“If I share my story, I can help other people not feel alone with what is happening to them,” says Briana Vallejo, coordinator of Live Violence Free in Alpine County. The program offers services to individuals and families suffering from abuse and trauma here in Alpine and the South Lake Tahoe Community.
Less than a year out of an abusive relationship, Vallejo made a concrete decision to improve her life and learn about herself.
“I had not been my own person, and that was not OK with me.” she said. “People had helped me become a survivor of domestic and sexual violence, and I have devoted my life to assisting others.”
Vallejo entered and won Miss Carson City 2015, Miss Lake Tahoe 2016, and Miss Douglas County 2017. She also received many awards and honors within the Miss America organization and was the winner of the Women Empowerment Essay.
She gave a Tedx Talk in Carson City in 2017 about teen dating violence. Encouraging people to “open themselves up to having uncomfortable conversations with people they care about,” the response was staggering. It led to other speaking engagements and set her firmly on her life path in advocacy.
As a volunteer with both the Advocates to End Domestic Violence Crisis Line and with CASA in Carson City, she gained training and hands-on experience. Vallejo received her bachelor’s degree in social work from UNR. Since she is a Carson City native, she knows the area, and is thankful to be raising her own family here now.
She and Advocate Sara Daniels form the core of the Alpine office, with therapists and others coming in on an as-needed basis from the Tahoe office. Daniels was born with a gentle and humble spirit, and even as a child she was focused on helping those in need.
“I always wanted to make sure my friends were OK.” she says with a smile.
After receiving her degree in child and adolescent development from San Jose State, she got a job at Youth for Change in Chico. Both women have always worked in the field of healing trauma, and that has taught them to watch out for each other.
“It is easy not to even realize you are getting burnt out, or how to put the proper sorts of boundaries up,” says Daniels. “It is important for us to model self-care,” Vallejo adds, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”
The two spend a lot of time in community outreach, and their faces are well known. They exude a warm availability, and a deep sense of calm acceptance. Since their organization provides so many different services, this strong foundation is important.
The nonprofit was originally opened by a handful of volunteers way back in 1977 to provide a rape crisis hotline. It was a little two-room cabin by the South Lake Tahoe library with an outdoor payphone.
It has expanded to the point where it currently offers crisis support and advocacy, counseling, safe and transitional housing, legal services, court advocacy, supervised visitation programs, childcare, parenting, and educational programs that highlight domestic violence and abuse.
Their “Basic Needs” programs include assistance with food, clothing, and shelter.
A former executive director reports they had to hoist the furniture up through windows on to the second floor of their first location in downtown Markleeville.
It was in what locals call “Grandma’s House,” a two story building next to the Creekside Lodge that belonged to the Coyan family. They were able to expand services by moving to their current, much more spacious location in 1999. It is right in front of the Alpine Early Learning Center at 100 Foothill Road, and just off Highway 88 at the bottom of Highway 88.
Some of the programs are state funded, but many are sustained through donations. The Alpine program has an annual gala at the Lake, where they have traditionally raised all the additional reserves needed for the entire year.
“I have always felt the love and unfailing support of the community,” says Vallejo. “Everyone wants to be part of helping a survivor be in a better place, for justice to be done, and to see positive outcomes.”
It is hard for some to imagine bad things happening in the idyllic mountains and forests of Alpine County, but they most certainly do. In 2019 the Alpine office of Live Violence Free provided 1,616 separate points of service to 191 different clients.
You can contact them at 530 694-1853, or go to their website: liveviolencefree.org. Their Crisis Line is available 24/7 at 530-544-4444.