About Us

A Quick Glance at AVDA

Our Mission Statement, a brief history and more information about AVDA

About Us

A Quick Glance at AVDA

Our Mission Statement, a brief history and more information about AVDA

Mission statement

The mission of AVDA (Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse) is to end family violence by advocating for the safety and self-determination of victims, promoting accountability for abusers and fostering a community response to abuse.

AVDA is a unique non-profit that has served Houston for over 37 years. Beginning November 1, 2017, the organization expanded to provide our free legal services to victims of domestic abuse in Fort Bend County through a full-time AVDA staff attorney and paralegal.

We envision a non-abusive and violence-free environment where relationships are based on mutual respect.

Read more about us on GuideStar here.

Our history at a glance

AVDA was founded in 1980 by the National Council of Jewish Women Greater Houston Section as a non-residential domestic violence center to provide resources for thousands of battered women in need of legal advocacy. Recognizing that batterers must also receive rehabilitative services to end their abuse, AVDA added the Battering Intervention and Prevention Program (BIPP) in 1984, which became the first in the state to become fully accredited.

Read About 1980's


AVDA was founded by the National Council of Jewish Women – Greater Houston Section. NCJW continues to play a role in supporting AVDA by generously funding the NCJW Client Emergency Assistance Fund and through several leadership capacities. One of its first services was to provide a Legal Advocacy Project with an all-volunteer staff who collaborated in a space donated by the Gulf Coast Legal Foundation.


AVDA hires a contract attorney to represent abuse victims who fall through the cracks of available services in family law litigation.

AVDA’s executive director, Rhonda Gerson, serves on Houston Police Department task force created by Chief Lee P. Brown to ensure that HPD’s arrest policies complied with state laws criminalizing domestic violence.


Volunteers from the Legal Advocacy Project, AVDA and the League of Women collaborate in efforts to form a foundation behind programs providing crisis counseling and social service referrals. With the support of District Attorney Johnny Holmes, the project evolved into the family criminal law division of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.

AVDA contracts with Toby Myers, Ed.D., to expand the PIVOT Project by including psycho-educational groups for men who are abusive in their intimate relationships. Dr. Myers joins as a chairman to the Family Violence Advisory Committee, Texas Department of Human Services, and stays there until 1987.


Dr. Meyers is appointed to the Surgeon General’s Workshop on Violence and Public Health by Surgeon General Everett Koop, M.D.


AVDA’s Legal Advocacy Project receives Victims of Crime Act funding from the Office of the Governor, which is used to add a full-time Client Advocate.

Read About 1990's


The Texas Department of Criminal Justice-Community Justice Assistance Division awards AVDA one of its first grants to provide court-mandated battering intervention services. AVDA then expands to five battering intervention groups per week.


AVDA brings battering intervention to the suburbs. By the end of 1992, AVDA is providing battering intervention services in Pasadena, Katy, Rosenberg, Texas City, Baytown, Webster, Northwest Houston, Conroe and Bay City.


AVDA’s Legal Advocacy Project expands with two additional contract attorneys, a second paralegal and a legal secretary. This move greatly expands battered women’s access to protective orders and divorces in Harris County.

The PIVOT Project adds Spanish-language services for Harris County participants.


AVDA serves on the Battering Intervention and Prevention Project Strategic Planning Work Group that drafts the original “minimum state guidelines” for battering intervention and prevention adopted by the TDCJ-CJAD.

AVDA is one of four sites selected for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-funded national study to evaluate the effectiveness of batterers’ programs.


AVDA’s leadership results in the formation of the Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council, to foster a coordinated community response across public and private sectors.


The Department of Human Services finally makes non-residential centers eligible for Family Violence Program funding. AVDA uses its first DHS grant to hire a Case Manager and much-needed second Client Advocate and to contract with a fourth attorney to provide legal representation. Thanks to the additional program staff, AVDA’s Legal Advocacy Program is able to go on-site to meet clients at battered women’s shelters.

AVDA sits on the statewide Battering Intervention and Prevention Project Guidelines Revision Committee.


