Full disclosure—I used to work at the Houston Area Women’s Center, so I definitely have some strong feelings about this. Keep in mind, however, that I speak only for myself on this blog.
I’m really upset that the Houston Astros have left the Houston Area Women’s Center in the lurch as far as the gala this year. I know the people and the programs that will suffer without those funds, and let me tell you, it will hurt.
I’d like to suggest some constructive next steps the parties involved in this meltdown might take to not just repair the damage, but to launch a new partnership that is beneficial to each party and the larger community.
You can read the basics at KHOU (which broke the story), CultureMap (and an update here, with comments from the Astros), the Houston Press (which brings in some additional elements of recent developments with the ball club), and undoubtedly many other places. Great, long history and details on the Houston Chronicle. But the quick history:
- The Astros, through their Astros’ Wives organization, traditionally held a black-tie gala benefiting the Houston Area Women’s Center, our region’s oldest, largest, and exceedingly well-respected nonprofit organization supporting survivors of domestic and sexual violence and educating the community on how to create a world free of such violence.
- The gala has happened for so long, and been so well-received by the community, that the proceeds have become a key line item in the agency’s annual operating budget.
- The ball club just announced that it is “officially” disbanding the Astros’ Wives, and that the club will redirect its charitable focus toward troubled youth and inner-city baseball programs.
- KHOU broke the story this morning.
My thoughts, which I hope might form the basis for constructive move-aheads:
Fill the Gap
The immediate need is making sure HAWC has the funds they need to finish their budget year. Making do without the gala proceeds is like asking a team to play without a shortstop.
Let’s not wait for the team to act. You can donate here. Share the link once you’ve kicked in your bit, and remember, even $15 or $50 helps.
Not So Quick on Disbanding the Wives Organization
It might seem to some that an Astros’ Wives organization is both an anachronism given the times, and anathema to a feminist, but the fact is, major league baseball is played by men. Many, though not all, have wives, girlfriends, and families. I hope very soon that they go public with the fact that some have husbands, boyfriends, and families, too. The partners and families need a way to connect to the community in which they live some or all of the time, and having an organization with a certain level of structure and programming consistency is a nice way to make sure that happens with intention. Seems they might change the name, but reconsider disbanding.
But Don’t Make it All About the Women
The fact is, domestic violence and sexual assault should not be women’s issues or wives’ issues. We, all of us, anywhere on the gender spectrum, have a role to play. We should not perpetrate, tolerate, or perpetuate violence. Violence is a learned behavior, and the more we educate ourselves about how to stop it, the better chance we have of one day seeing a world in which it is a rare beast instead of a cruel, daily reality.
In other words, the MEN WHO PLAY BASEBALL can step up to the plate here. Obviously, their status as sports role models gives incredible heft to their words and actions, and they cannot underestimate the power they have. Why limit support for HAWC to the auxiliary organization?
Why do you think those “troubled youth” might be troubled?
I get wanting to shift the charitable focus to something in line with baseball. Inner-city baseball programs need and deserve support. But if you step back and look at the problems “troubled youth” are coping with, I can guarantee you that a not-insignificant portion of them are coping with domestic and sexual violence. A parent is abused, or abusive. A relative touched them and it wasn’t right. They’re being bullied. They’re being disrespectful—or disrespected—in their intimate relationships with kids their own age. They are surrounded by it, and it is a tragedy.
Domestic and sexual violence happen everywhere, in every zip code, at every income level. The survivors need support, and the rest of everyone needs to know how to provide the support and prevent future incidents. HAWC’s mission is still a fit even with a new focus for the club’s philanthropic efforts.
Reinstate & Re-imagine the Safe At Home Campaign
Before I worked at HAWC, the Astros produced (in-house, I believe) a series of public service announcements focused on the role we all play in ending domestic and sexual violence. The tag line was everyone deserves to be safe at home. I know someone has the tapes—I’d like to say it was Biggio and Bagwell-era—so let’s bring it up to speed and make it bigger.
For the Astros to use in-house resources, from campaign design to production, to develop and roll out a comprehensive anti-domestic and sexual violence campaign would be an incredible service. And why not set it up so that as other teams roll through town to play, they, too, could record their own versions that they can share with agencies like HAWC in their own communities?
Underwear Night at the Juice Box
OK, that is probably not the way we should phrase it, but the deal is this—from time to time, the Women’s Center has very specific needs for things. Women and children coming to the shelter often need new undergarments. Victims of sexual assault who have an advocate from HAWC meet them at the hospital as they undergo a sexual assault exam need clean sweatsuits to wear home—they have to surrender everything they were wearing as evidence of the assault. Kids at the shelter need backpacks and holiday toys like kids in any other program.
What if once a year at a big home game, the team challenged fans to buy an Astros apparel gift certificate for HAWC, and offered to match every certificate purchased? Then, as the hospital accompaniment program needed sweats, they’d have a resource. Or, offer fans a half-price ticket if they bring new underwear (in a range of sizes) to donate? They could take care of this easy as you please and fill a real need.
At the same time, as the club does other activities and drives for baseball programs and schools, remember that HAWC’s shelter has both a playground and a school. Keep them on the list, and keep them in mind.
Gala? Why Not a 5K Instead?
The Astros’ Wives gala may be a thing of the past. Scheduling it, to be honest, was always tricky, and the ticket prices were really high, so it wasn’t accessible to the entire community. An incredible amount of time and effort went into it, and the Wives had to have paid staff to support their volunteer work.
So scrap the gala. HAWC already has several other events that the Astros could commit to sponsoring. Taking part in an event that is already part of the calendar will mean an even bigger bang for the buck while reducing everyone’s work load and calendar commitments.
Why, I’m so glad you asked, I do have a particular event in mind!
Every year, HAWC hosts the Race Against Violence 5K Run & Family Walk. I’ve always wanted this to be a much, much, much bigger event than it is. I nurtured it, and have been thrilled as others have doubled down to drive its growth, but you know what would take it to the next level?
Having the Houston Astros sign on as the name sponsor for the next ten years, so there’s time to build something truly spectacular.
Milo Hamilton used to be the voice of the 5K. Back office folks used to field a team. Maybe they still do? There’s already a connection, a history. Let’s resurrect it and build on it. Bring the players to the post-race party to sign autographs for kids. Bring Astros vendors on board as additional sponsors. Help print the t-shirts. Help with prizes.There are a bazillion ways the team could electrify the 5K, and again, much of this is already part of the history of the race.
Institutionalized and super-sized? Imagine the possibilities.
I know the players can’t run it—we need them to stay off the injured list—but good grief, turning this event into their signature event could turn the Race Against Violence into the multi-million dollar event it needs to be, while bringing even more members of the community into the fold.
I HAVE MANY IDEAS ABOUT WAYS TO DO THIS. Seriously, Astros, call me.
Or call HAWC. But don’t leave us hanging, and don’t walk away from an important part of the ball club’s history.
We can do all kinds of things to turn this meltdown into a turning point towards a stronger, more rewarding, true partnership. That’s how we roll in Houston, right? Right.
I urge the team to make this right, and I urge everyone else to take some positive step today to make sure that the survivors of domestic and sexual violence who depend upon the hotline, shelter, counseling, and advocacy HAWC provides get what they need without a blip in service delivery.