Local Hero: Lisa Watson

Lisa Watson

"The human spirit is so strong and can survive so many things; we want everyone to feel empowered to take action in their own life."

For the past ten years, Lisa Watson has been the head of the Downtown Women's Center (DWC), a nationally recognized model program for women living in extreme poverty on Los Angeles' Skid Row. During that time, Watson has initiated new programs, increased the organization's capacity, and developed strategic partnerships to meet the dramatic rise in women's homelessness. Most recently, Watson led the development of the new home of the DWC, moving to a 67,000-square foot building made possible by a $35 million dollar capital campaign and over 1800 volunteers. In addition to spurring a 75% growth in the capacity of DWC's essential drop-in Day Center and its permanent supportive Residence programs, the advent of a new home will facilitate the launch of both the first medical and mental health centers for women on Skid Row.

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Throughout her career, Watson has been dedicated to building community and promoting social justice. She has focused primarily on programs serving disadvantaged women and girls. Prior to joining the DWC, Watson was Assistant Executive Director of the YWCA of Glendale, where she oversaw domestic violence programs, low cost child-care, and breast health programs. In her role as Assistant Executive Director, she founded the YWCA Women's Drop-in Center, where monolingual Spanish and Armenian-speaking women could find linguistically and culturally appropriate job training, childcare, and domestic violence services. Watson has also served as the Director of the Rape Crisis Center at Pasadena's YWCA. She traveled to war-torn Croatia in the nineties to provide training and supportive services to victims of sexual assault. She then extended that effort to Kuwait, where she started a hot line for victims of that country's war, as well.

Watson has received numerous awards throughout her career. Her many accolades include an "Outstanding Professional Award" from the Los Angeles Chapter of the National Association of Fundraising Professionals; the 2007 Women of the Year Award from the Los Angeles County Commission for Women; and a 2008 Stanton Fellowship from the Durfee Foundation. Watson holds a bachelor's degree in social work, as well as a master's in business administration, with a focus in nonprofit administration.

In the coming year, Watson will continue to serve on the board of directors for the John Wesley County Hospital Institute (JWCH). She's also excited to see how recent health care reform measures will help insure greater segments of the population in genuine need of better health care. Finally, Watson looks forward to the genesis of a new mental health program tailored specifically at homeless or low-income women that will begin shortly at the new DWC home.

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