AVDA receives its first contract from the Harris Co. Community Supervision and Corrections Department to provide battering intervention to low-income probationers.

Read About 2000's


Dr. Edward Gondolf and Sage Publishing release Batterer Intervention Systems: Issues, Outcomes and Recommendations, which contains the results of CDC-funded research conducted at AVDA and three other “model” intervention programs nationwide.

BIPP wins contract to be the primary provider of intervention services to the Harris County Community Supervision & Corrections Department.

BIPP Director Jose Sanchez serves as chair of the Texas Council on Family Violence’s Curriculum Subcommittee charged with developing an accreditation process for battering intervention service providers across the state.


AVDA joins the Fort Bend Community Response Team, becoming increasingly active in the development of that first-responder agency.


Jacqueline Pontello is hired as the third Executive Director in AVDA’s 25-year history and as the first attorney to lead the agency.


AVDA celebrates its 25th anniversary with Home Safe Home, first-ever gala.

AVDA reorganizes the Legal Advocacy Program, abandoning its traditional contract-attorney model for a staff-attorney model. Case acceptance decisions are now made within 24 hours and community emergency legal capacity is greatly improved. At year-end, AVDA has four full-time staff attorneys (including the Managing Attorney).

AVDA is featured in a film produced by Texas Equal Access to Justice Commission regarding the importance of legal aid services.

AVDA launches a Domestic Violence Clinic in cooperation with the Clinical Law Program of the University of Houston Law Center.

AVDA receives a “Helping Hands of Justice Award” from Lone Star Legal Aid.

BIPP wins one of first Family Protection Fee Grants, from monies raised through a fee assessed on each divorce filed in Harris County. The grant underwrites BIPP services for abusers referred by CPS and other units of the Harris Co. Family & Youth Commission.


AVDA launches a Protective Order Project where a full-time staff of three – attorney, paralegal and client advocate – go on-site at District Attorney’s Office (for overflow applicants) and at outlying battered women’s shelters to improve access to the most basic of legal protections.


AVDA serves as attorney of record in 1,819 cases pending in the Harris County Family Courts, with 4,244 adult and minor victims provided with free legal representation.

BIPP expands to Galveston County at joint request of the local battered women’s shelter, the Galveston Co. District Attorney and by vote of the Galveston Co. District Judges.

BIPP provided 23,084 hours of group counseling to 1,139 male and female abusers. Some 66% of the abusers “graduated” to hopefully lifelong patterns of non-violence.

A New Voices Fellowship – funded by The Ford Foundation – provides a dedicated lawyer for Katrina and Rita evacuees trapped in the cycle of family violence.


BIPP expands to 20 groups, adding locations in Beltway 8 & Westpark, Tidwell & I-45, Bellaire & Hwy. 6 and Clear Lake. Also new is a second group for female abusers.

AVDA’s Working Poor Project is generously funded by Houston Endowment.


AVDA assembles a bipartisan collision of local and state law makers that successfully enaced legislation establishing Harris County’s first Domestic Violence Court. Led by Commissioner Steve Radack, Senator Rodney Ellis and Representatives Beverly Woolley and Senfronia Thompson, this coalition engineered the conversion of an existing state civil district court into a court designed to fast-track protective orders. The 280th State District Court and Judge Tony Lindsay began hearing exclusively domestic violence cases on November 1, 2009.

The Honorable Doug Warne receives the Deedee Ostfeld Award, on the 30th anniversary of his authorship of the Texas Protective Order Statute.

AVDA was accepted as an affiliate agency of the United Way of the Texas Gulf Coast, the only charity to be admitted to the United Way membership in 10+ years.

Read About 2010's


AVDA Executive Director Jackie Pontello is one of 12 domestic violence advocates nationwide to be honored with the Sunshine Lady Peace Award, bestowed by philanthropist Doris Buffett.

Dr. Toby Myers receives the Deedee Ostfeld Award.


AVDA adds an attorney/paralegal team to its staff, bringing the total number of attorney/paralegal teams to 6.
AVDA’s Legal Advocacy Program provided advocacy and representation to 1,731 cases, involving more than 4500 adults and minor victims of domestic abuse.


