They are staggering statistics: According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in four women and one in seven men have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner. On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the U.S., which equates to more than 10 million women and men annually. And on a typical day, more than 20,000 phone calls are placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide.

These figures are what prompted P. Denise La Costa of La Costa Realty Hawaii to take action 13 years ago. Since then, she has logged countless hours as a volunteer leader for Women Helping Women, a nonprofit that provides crisis intervention and support services for direct and indirect victims of domestic violence on Maui and Lanai. The mission of Women Helping Women is to end domestic violence through advocacy, education and prevention, while offering safety and support to those impacted by domestic violence.

Thirteen years ago, La Costa secured a sublease for an office space in Lahaina so Women Helping Women could open a much-needed resource office in West Maui. In the years that followed, she became an active member of the organization’s West Maui Task Force and helped coordinate fundraisers and events for Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Two years ago, when Women Helping Women launched its Shelter Renew Project (a full renovation of the 24-hour emergency domestic shelter), La Costa pulled out her checkbook, rolled up her sleeves and “adopted” one of the rooms at the shelter.

Her contributions over the years have not gone unnoticed.

Last month, La Costa received a special commendation from the Hawaii State Legislature during Women Helping Women’s annual fundraising event at the King Kamehameha Golf Club in Waikapu. The framed commendation—which acknowledged her steadfast dedication to end domestic violence in the community—was presented to her by West and South Maui Sen. Roz Baker.

“I was on stage to present (Women Helping Women Executive Director) Stacey Moniz with a ‘mahalo’ gift from the West Maui Task Force,” La Costa explained. “After I stated our gratitude and gave Stacey a hug, Sen. Baker took the microphone back and pulled out the commendation. Then, as Sen. Baker continued to read, I realized that it was for me. I was surprised and very humbled.”

La Costa says she will volunteer for Women Helping Women as long as she’s needed. “I will continue to provide my time, energy and monetary support, as well as participate in the various fundraising efforts,” she said. “I’ll do whatever else I can to help this necessary and worthwhile nonprofit.”

La Costa encourages others to support Women Helping Women in any way they can. “We welcome new members to our task force, which meets once a month in Lahaina,” she said. “You can also ‘recycle’ your gently used clothing, shoes and furniture at Women Helping Women’s ReVive Boutique and we can always use monetary donations to the client assistance fund.”

La Costa credits the recent “NO MORE” public awareness campaign for empowering bystanders to take action against domestic violence and sexual assault. “The national NO MORE campaign, with celebrities and sports stars, has helped raise awareness that it is time to stop domestic violence,” she said. While efforts like the “NO MORE” campaign are making strides, La Costa says the power to end domestic abuse lies with all of us. “If you see domestic violence occurring, hear harmful or threatening words being exchanged or feel personally threatened, do something immediately,” she said. “If you are in school, go to the guidance counselor or principal. If you are at home and feel threatened, go to a safe place and call the police. If you are upset, step back, take a breath and then discuss rather than react.”

It is so important that we all do our part, she said. “My motto is: ‘we are all here to help each other,’” La Costa said. “I strive daily to live by those words.”

To learn more about volunteer or donor opportunities with Women Helping Women, visit www.womenhelpingwomenmaui.com or call (808) 242-6600. For more information about the West Maui Task Force-WHW, call (808) 661-7111. For more information about Women Helping Women’s ReVive Boutique, visit www.womenhelpingwomenmaui.com/revive-boutique or call (808) 495-0067.

By Sarah Ruppenthal

The Maui News – April 8, 2017