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Meet Denese Lopez of Women Empowered through Labors of Love, (W.E.L.L.) in Whittier

Today we’d like to introduce you to Denese Lopez.

Denese, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
​I was born and raised by a single mother in Pico Rivera, CA. I became a mother at 16 years old and struggled to make ends meet and further my education. I attended Cal State Los Angeles for two years and decided to leave there and go to a trade school to become a paralegal. I worked for a large law firm in downtown Los Angeles for some time then married and started a family and left my career as a paralegal. When my marriage ended, I became a real estate agent then a broker and began my real estate career. The real estate market crashed in 2007, and my life drastically changed. The work and decorating I was doing to make my home beautiful for me and my children came to a complete stop. I had to feed my children and pay my bills and leave my half decorated home as it was.

Eventually with in the next couple of years, I lost nearly everything I owned. My car and the home I was proud to have bought by myself were gone. I began working temporary jobs through an employment agency and decided to volunteer at a local domestic violence shelter as well. As tough as I felt my situation was in my life, I needed to keep in perspective that things could be worse. I was required to attend a 40 domestic violence training course before I could work at the shelter. It was during that 40-hour training, my “what is so hard about leaving when you are abused” changed forever. My job at the shelter was answering phones on an emergency hotline and caring for the children while the mothers attended group counseling sessions. The experience of witnessing mothers come through the door with little to none of their personal belongings was heartbreaking. The thought of leaving everything you own and starting somewhere new in a strange new place was inconceivable.

Still having young children to feed and a caring for my mother who lived with me, I decided I would pursue a lifelong dream of become a police officer. I had met a wonderful man, who is now my husband, who encouraged me and believed in me and told me I could do whatever I wanted in life if I put my mind to it. At 44 years old, I attended Riverside Sheriffs academy and became a police officer for the state of California. However, the visions of these women and children never left me over the next several years. My law enforcement career was cut short after a couple of injuries and I retired from law enforcement in 2018. It was then that I made up my mind to do something for women and children survivors of abuse. I wanted to provide a fresh new beginning for them after they left the shelter and started their new lives free from abuse. I founded Women Empowered through Labors of Love. We are a group of female volunteers, most of whom are survivors of abuse themselves, who do complete home makeovers for single women survivors of domestic violence, sexual abuse and human sex trafficking. Several of my volunteers are previous recipients of our services in their homes.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
It has not been a smooth road. When I first started my organization, surprisingly, the people I spoke to ask for referrals of families we could serve, would never call back. I am the only organization that provides this service solely for survivors of abuse. The next obstacle was woman being resistant. I would be coming with a group of strangers to “redo” their home. You see, survivors of abuse, hang on to EVERYTHING they accumulate. When they walked away from that home, they left with nothing. Their thoughts of having to get rid of the old and bring in the new is scary. My biggest continuous challenge is funding. I self-fund most of my projects along with small donations received from people and organizations that I appreciate greatly.

Please tell us about Women Empowered through Labors of Love, (W.E.L.L.).
Our volunteers, some of whom are survivors themselves and also are past recipients of our services, give the recipient a complete home makeover of their home. Their home can be an apartment, mobile home or house. We remove everything from their home that came with them from their past and is a trigger of their abuse. Our home makeovers are a complete “cleansing” from their previous life and are a brand new beginning. Our makeovers consist of cleaning floor to ceiling including cabinets and closets. When it is needed we paint, replace blinds, window coverings, beds, bedding, furniture, televisions, bathroom and kitchen updates. Literally, a complete home makeover. Essentially, everything they have is replaced new.

W.E.L.L. Organization has been recognized by the State of California Assembly, City of San Bernardino, several Soroptimist chapters, Downey Patriot, Rialto Record and many more.

I am most proud to see tears in the eyes of our recipients and our volunteers who work so hard to make their homes beautiful. A survivor of abuse, many times has lost their sense of worth at the hands of their abuser. W.E.L.L. Organization shows them that they are worthy of a new life in a beautiful peaceful environment. We are the only non-profit organization that provides this service.

What role has luck played in your life and business?
Greatly blessed. Once I found that I could do what I thought would be too challenging, I became unstoppable. From one organization to another I was referred family after family. A phone call or email to the local newspaper and we were being featured front page. My organization has received wonderful recognition and we are only beginning to touch the lives of these women.

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