Rialto Nonprofit Empowers Women
By Dianne Anderson
Making women look great is one aspect of Brenda Couser’s main mission in life, and as a hairstylist, she is usually just one step away from another important role.
In the days before COVID-19, her clients would relax in the chair to feel beautiful and pampered, talking about things that only the hairdresser knows.
“We take in a lot of stuff, we hear everything,” said Couser, founder of Genesis Re-Entry Services in Rialto.
In that half-hour or so of silkiness, moisture, and style, she also tunes in to spot any signs of distress, especially once she learned just how deeply domestic violence runs through the community.
“I started to feel sympathy for them, because I didn’t understand it,” she said.
Her organization, Genesis Re-Entry Services, supports victims of domestic violence through education programs, homeless outreach and free food, head to toe beauty makeovers and free clothing.
Some women may have grown up with family violence, unaware that they are repeating a dangerous pattern. Sometimes they feel that they can’t leave for financial reasons.
“It could be what they’ve seen their mother go through, it could be that they have children. It goes deeper than what the eyes can see,” she said.
While she can’t catch all of the women that are in trouble, some come around. She helps them understand that life has more to offer, all starting with their choices.
Couser began the journey in 2010 as part of a Time for Change Foundation event with Kim Carter. There, she provided a makeover for three ladies at the facility in their Queen for a Day event. The total makeovers were for women who had never been pampered before.
It was an immediate hit. She began focusing more on women trapped in domestic violence, something that she couldn’t really relate to because she never had to deal with it.
She had a desire to help.
“One of my clients was almost killed by her husband. I didn’t understand the friction behind domestic violence at that time,” she said.
She returned to school to learn more, completing 40 hours of training to understand what women need to break the cycle. Today, she is an advocate, partnering with local nonprofits like Option House, a domestic violence program, to provide hair and clothing makeovers for ladies preparing for job interviews.
“I want to give them makeovers and makeovers are fine, but they need education. They need to know how to do their own finances, how to depend on themselves instead of being caught up in bad relationships.”
When she reaches out, she said it’s important to share her own story of the struggle.
In the 19 years since she started her boutique, she has fought through a few hard places, and now reaches back to help other young women fight through theirs. When she first purchased her shop, life was difficult.
“I lived in the shop, I came out of struggling to try to raise my children by myself,” she said.
She tries to show other young women that they can succeed beyond their current situation. In her outreach, she acts as a clearinghouse of information, referring women to a safe house if they are in danger.
Her re-entry services help women that are coming from shelters, either formerly incarcerated, and particularly women that have been in domestic violence relationships.
“ A lot of them are on the run. I had to call for one lady and her children who were going to be put out of their [home], I referred them to the high desert,” she said.
Eventually, when life gets back to normal after the pandemic, she wants to offer local women a chance to prioritize education, a place to learn computers and basic technology. She wants to offer classes on personal budgeting and how to control their finances, as well as classes where they can learn to defend themselves.
Couser started “Your Turn Clothes Closet” in her building along with her boutique where she gives clothing to women in need. Her next goal is to start a food pantry soon for low-income families.
For now, as the pandemic rages on, she can’t host activities inside, but there are some options available for her large parking lot. She has been doing hair in the community for almost 40 years, but especially these past few months, she sees how others in her profession are suffering.
She counts it a blessing to have purchased her building 19 years ago.
“We have to meet outside, we can’t meet inside. Behind the building, we have a big parking in the back, and we can meet socially-distanced,” she said.
Of the girls that she has helped in the past, she said one, in particular, looked to her as a mentor.
“I told her if you don’t look back, you can make it too. She made it. She got her children back and she’s doing very well,” she said. “When a woman knows her power, there’s no stopping her.”
For more information, email GRSempoweringlives@yahoo.com
Or see https://www.genesisreentry.com/services