More than 170 supporters of Joyful Heart gathered on a mild, Southern California evening to toast Joyful Heart founder and president, Mariska Hargitay, and to recognize Joyful Heart's work to heal, educate and empower survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse. Shelli and Irving Azoff generously and joyfully opened up their warm Beverly Hills home to this shoulder-to-shoulder crowd.
The evening was organized with the dedication and assistance of the Joyful Heart Board and: Shohreh Aghdashloo, Jennifer Aniston, Shelli Azoff, Maria Bello, Courteney Cox, Sheryl Crow, Bridget Gless Keller, Sharon Lawrence, Maryam Lieberman, Ashley McDermott, Debra Messing, Molly Smith and Hilary Swank. It proved a resounding platform from which Joyful Heart was able to move our West Coast operations into full gear and allowed old friends to mingle with new, enthusiastic supporters.
After delighting in delicious, homecooked hors d'oeuvres, guests like Joe Torre, designer Michael Cohen, Laura and Casey Wasserman, Cheryl Miller, Lynda Guber, Jeff Martin, Jenn Feldman and the Department of Justice's Catherine Pierce settled in as hostess Shelli Azoff welcomed everyone into her home and into the Joyful Heart Family. She then introduced Board Member Peter Hermann, who spoke about Joyful Heart's beginnings and the revolution-the turn toward the issues of sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse-that is under way. And he offered thanks to some of the first and most committed Joyful Heart supporters:
I'd just like to say thank you to three very special people: Lisa Paulsen and Entertainment Industry Foundation, you are truly a champion in our life, probably more than you know, and you demonstrate again and again what it means to champion others.
Gail Abarbanel and the Rape Treatment Center at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center. Thank you for being such a vital presence in our organization.
And finally, Patti Giggans and Peace Over Violence. You sent survivors on our very first retreat. Thank you for bold, progressive and very edifying trust in our work.
Peter then invited the audience to watch The Joyful Revolution, Paul Korver's film about Joyful Heart. The intense focus and concentration in the room was palpable as Joyful Heart's essence emerged from the film and from the brave and revolutionary individuals who share their stories in it.
Before I begin I want to express how much it means to me to share this evening with you. I was raped 17 years ago and it was just a few miles from here. As I shared in the film, in that moment, I believed I was in the place I was meant to be.
As I stand here tonight, I am filled with gratitude and with a heart overflowing with joy. And as I stand here tonight with all of you, I know I am in exactly the place I am meant to be.
There was no one in the room who did not hear her call to action. Elaborating on the community Joyful Heart is working to create, "One that says to a survivor 'We hear you. We believe you. We feel for you. You are not alone. And your healing is our priority,'" she told those in attendance, "You are our revolution." It is this sense of community that inspired Joyful Heart's recent West Coast initiatives, which she shared with the audience:
The State of California recently eliminated its entire domestic violence budget. Not cut, eliminated. Six shelters have already closed. To shine a light on the need, we organized celebrities, advocates, survivors and volunteers to come together in service to assemble 600 healing and wellness kits - one for every domestic violence shelter bed in LA- our response to a community in desperate need of hope.
We launched our first mPower program at a domestic violence shelter in LA for women and children in crisis. We have witnessed a transformation of families lives as they begin identify themselves as more than-and apart from-their wounds.
Second, to recognize and restore the courageous men and women who do this work and who bear witness to the suffering of others every day, we held our first Heal the Healers Retreat in Ojai, serving the leading advocates from across the City.
This fall, as many of you may have read the headlines, a 15 year-old girl was brutally beaten and gang raped for 2 hours outside her homecoming dance in Richmond, California. During the attack, many onlookers joined in while others watched and did nothing. In response, we sent a trauma response team to work her community of support-the first-responders, the advocates and volunteers at the rape crisis center, her school and neighbors-as they walk with her on her long road to healing. We have already reached 300 members of her community.
And finally, we are seeking justice for survivors by working in partnership with government, Human Right Watch, advocates and survivors to bring attention, funding and new legislation to reduce the backlog of an estimated 400,000the hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits across our Country.
Maile then introduced Acting Director of the Department of Justice's Office on Violence Against Women, Catherine Pierce, one of the founding staff members of that office, created 15 years ago. After thanking the audience and offering the greetings of Attorney General Eric Holder and Assosicate Attorney General Tom Perelli, she spoke to "turning up the volume" on the issues of sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse. And she assured the audience that in this, the 15th anniversary year of the Violence Against Women Act, the Obama administration is committed to raising the bar on these issues. Then, the room raised their glasses in a toast:
Now - one more thing - please raise your glasses and join me in offering a toast to someone who has done so much to help us elevate the issue and begin a new and revitalized national conversation.
Mariska, you are not doing this work because you have to and for that and many other reasons; you are a remarkable advocate-and a remarkable person. You have used your craft to reach so many who have suffered silently and you have given your open heart to heed a calling. We honor you!
With her heart even more on her sleeve than usual, Mariska spoke tearfully about what it meant for her to bring Joyful Heart "home" to Los Angeles. Then, she put out her call to join the Joyful Revolution:
I said in the movie that I wanted to find different ways to get into the soul. I hope this evening was a way to get into yours. I'm not shy about that at all, that that's what we want to do tonight, to rattle around in your souls. We want to speak to that place in you that decides what is important and what isn't, what needs your attention and what doesn't. And to that place I want to say, again:
These issues need your attention.
They need your commitment.
They need your courage.
She was then joined by Peter Hermann, her husband and Joyful Heart Board Member, who outlined for the audience several ways to Give the Gift of Joy and Make a Joyful Noise:
SHOP - Give the gift of joy, purchase a limited edition Michael Stars tee. For every tee purchased, Michael Stars will give another tee to a survivor in our programs plus $5 Joyful Heart's programs.
CALL - The City of Los Angeles' leadership to urge Rape Kit Backlog eliminated. The country continues to watch to see how the LAPD fixes its backlog. We have theopportunity to show rape survivors, advocates, law enforcement, and policymakershere and across the country that every rape kit counts, every test result matters. Direct numbers for the Mayor, Chief Beck and Eric Garcetti.
- Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa 213.978.0600 or 213.978.0721
- Council President Eric Garcetti 213.473.7013
- LAPD Chief Beck 213.486.0150
Guests left galvanized, joyful and armed with the tools and inspiration to make a difference and to begin shedding their own light on these issues. They also took away a generous gift bag which included items from Michael Stars, philosophy, Tiny Pine Press and Fran's Chocolates. Hosts received additional gift items from Me & Ro jewelry.
Thank you, Los Angeles, for welcoming Joyful Heart home.