Our Timeline

Changing lives for more than 40 years

Founding Mothers


AVDA Founding Mothers DeeDee Ostfeld, Toby Myers, Rhonda Gerson, circa 2015

The National Council of Jewish Women—Greater Houston Section found AVDA to serve as an adjunct to local women’s centers and as a resource for the thousands of battered women in need of legal aid.

AVDA’s Legal Advocacy Project operates with a team of volunteers in space donated by Gulf Coast Legal Foundation. Rhonda Gerson serves as AVDA’s first executive director.


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


Each weekday, volunteers from AVDA and the League of Women Voters interview family violence complainants in the District Attorney’s Community Intake Office. 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.

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 paralegal.


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.

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The PIVOT Project becomes AVDA’s second, full-fledged program. Read the full article here.


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 takes 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.

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.

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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.

Read the full article here.


AVDA uses its first Department of Human Services grant to hire a case manager and second client advocate and to contract with a fourth attorney to provide legal representation. AVDA can now go on-site to meet clients at battered women’s shelters.


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. PIVOT becomes “Battering Intervention and Prevention Program.”

Rhonda Gerson retires after 20 years as AVDA’s founding Executive Director. Jennifer Holmes becomes 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 becomes primary provider of intervention services to the Harris County Community Supervision & Corrections Department.


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


Jacqueline Pontello becomes the third Executive Director in AVDA’s 25-year history and 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. At year end, AVDA has four full-time staff attorneys (including the Managing Attorney).


AVDA relocates to 1001 Texas Ave. at Main, in proximity to the Harris County courts.

AVDA 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, serving 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 successfully petitioned for legislation to 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 Departments.

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.


Houston Endowment issues 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 assembles a bipartisan collision of local and state lawmakers that successfully enacts 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.

AVDA’s BIPP becomes the first BIPP program in Texas to receive full Accreditation Status by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice/Criminal Justice Assistance Division.

AVDA becomes 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.

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AVDA CEO Sherri Kendall
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’s Battering Intervention and Prevention Program (BIPP) hosts the First Annual Houston BIPP Conference and is recognized by Futures Without Violence as one of 10 cutting-edge BIPP programs nationwide.

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 is established through the generous support of an anonymous donor, providing a Trauma Counselor to assist victims of domestic abuse, and a Youth and Outreach Specialist to provide community awareness and prevention.

Houston Endowment awards 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.”

AVDA collaborates 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 is created to 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 Legal Advocacy Program trains more than 80 attorneys in its Pro Bono Legal Aid Program.


AVDA successfully launches its Volunteer Program.

AVDA’s first billboard campaign takes place during National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, made possible by Savage Brands and Clear Channel Outdoor.

Acclaimed Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins offers DeAndre’s Touchdown Challenge on behalf of AVDA.



AVDA’s billboard campaign with Texans player DeAndre Hopkins is launched at a City Hall press conference by Mayor Sylvester Turner and Mayor Pro Tem Ellen Cohen. METRO installs 950 victim-centric AVDA posters on buses.

The inaugural End Abuse Awareness Breakfast is held in April at The Junior League of Houston.

AVDA hosts its first Camp Carefree at Camp Aranzazu for victim services clients and their children.

Hurricane Harvey affects many clients and staff members, and AVDA establishes the AVDA Victim Relief Fund to assist current legal and counseling clients.

AVDA expands into Fort Bend County with an attorney and paralegal at the United Way of Greater Houston – Fort Bend County Center.

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Fort Bend County Office Paralegal Nelda Canales and Managing Attorney Kusum Warsi
Mid-2018, AVDA, Harris County District Attorney’s Office, and local law enforcement agencies joined forces to create the Houston area’s first Domestic Violence High Risk Team.

The Youth and Outreach Program grows into the Community Awareness and Prevention Program with three full-time staff.

In recognition of October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the Interfaith Advisory Council held its first Evening of Remembrance, Caring & Hope at City Hall’s Legacy Room.

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Rural Counties Managing Attorney Peter Walbridge Jr. and Paralegal Vicky Owor

Lee Vela AVDAs Maisha Colter Sherri Kendall Philip Haines BeLinda Hyder MPT Ellen Cohen Mary McFaden


AVDA Director of Legal Advocacy Program Maisha Colter becomes AVDA CEO upon Sherri Kendall’s retirement.

AVDA expands its Legal Advocacy Program into Austin, Grimes, Waller and Washington counties with a managing attorney and paralegal in Hempstead.

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