AVDA adds Deputy Director of Programs position to oversee each of AVDA’s three programs.

Sherri Kendall, 27-year veteran in the field of domestic violence, is named CEO. The Board adds the position Chief Development Officer.

AVDA honors Texas State Supreme Court at its annual HomeSafeHome event.


AVDA’s service to victims of abuse benefitted over 1,800 in 2013, an increase of 13% over 2012.

Thanks to the generation of the Ede & Bruce Weiner family, AVDA is able to offer education and training financial assistance to AVDA clients who are victims of abuse.


A Counseling and Outreach Program was established through the generous support of the Dan L. Duncan Family Foundation, providing a Trauma Counselor to assist victims of domestic abuse, and a Youth and Outreach Specialist to provide community awareness and prevention.

Houston Endowment awarded AVDA funding to create the Expanded Legal Services Program, providing an attorney, advocate and paralegal, with focus on providing services to victims who are the “working poor”. These clients earn too much to qualify for traditional legal aid, but not enough to hire competent legal representation.

AVDA collaborated with the University of Houston’s T.I.M.E.S. (Texas Institute of Measurement, Evaluation and Statistics) to create an electronic metrics and evaluation system to evaluate and monitor the efficacy of AVDA programs.


The Joseph D. Jamail Endowment Fund was created to permanently endow an attorney position to provide representation and advocacy to women who are victims of abuse and who would otherwise be without quality legal counsel.

AVDA’s Expanded Legal Services Program launched, with one attorney dedicated full time to serving the “working poor”. The program grew quickly, given the vast community need, and is thriving, thanks to the support of Houston Endowment.

AVDA launched its first electronic newsletter and social media campaign, seeking to increase awareness and support for its mission to end abuse.


AVDA successfully launched its Volunteer Program with a three-hour training, featuring detailed presentations about AVDA services, the agency’s history and volunteer opportunities. The training encouraged participation in the newly launched Court Accompaniment Program and additional volunteer opportunities within the agency.

AVDA was the recipient of the Social and Community Services Category award at the AMA Houston Award Show.

A highly impactful billboard campaign was launched as a result of an external grant award and collaboration. The community billboard campaign was part of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week and was made possible through collaboration with Savage Brands and Clear Channel Outdoor. There were 15 billboards strategically placed in underserved communities, in both English and Spanish, with a well-attended press conference to launch the campaign.


Sherri Kendall, Chief Executive Officer

Sherri Kendall is AVDA’s Chief Executive Officer and has been with AVDA since 2002. Kendall has over 30 years of professional experience in the domestic violence field, spending much of that time in specialized work with domestic violence abusers in Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas. Kendall also served as Interim Shelter Director in Oklahoma prior to her move to Texas. Kendall is also a survivor of domestic violence.

More About Sherri
Kendall has served as AVDA’s Battering Intervention and Prevention Program (BIPP) Director, as well as Deputy Director, and became its CEO in 2012. She serves on various local and statewide task forces, including the Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council and its Adult Fatality Review Team; the Public Policy Committee of Texas Council on Family Violence (TCFV); Project SAFE (a collaborative effort of TCFV and the Department of Family and Protective Services); as well as the Fort Bend Crime Victims Response Team.

She holds a Masters of Counseling from the University of Houston-Victoria, a Masters in Personnel Management and Industrial Relations from the London School of Economics, and is a Licensed Professional Counselor.

Maisha Colter, Director of Legal Advocacy Program

After returning to AVDA in March of 2012, Maisha Colter was named Director of Litigation and now directs the agency’s Legal Advocacy Program. She has dedicated her professional life to advocating for the needs of children and families in crisis.

More About Maisha
After attaining a dual Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work and Public Policy as well as a Masters in Social Work from New York University, Colter became a licensed social worker in Brooklyn, NY, where she tirelessly worked with children and families involved with the Child Protective Services.

