Soboba Group Empowers Women

Mothers and daughters bond at program ◆ By Mike Hiles

The Center Against Sexual Assault (C.A.S.A.) at Soboba is a chapter of the nonprofit organization that is dedicated to "Restoring the Heart." The program that was established about a year ago offers counseling, advocacy, information and referrals on a regular basis and a weekly mother/daughter support group to give women an opportunity to connect and bond with others.

"We empower women to become stronger and have a voice," said Tribal Community Mobilizer Stacia Cozart, who works alongside her daughter, Tribal Community Facilitator Antonia Venegas, to host the meetings. "Our elders taught us that we can achieve healing through our customs and traditions, so we share those with each other."

Sometimes there are guest speakers who address the group and other times participants learn Luiseño words or work on a community project. Each meeting starts with a sacred smoke bowl blessing, or smudging prayer, to remove any negativity and promote healing.

The meetings are intended for all women – friends, sisters, grandmothers as well as mothers and daughters – and they don't have to be tribal members.

"Our group is open to all surrounding communities," Venegas said. "We are currently trying to find men that want to get involved to start a father/son program."

The C.A.S.A. at Soboba chapter does a lot of community outreach, including a presence at the annual Tribal Easter Picnic on March 24. While Cozart and Venegas shared information by way of brochures and program materials and giveaways, they offered games and prizes for the children who attended and donated about 100 plastic eggs filled with candy for an Easter egg hunt. Cozart and others also set up booths at sporting events and have gone to other reservations to share their knowledge.

"We have a C.A.S.A. office on site that provides more of a prevention program," said Cozart, 59. "We've offered classes on body development from ages birth to 10, 10 to 20 and 30 to menopause. We would like to have a ‘coming of age' ceremony for our young girls."

The idea to open this chapter started with a women's conference about two years ago when it was suggested that it would be helpful for Soboba to have its own chapter. A grant was obtained since sexual abuse is such a big problem these days but Cozart said it has developed into an educational program to enlighten women (and men) about potential problems that can be avoided and prevented.

"I had gone to school for substance abuse counseling and I wanted to give back to the Tribe for helping me with my education," said Cozart, who is a mother of four and grandmother of 12. "In my training, I learned that drugs and alcohol contribute to violence of all kinds, so I wanted to do something positive here that I could leave for my children and grandchildren."

Cozart enjoys seeing the same women return each week and talk about how they have excelled in the community by their own design.

"To see women enlightened and making good decisions has been very rewarding," she said.

Sandra Lara attends the weekly meetings with her two daughters, whenever they are available.

"This has been a very positive experience from the beginning," said Lara, of Banning. "It's really interesting and everyone here makes me feel comfortable – you feel the love. It brings people together."

She said the time she spends at the meetings gives her the opportunity to close off the outside world and concentrate on being with her daughters. Lara said participants discuss things that happen in their everyday lives and how they deal with it. But she said the best thing is that the meetings allow her to get closer to her daughters.

"We learn about all kinds of womanly things," Lara said. "We were taught what to expect from adolescents and what boys go through at that age. It's all useful information that I wouldn't otherwise find. It puts it in your mind and makes you feel better about who you are."

One of her daughters, Liz Lee, said she appreciates the fact that all cultures are welcomed at the meetings. She is married to a member of the Torres Martinez Tribe and her mother is Mexican-American.

"I'm not Native American but my three daughters are," said Lee, of Banning. "They are Hispanic and Native but favor the Native American side so this group allows me to learn more about them."

Mary Castello enjoys the gatherings and what the group does for younger girls.

"We are keeping the traditions alive in our own culture so they can teach them to their sisters, moms and even their own children one day," said Castello, of Hemet, who lived on the Soboba Reservation until she was 14. "The things we learn validate my upbringing and make me feel more empowered as a woman."

C.A.S.A. at Soboba is dedicated to promoting safe and healthy relationships by supporting families, providing skills-based prevention, intervention and advocacy services and creating opportunities for positive change in the community through its partnerships with valuable resources on the reservation.

Mother/Daughter meetings are held at 6 p.m. on Mondays at Soboba's Tribal Hall, 23904 Soboba Road in San Jacinto (on the Soboba Reservation).

Information, 951-487-7734 or hotline at 951-652-8300.

Antonia Venegas, left, and her mom, Stacia Cozart, co-facilitate the C.A.S.A. at Soboba Mother/Daughter support group on Mondays at the Soboba Reservation

Antonia Venegas, left, and her mom, Stacia Cozart, co-facilitate the C.A.S.A. at Soboba Mother/Daughter support group on Mondays at the Soboba Reservation