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Petaluma’s Grieco a resource for victims of abuse

Helen Grieco witnessed violence in her family for years, but it took violence against her personally to galvanize her into changing her life and the lives of others for the better.

“I was raised in a family plagued by domestic violence and poverty,” she said.

Grieco witnessed her father beat her mother at least once a week for seven years. It ended when her mother finally found the courage to gather Grieco and her three siblings and head 300 miles away, where they found refuge in a tumble-down shack without electricity or running water when Grieco was 12.

The pattern of family violence had a deleterious effect on Grieco’s youth.

“I spent a number of years involved in drugs, abusive relationships, eating disorders and low self-esteem, repeating the patterns I’d learned from my family,” she said.

By age 25, she realized she had to change, and she began her path to recovery. She became clean and sober. Then, after a year of research, she said: “I pioneered a program on how to be safe, healthy physically and emotionally and media-savvy.”

Re-entering college, Grieco discovered what she endured as a child had a name, domestic violence, and that it happened in far more families than she had imagined. She also learned the importance of being economically literate.

“My college degree, therapy, my involvement in alternative health methods, supportive people and my training all contributed to my total recovery,” Grieco said.

She decided to find ways to help other women who were struggling. Grieco took a job at the San Francisco office of NOW, eventually rising to the position of executive director.

That engendered Grieco’s next life-changing event. A woman came into her office, she said, “and became very belligerent and out of control. I told her to get out, and in the next 10 seconds, she nearly killed me.”

The assault led Grieco to the realization that she needed to learn to protect herself.

“I had survived the violence of my childhood, but this assault made me realize that I needed formal training.”

A moment of clarity followed.

“This is what women need in our society,” she said. “All the things I had been wanting, and that’s how Brave People came into being. We offer training in self-defense, healthy mind and body, media deconstruction, and economic literacy.”

In a few months, Grieco and her husband launched a movement that spread Bay Areawide, mostly through word of mouth, and she estimates that they have trained over 10,000 people.

Fast forward a few years and Grieco and her family moved to Petaluma, where she concentrates on helping local women.

“We love Petaluma and are thrilled to raise our daughter to be a positive influence here,” she said.

She mostly works with individual students.

“It’s really rewarding seeing people suffering like I suffered and knowing I can help them accelerate their path to recovery,” she said. “I’m an old hand at this and I’m really dedicated to the next generation. It is essential that they learn to save themselves.”

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