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Gemma is a program committed to helping women reunite with their families and the community after incarceration. Our program is structured to promote recovery from addictions and empower women  in the transformation of their lives.


Gemma is a program of the Community Action Board of Santa Cruz County, Inc. committed to helping women reunite with their families and the community after incarceration. Our program is structured to
promote recovery from addictions and empower women  in the transformation of their lives. In order to accomplish these goals, we provide housing, food, education and employment programs as well as
psychological and spiritual support to help stop the “revolving door” cycle of incarceration.
Addressing Needs in our Community

Each week approximately 25 women are released from Santa Cruz County jails. Up to a third are homeless upon release. Three out of four are re-arrested and cycled back to jail an average of four times. Most women in this re-incarceration syndrome come from impoverished families, are victims of abuse, and have limited access to education and health care. At least half of the women incarcerated in Santa Cruz are mothers, typically lacking adequate resources to parent their children. As children, many of these women had a parent who was incarcerated. The children of these women are at an increased risk of becoming the next generation of inmates.

The Revolving Door Syndrome
Many women leave jail facing serious challenges including:

No safe place to live
No money
No job
A criminal record
Legal fees
An untreated addiction
Consequently, three out of four women are re-arrested and cycled back to jail.

Addiction and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
The overwhelming majority of women in jail struggle with addiction. An analysis of 100 women who are frequently in jail in Santa Cruz County revealed 100% had a documented substance abuse history. Many report using drugs to self-medicate depression and other mental health problems highly associated with histories of abuse and trauma that begin in childhood and often continue into adult years.

Gemma clients are required to participate in individual and group therapy. We agree with data that supports the following: helping people understand the roots of their pain and develop alternative coping skills enables people to change life patterns and reduce recidivism. Gemma is committed to providing in-depth, one-on-one counseling with therapists trained in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other mental health problems highly associated with histories of abuse.

About Gemma: History

Gemma was founded in 2003, by two women in jail struggling with addiction and tired of cycling from jail to homelessness. It was in a Job Skills class at the Blaine Street women's facility that these two women decided to start a transitional house for women getting out of jail. One of them, Rhea Hunter, continued the project with the help of other Blaine Street instructors and community members. Every two weeks, meetings were held for a year until Gemma received its own non-profit status. A Board of Directors was formed and comprehensive research, fundraising and program development began. Gemma continued to grow, both in community support and organizational budget over the next year.

Once Gemma received enough financial support, a Program Director and Administrative Assistant were hired to administer the program's development. They worked as a team writing grants, meeting with other transitional housing programs and reaching out to the community. By 2006 Mardi Wormhoudt of the County Board of Supervisors was fully in support of Gemma's mission and determined to help get the program off the ground. She initiated a collaboration of many county agencies to analyze Gemma's necessity in our community. As a result of their research on 100 potential Gemma clients, the team determined Gemma was a good answer to helping women stay out of jail in Santa Cruz County. Later that year, the Board of Supervisors allotted $200,000 to get Gemma started.

In July 2006, Gemma merged with the Community Action Board of Santa Cruz County, Inc (CAB). CAB's mission of ending poverty and Gemma's mission of helping women transition from jail to the community made a great match. CAB's forty year history of providing reputable services in our community helped Gemma become more established. With their administrative and technical support, Gemma opened its first office in August. A Program Planner was hired to help with the development of services and staff. The former Gemma Board of Directors shifted to the role of the Gemma Advisory Board, providing advice and fundraising support to the staff.

Gemma's Day Program started in February 2007 and was originally hosted by the Shoreline Division of Goodwill Industries. Gemma's first Day Program Graduation was held in May 2007 where 5 women were honored for their accomplishments.

In September 2007, Gemma opened its doors to the first residents of the Gemma House. Through community support Gemma received enough donations to fully furnish the four bedroom house. The first residents helped turn the house into a home and paved the way for many to come.

  • As of 2009 Gemma has saved the County of Santa Cruz  $368,599.00 due to the significan reduction of incarceration after participation in Gemma.
  • 7500 volunteer hours have been completed in the community by Gemma women giving back.
  • As of 2009, $6110.00 in restitution and court fines/fees have been paid by Gemma women
  • There are over 35 volunteer instructors supporting our edcucational programming

Gemma Philosophy

Gemma is designed to serve women, 18 years and older, who are involved with the criminal justice system, and who have struggled with substance abuse issues. Participants are referred to us from local detention facilities, treatment programs and Sober Living Environments and directly from the community. Women who come to Gemma voluntarily commit to set and meet goals for recovery and make positive change in their lives.
Gemma was established to help women who are serious about helping themselves. Our goal is to provide the highest quality of services in a manner that is based on respect and dignity. We believe in our clients’ abilities to use the recovery tools and life strategies offered to learn how to manage addiction and remain crime free.
We understand the challenges faced upon leaving jail and we walk alongside our clients to help them meet these challenges and become fully engaged in their lives. We introduce our clients to different parts of the community in order to build a positive, supportive network of friends and supporters. Through strength-based services Gemma helps women engage in a healthy lifestyle and learn how to access community resources and support. We acknowledge that these choices and changes are a process and treatment is individualized to best empower this process.

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