Johanna Crawford the founder of Web of Benefit, Inc. has spoken at multiple conferences, including the Provider’s Council and Massachusetts Conference for Women where she was awarded the “Be the Change Award” in December 2010. She was also featured in “People Making a Difference,” in the December 12, 2011 issue of “The Christian Science Monitor.” In July 2012, Johanna was honored as a CNN Hero. On February 2, 2013, Johanna Crawford was honored with the Bada Award from the Korean American Women in Need (KAN-WIN) for her dedication to empowering Korean women in Chicago.
We honor Johanna Crawford as one of My Savvy Sisters because she had the brilliance to transform a small idea into something that has touched the lives of every woman she meets. Care to learn a little more about the woman behind the soothing smile?
MSS: What are your goals for Web of Benefit?
Johanna: Our vision is a world where women can live free from the threat of violence. We hope to help create this world by strengthening partnerships and collaborations with survivors, domestic violence agencies, foundations, corporations and private individuals to achieve our goals.
Our mission is to promote liberation from domestic violence and ensure the personal and financial independence of survivors, while breaking the inter-generational cycle of abuse. Our goals are to empower survivors to advance from safety to stability to self-sufficiency and economic independence. We mentor them to rebuild their dreams by dreaming big and focusing small, to create a realistic step by step plan to reach each goal.
MSS: Tell me about the moment when the idea for this organization was created?
Johanna: Web of Benefit began the day I gave $40 to a survivor who arrived at the crisis shelter where I was volunteering. She had fled Chicago with her two young children and two black trash bags containing all their possessions. She had left so quickly that she had not had time to find their documents, including her birth certificate and those of her children. From a legal standpoint, they did not exist and could not get any type of financial assistance, health care, childcare, or apply for housing. She needed the $40 to send to City Hall in Chicago to replicate the documents, but she had no money for the money orders, stamps or envelops. I gave her that as well, and driving home I realized that I had changed her life and those of her children for a very small amount of money. What I did not realize that day was that I had changed my life forever. I knew that I needed to find a way to help survivors in a larger way. A year later Web of Benefit was born.
MSS: What was your life like at the time?
Johanna: My life at that time was very confusing. My mother was dying, and I was in the process of going through a painful divorce. I was lucky to have two very loving and supportive daughters and enough money not to have to worry about my future. I had some time that I could spend volunteering at a domestic violence crisis shelter. I took the 40 hour advocates training class and volunteered two days a week at Transition House in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
MSS: In the years since you developed it, how has it grown?
Johanna: We have been giving grants to survivors for 8 years. It took five years to give the first 500 grants. In the last three years we have given more than 750 grants; totaling 1,250 grants given for more than $680,000. With each woman “paying it forward” to three other women, we will have touched the lives of 5,000 women.
MSS: Why do you think this business is necessary?
Johanna: The Quest for Economic Independence in the Commonwealth: 2009 Self-Sufficiency Standard for Boston, published in February 2010 by Crittenton Women’s Union cites: “On average in Massachusetts, a single-parent family with one preschooler and one school-age child needs an income of $65,500 a year to meet its day-to-day essential expenses without public assistance.” The Federal Poverty Level, upon which TAFDC payments are made, is a national “one size fits all” measurement. That guideline currently stands at $19,000 a year for a family of four, nowhere close to covering costs anywhere in Massachusetts.” Although many clients receive Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children, the gap between what they need and what they receive is enormous. Should abuse survivors lose their housing, they would most likely lose guardianship of their children to the Department of Social Services. 90% of our clients report an income less than $19,000.
The Mary Kay 2012 Research has found:
- “More than half of the shelters indicated that the abuse has become more violent since the economic downturn.
- Shelters reported that nearly three out of four survivors nationwide stayed with an abusive partner longer because of financial issues.
- 8 out of 10 domestic violence shelters nationwide reported an increase in women seeking help.
- 43% of shelters had to decrease services offered.
- 87% of shelters predict their situations will be the same or worse next year.
- Nearly half of them had to reduce child care services. The result is that one in four children does not receive the services they need.
- 86% of shelters witnessed children with negative social effects such as bullying or withdrawal.”
MSS: Do you plan to expand on the services you offer?
Johanna: We will not expand our types programs as what we do is totally unique in the country, and we will focus on what we do best. We have expanded our services to Cook County, Illinois and have given more than 165 grants there and partner with 25 agencies. My dream of expansion is to be able to help women all over the country, but as we cannot start offices in every city, I plan to begin a Skype program where I can speak with survivors and their advocates everywhere. As we have gotten grant requests from all over the U.S., funding a national program will be very difficult. Also, when we open applications to everyone, we will need large amounts of money to give grants to all those who apply.
MSS: There have had to be a few obstacles on your path, what were they and how did you overcome them?
Johanna: Getting the original nonprofit legal work done was a huge obstacle, but I was very fortunate in that Harvard Law School and the Hale and Dorr law firm in Boston did the work on a pro bono basis, saving me thousands of dollars. Getting funding continues to be an ongoing problem and always will be. For most of the 8 years, I have worked alone, with a college intern, which had been a bit overwhelming. Now I have a part time Development Associate which is a huge help. Finding a balance between work and free time or family time is always a problem. I have had to learn my boundaries and prioritize, and also say “no” when necessary. Fundraising is not something that I enjoy or am very good at, so that takes a lot of energy for me. I would much rather be working directly with the amazing women.
MSS: Why is this mission important to you?
Johanna: The mission is important to me as I grew up in a very violent family where my father attempted to murder my mother when I was 13. No Child or woman should ever have to go through that again. I will attempt to change the world of domestic violence in whatever small way I can. I believe every woman has the right to live free of violence and deserves to have the life of her dreams.
To learn more about Johanna Crawford’s work at Web of Benefit please visit http://www.webofbenefit.org/.