After a few years, she pursued her law degree from Rutgers University and graduated in 2001. In 2003, she moved to Texas, learned about AVDA, and reached out to the Executive Director to volunteer and was instead hired as the agency’s only staff attorney in 2004. She remained with the agency for almost four years and returned in 2012 to lead a staff of attorneys and paralegals who are in charge of fighting on behalf of victims of abuse in Harris County.

Pamela Dickson, Managing Attorney

Pamela Dickson received her undergraduate degree in Political Science at the University of Houston and thereafter earned her law degree from the highly-accredited Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University. She has been with AVDA since 2013.

More About Pamela
A native Houstonian, Dickson brings to AVDA extensive years of experience in representing the underserved community. She worked for Dallas Legal Aid, Legal Services of North Texas and other legal clinics representing the poor, the elderly and the terminally ill. Dickson also worked for the Office of the Attorney General and the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to ensure that the children of Texas are supported and protected. Her wealth of experience and two-plus decades of practicing law in every capacity guarantee AVDA’s clients a source for excellent advocacy and knowledge about family law matters. Dickson has dedicated her career to helping others, and her continuance of that dedication is seen in her commitment to AVDA.

She now manages AVDA’s staff attorneys and provides expert legal advice for the agency, as well managing her own case load.

Chastidy Patterson, Director of BIPP

Chastidy Patterson is Director of AVDA’s Battering Intervention and Prevention Program, where she conducts BIPP groups, oversees BIPP staff and facilitates domestic violence seminars across the state.

More About Chastidy
Patterson has been with AVDA since 2009. A Beaumont, Texas, native, she earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology with a minor in Sociology. After completing her undergraduate studies, she pursued an advanced degree from Texas Southern University, earning a Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology in May of 2008. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor and has experience in administering social and coping skills training, behavior and symptom management, crisis intervention, anger management, medication-related education, parenting and family skills training and resiliency and disease management.

Nicole Franklin-Jones, Director of Youth and Outreach


More About Nicole

Maria Casco, Director of Advocacy Services


More About Maria

Marie Jacinto, Director of Public Relations


More About Marie

2018 Board of Directors

Board Officers
Steve Winter, ASTOUNDZ Chair
Mark Russell, Morgan Stanley Chair Emeritus
Bethany Andell, Savage Brands Secretary
Michelle Tran, Berkley Research Group, LLC Treasurer
Board Members
Afolabi Arikenbi, CPA, FCCA, Amazon Leisa Holland-Nelson, ASTOUNDZ
Don Cohen, DDS, Oral Surgery & Dental Implant Center Amy Huggins, Community Volunteer
Mimi Del Grande, Schiller-Del Grande Group Meg Kamin, Spencer Stuart
Carla Diaz-Lewis, Community Volunteer Karl Oswald, Global Fabrication Services, Inc.
Joslyn (Joey) Fisher, M.D., M.P.H., Baylor College of Medicine

Karen Freedman, Community Volunteer

Rani Russell Shea, Siemens PLM Software

Don Woo, Mission Constructors, Inc


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Upcoming Events

march, 2018

20mar(mar 20)8:00 am(mar 20)8:00 amAVDA's Houston Area BIPP ConferenceHighlights for this daylong conference include: “Accountability through Judicial Monitoring,” presented by Judge Chad D. Bradshaw; “Community Supervision and Offender Accountability,” presented by Meghan Ryan & Aida Garza; “The Intersection between Human Trafficking and Domestic Violence,” presented by Denise Mitchell; and “Working with Victims of DV,” presented by Maria Casco & Miriam Huerta. Continuing Education Units are provided with CJAD-approved hours for BIPP and Family Violence.

Safety alert: Computer use can be monitored and is impossible to completely clear. If you are afraid that your internet or computer usage might be monitored, use a safer computer, call your local hotline, or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY 1-800-787-3224.

1001 Texas Ave., Suite 600 Houston, TX 77002
P: 713-224-9911
F: 713-715-6935 | 713-715-6945


1001 Texas Ave., Suite 600 Houston, TX 77002 P: 713-224-9911 F: 713-715-6935 | 713-715-6945

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