AVDA's History

AVDA’s History of Service

Since 1980, Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse has provided advocacy, safety planning, and legal representation to over 80,000 victims of domestic abuse and intervention services to over 10,000 domestic violence perpetrators.


Prior to 1980, a battered woman in Houston had little access to information on legal rights or to the services of an attorney. In response, the National Council of Jewish Women—Greater Houston Section founded AVDA to serve as an adjunct to local women’s centers and as a resource for the thousands of battered women that shelters could not serve.

AVDA’s Legal Advocacy Project operates with an all volunteer staff in space donated by 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.

Rhonda Gerson, AVDA’s Executive Director, 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.


Each weekday, volunteers from AVDA and the League of Women Voters interview family violence complainants in the District Attorney’s Community Intake Office. Legal Advocacy Project volunteers recommend charges, screen applicants for protective orders, and provide crisis counseling and social-services referrals. With the support of District Attorney Johnny Holmes, this pilot project evolves into the Family Criminal Law Division of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.
Increased arrests and improved prosecution mean that more batterers were being court-ordered into counseling. So, too, are battered women seeking intervention to end the abuse, but not the relationship. Such specialized services for domestic violence perpetrators are not readily available. AVDA contracts with Toby Myers, Ed.D, to expand her PIVOT Project with perpetrators to include a psycho-educational counseling group for men who are abusive in their intimate relationships.

AVDA receives funds from Gulf Coast Legal Foundation for attorney and new paralegal.

Dr. Toby Myers is named to the Family Violence Advisory Committee, Texas Department of Human Services. Myers chairs this committee from 1984 to 1987.


Dr. Myers 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.


The PIVOT Project becomes AVDA’s second, full-fledged program.

Texas Council on Family Violence creates the Toby Myers Statewide Leadership Award. Myers also wins a Spotlight Award from the National Council on Crime Prevention.


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.


AVDA celebrates its 20th anniversary with a luncheon bringing together 250 allied professionals and friends.


AVDA moves both programs into one new Midtown location. The PIVOT name is phased out to help create one identity for all of the agency’s services. PIVOT’s work with abusers continues under the name “Battering Intervention and Prevention Program.”

Rhonda Gerson retires as after 20 years as AVDA’s founding Executive Director. Jennifer Holmes was hired as Executive Director.


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 served as member 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, its 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 relocates to 1001 Texas. Ave. at Main, in proximity to the Harris County courts.

AVDA’s launches a Protective Order Project. 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’s Working Poor Initiative becomes reality, thanks to an extraordinary $50,000 grant from United Way funds a single attorney. AVDA can now serve working-poor victims who (1) earn too much for government legal aid but not enough for a private lawyer AND (2) are at high-risk of fatality violence using the Wynn Fatality Assessment.


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.

AVDA successfully petitioned for legislation o set Accreditation standards for BIPPs.

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.

AVDA’s BIPP program launches the Teen Abuse Prevention Program (TAPP), a weekly prevention program serving at-risk youth incarcerated through Harris County Juvenile Probation Department at their Burnett Bayland Facilities.

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.


First and foremost, AVDA provided legal advocacy and free legal representation to 4,328 adult and minor victims of family violence, including child sexual assault.

After hearing AVDA’s Executive Director speak at a Children at Risk CLE, Houston Endowment approached (!) AVDA with a request to submit a grant proposal aimed at expanding legal representation to working-poor victims of domestic violence. The result: In November 2008, Houston Endowment issued a two-year grant underwriting the first full-time attorney-paralegal team in a new sliding-fee scale practice that accepts clients at incomes up to 50% of the federally-determined median income for the Houston area.

AVDA reached out to survivors of the dual stresses of family violence and hurricane, deploying AVDA’s Katrina Fellow to Galveston County two days a week to handle (a) protective orders in cases where the Galveston Co. District Attorney’s Office is conflicted out, i.e. where criminal charges are pending; and (b) temporarily take over the legal practice of the battered women’s shelter (Resource & Crisis Center of Galveston Co.), which lost its staff attorney in the aftermath of the storm.

AVDA instituted the Deedee Ostfeld Award for Advocacy, to be given annually in recognition of extraordinary leadership in protecting the legal rights and physical safety of victims of domestic violence. The first Ostfeld Award was given to Jane Waters (Chief of the Family Criminal Law Division, Harris Co. District Attorney’s Office) as part of a day-long continuing education program that provided provide special training for 200+ judges, prosecutors and first responders (law enforcement, CPS) on accurately assessing and handling domestic violence cases.

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 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’s Teen Abuse Prevention Program moves to the Harris County Juvenile Detention facility in downtown Houston, providing two group sessions per week to incarcerated youth.

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

AVDA’s Battering Intervention and Prevention Program was honored by becoming the first BIPP program in Texas to receive full Accreditation Status by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice/Criminal Justice Assistance Division.

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


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’s Battering Intervention and Prevention Program serves 1,143 male offenders through its program, in addition to approximately 70 females in the Women’s BIPP program, with a successful completion rate of 66%.


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 Battering Intervention and Prevention Program (BIPP) hosted the First Annual Houston BIPP Conference, and was recognized by Futures Without Violence of one of 10 cutting-edge BIPP programs nationwide.

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’s Legal Advocacy Program trained over 80 attorneys in its Pro Bono Legal Aid Program, providing valuable training in “service by publication”, which allows more victims of domestic abuse to receive legal services even if their abuser cannot be easily located.

The Battering Intervention and Prevention Program (BIPP) hosted its third annual Houston BIPP Conference, providing training for local providers and criminal justice staff to learn more about offender education and accountability.


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.

Acclaimed Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins launched DeAndre’s Touchdown Challenge on behalf of AVDA, and throughout the year supported AVDA clients through clothing donations, invitation to a Texans game, and more.

AVDA provided a robust training program throughout 2016 for the Houston community, which included trainings for the Houston Texans rookie team, law enforcement, Child Protective Services staff, Veterans Administration staff, and local high schools.

Richard Mithoff was presented the Joseph D. Jamail Award for Justice by previous recipient, John Eddie Williams, Jr., at AVDA’s 2016 Home Safe Home gala, in acknowledgement of his extraordinary service to the community. Practicing in the area of civil litigation, Mr. Mithoff has consistently been ranked among he top trial lawyers in the country and has received the Lifetime of Excellence in Advocacy Award as well as other distinguished honors.

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 for Legal Advocacy
F: 713-715-6945 for Battering Intervention & Prevention


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

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