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Fire Destroys Office of New Orleans-Based Organization, Arson Suspected

By Kellee Terrell

May 29, 2012

Another day, another attack on women.

In the wee hours of the morning on May 25, Deon Haywood received a horrible phone call from her building's landlord. The office of the organization that she runs, Women With A Vision (WWAV), had been burned down.

NOLA.com reported:

Although small fires apparently had been set in at least four different places in the group's offices -- four rooms plus a bathroom and kitchen -- the damage was concentrated in one room. With the walls blistered in black bubbles and the ceiling partially destroyed, the fire had destroyed or heavily damaged nearly all the contents of Women With a Vision's outreach office.

That small room contained "the heart of everything we use to educate the community," Haywood said. The fact the fire was apparently centered there "feels intentional to me," she said. ...

Investigators, Haywood said, told her that there had been a break-in through the back door and that multiple fires had been intentionally set. They also said a neighbor reported seeing a white male running from the scene around the time of the fire, she said.

Police are still looking for the person who may have done this.

Obviously, Deon was devastated. View video of her discussing the fire below:

WWAV was co-founded by Deon's mother and several other black women in 1991 as a social service organization "to promote wellness and disease prevention for women and their families living at or below the poverty line." It was created as a response to the lack of HIV prevention resources for women who were the most at risk: poor women, sex workers, women with substance abuse issues and transgender women.

Over the years, WWAV has helped hundreds of women, by doing outreach, distributing condoms and referring women to other services they may need, such as legal assistance and housing. WWAV also provides clothing for women to wear to interviews; hygiene supplies for women, men and children; HIV/AIDS testing; and food.

In 2011, WWAV and other advocates in Louisiana got a set of outdated crimes against humanity laws overturned. Under those laws, sex workers had to register as sex offenders for a maximum of 10 years and have the words "sex offender" printed on their photo identification cards. Last June, Governor Bobby Jindal signed into law a bill that effectively moves prostitution convictions back to the level of a misdemeanor.

It's because of her amazing work and dedication that in 2010 TheBody.com named Deon one of five "People Who Made A Difference" and in 2011 she was an honorable mention.

In a letter posted on WWAV, Deon goes into detail about the items that were ruined, all of which are critical to the work WWAV does in the community. She wrote:

Immediate Meeting Spaces for WWAV Events. We are in the process of finding a new permanent home, but also need immediate assistance with space. We have several coalition meetings that were to be held at the WWAV office next week, and our new micro-enterprise program is scheduled to launch early next week. New Orleans friends, do you have conference room space you can lend? Member programming will need to accommodate 10-15 people. Coalition events will bring together 20-25 people.

Donations to Replace our Health Education Materials. We lost all of our health education materials, including harm reduction supplies, condoms/dental dams/lube, reproductive health models, educational brochures, hygiene kits and OraSure HIV tests. Replacing these will cost thousands of dollars. If you are able, please make a tax-deductible donation through our website.

  • $50 will buy a case of male condoms;
  • $100 will cover a month supply of harm reduction kits,
  • $250 will replace one of our reproductive health models;
  • $500 will enable us to make a month's supply of hygiene kits;
  • $1000 will buy a case of female condoms; and
  • $2000 to replace our two cases of OraSure rapid HIV tests.

Suits/Dresses/Shoes to Restock our Clothing Bank. We have lost all of the professional clothing that was donated to WWAV for our women to go on job interviews. Please contact us if you have suits, skirts, dress pants, dresses and shoes to donate. Women's clothing 8 to plus-size and shoe sizes 7 to 12 are most needed.

Donations to Replace our Office Furniture & Supplies. When we are ready to move into our new office, we will need to replace most of our office furniture, all of our office supplies, and all of our decorations for WWAV member holiday events and women-centered programming. Desks, desk chairs, and furniture for our drop-in space will all be incredibly costly. And we all know how quickly copy paper and post-it notes can add up. Any donation will help us to open as quickly as possible. Gift cards to office supply stores like OfficeMax, Office Depot and Staples are welcome. In-kind contributions of women-centered art, social justice posters, and holiday decorations will all be deeply appreciated when we are nearer to our re-opening date.

Donations to Replace Computers & Printer(s). One desktop computer, one laptop and one printer were completely destroyed in the fire. We are in the process of testing our remaining computers and printer to see if they have been permanently damaged by smoke. At this point, our technology replacement costs are unknown. Again, any donation will help us to reopen as quickly as possible.

I never would have imagined that in 2012 someone could have so much hate and disregard that he or she could do something this heinous to an organization that does so much to help others. I take this attack personally not only because Deon is a colleague, but because she is also my friend.

Deon, you are in my thoughts and prayers.

You can donate to WWAV via its website.

Kellee Terrell is the former news editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.

Follow Kellee on Twitter: @kelleent.


Copyright © 2012 Remedy Health Media, LLC. All rights reserved.

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More News and Articles on HIV Groups and Medical Care in Southern U.S. States
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Reader Comments:

Comment by: fveryspecial (H'burg MS) Sat., Jun. 2, 2012 at 7:29 pm EDT
Sorry Deon for you all lost there in the Crescent City. I will continue to keep you all in my prayers and together we will come back up with a vengeance.

LALA
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