in an effort to educate and encourage youth to develop healthy dating relationships. The agency launches initiative at a Houston Astros Choose Respect game, and successfully implements this curriculum into six area schools.



2007 - 30th Anniversary

  • Ellen Cohen announced on June 7, 2007 that she would retire from her role as President and CEO of the Houston Area Women’s Center effective December 31, 2007. Cohen, who was elected to the Texas House of Representatives from Houston District 134 in 2006, has served as President and CEO of the agency since 1990.
  • Second to None Resale Store closes on November 30, 2007. The Center continues to collect new items through planned donation drives.
  • A legislative advocacy web page and email campaign increases community awareness of proposed legislation relating to domestic violence and sexual assault.




  • Rebecca White joins the Center as the new President and CEO. Previously a senior vice president for community services at Planned Parenthood of Houston and Southeast Texas, White joined the Women’s Center staff on March 3, 2008.
  • Education and Outreach Department launches sexual violence primary prevention program and partners with schools, health care providers and communities to develop community-specific programming aimed at ending sexual assault.
  • On December 1, 2008, Children’s Court Services celebrates its 25th anniversary of assisting child victims/witnesses of crime and their families as they face the criminal justice system.




  • Shawn Raymond, an attorney with Susman Godfrey, L.L.P. and a member of the agency’s board since 2005, is named board chair.
  • Bank of America awards the Women’s Center its prestigious and highly competitive Neighborhood Builder Award.
  • The Shelter daycare center is accepted into the United Way Bright Beginnings program.




  • The Center’s annual Race Against Violence changes routes and raises more than $150,000 – the highest total raised in the event’s history.
  • Community based agency counselors begin outreach efforts to imprisoned women and men affected by domestic and sexual violence.
  • Women’s Center implements a unique partnership with the Houston Police Department to have an on-site officer available during client registration to work one-on-one with clients wanting to report domestic abuse.
  • Former board member Linda McCollum and her husband Howard donate new garden and playground to the shelter in honor of her mother, Annie Jewel Rice Driver Arrendell.
  • Agency reintroduces volunteer recognition event to honor its dedicated and committed volunteers and establishes the Marla Weinstein Volunteer of the Year Award in honor of former volunteer and benefactor. Gayle Drucker is the first recipient.




  • The agency shift to primary prevention is complete and the Community and Education Training Department begins offering multi-session trainings and presentations that focus on the root causes of violence.
  • The agency is asked to take a lead role in a committee formed by the Texas legislature tasked with proposing changes to Child Protective Services’ policies and procedures that affect domestic abuse victims.
  • The Center is asked to represent the interest of the victims of sexual assault as a member of the Houston Sexual Assault (SAK) Taskforce. Houston is one of two cities in the nation awarded a federal grant from the National Institute of Justice to produce a clear understanding of the problem of untested rape kits and design feasible and sustainable response strategies using an action research model.
  • Sexual Assault Accompaniment program undergoes major changes. A survivor no longer has to wait at the hospital for an advocate to arrive because the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) on duty calls the hotline and an advocate is dispatched right away.
  • The Center launches legal clinic at the Shelter, a partnership with ExxonMobil, Fulbright & Jaworski L.L.P and Houston Volunteers Lawyers Program to meet legal needs of shelter residents.
  • Rebecca White, President and CEO of the Houston Area Women’s Center, named one of “Houston’s 50 Most Influential Women of 2011” by Houston Woman Magazine.


2012 - 35th Anniversary

  • The Houston Area Women’s Center unveils its newly updated 24-Hour Call Center, made possible with a grant by Humana. The new state-of-the-art call center includes an updated phone system, as well as new computers, headsets, updated software and other equipment.
  • The Houston Rockets name the Houston Area Women’s Center as one of its official beneficiary for its annual Ladies Night Out home game.
  • Training division unveils new Sexual Assault Community Leaders Training. More than 40 community leaders register for the all-day course.
  • The Center actively supports passage of a bill reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act.
  • The Center hosts a press conference unveiling the new Sexual Assault Legal Services and Assistance line, also known as SALSA.




  • For the first time, resources are available to hire a full-time psychotherapist to provide services at the shelter, giving residents access to an invaluable means of processing trauma and even greater opportunities for healing. 

  • The agency receives a $300,000 grant from the Office of Violence Against Women that builds on the existing transitional housing program and paves the way for a variety of new opportunities for clients to achieve economic empowerment.  

  • To give survivors new, employment-related transportation options, the Women’s Center receives a METRO grant to administer the “Moving Forward” initiative.   

  • The Houston Area Women’s Center launches a completely revamped and enhanced website featuring more content, easier navigation, and a redesigned format.

  • Sweeping improvements are made to the shelter’s Children’s Enrichment Center.  In May, the new Center opens, featuring a new children’s library, a science corner, and a cozy “home area” where parents can relax and play with their children.

  • The Center completes a totally renovated toddler playground, which provides the children at our shelter with the opportunity to explore, release stress, build relationships, and just have fun.



  • The agency launches its first legal clinic for non-residential clients through a partnership with ExxonMobil’s Pro Bono Law Management Program, Houston Volunteer Lawyers, Tahirih Justice Center and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid.
  • Houston Area Women's Center President and CEO Rebecca White speaks about domestic violence on NBC's The Today Show
  • Addressing one of the major barriers to reaching self-sufficiency, the Houston Area Women’s Center launches its Moving Forward project providing transportation to and from employment related destinations for survivors of domestic and sexual violence.
  • Andre Johnson, wide receiver for the Houston Texans, hosts his inaugural golf tournament benefiting the Houston Area Women's Center.
  • The Women's Center launches an Instagram account in conjunction with the 26th Annual Race Against Violence.
  • The Center debuts redesigned print materials as part of its new branding initiative. 



  • Thanks to a grant from the Wich Foundation, extensive rennovations were made to the residential shelter's commercial kitchen and dining area.
  • A grant from Timken-Boring provided funds to rennovate and update the living quarters at the agency's residential shelter.
  • The Women's Center's 2015 Leadership Campaign broke all previous campaign fundraising efforts, culminating in more than $300,000 to help support survivors in building independent lives free from violence.
  • The agency expanded its Primary Prevention Program, which included adding more Violence Prevention Educators to its staff.
  • The Children’s Court Services (CSS) program received its 16,000th referral, serving child victims and/or witnesses to crimes, as well as their non-offending family members.
  • The agency's legal clinic celebrated its fourth anniversary, offering free legal services to adult clients which, in turn, impact thousands of their children and family members.