3 Families Honored for Facing Obstacles

Three San Fernando Valley families were honored Tuesday evening at a benefit for Friends of the Family in Van Nuys for their perseverance in overcoming serious obstacles.

The honorees were Michelle Sanchez and her son, Michael, 3, of Reseda; Gertrude Lassiter and her granddaughter, Kimberly, of Panorama City, and Maria Rivas and her three children, Beverly, 4, Mariana, 9, and Murphy, 6, of Van Nuys.

When Sanchez was 19 and became pregnant with Michael, her father kicked her out of the family home.

She moved in with an abusive boyfriend, she said, until she decided to seek a better life.


With the support of Friends of the Family programs, she graduated from high school in June 1994 and gave birth to Michael the following October. Now working full time, she is able to support herself and Michael.

“The program helped me keep focused on taking care of Michael,” she said. “They’ve watched out for us from the beginning. I don’t know what we would have done without their support.”

Lassiter, of Panorama City, began caring for her granddaughter, Kimberly, when the child’s mother was unable to. Lassiter took parenting classes at Friends of the Family and Kimberly participated in a children’s support group there.

Rivas said she was in an abusive relationship, living in fear with her three children.


She began working with others in a family literacy program at Friends of the Family and said she built up enough courage to move herself and her children to a shelter for victims of domestic violence.

Now the family has its own home and Rivas often talks with other women about her experiences.

At the Friends of the Family 26th anniversary benefit, each family received a plaque and a $150 cash award and, along with 400 other guests, was treated to an advance screening of “The Mask of Zorro” at the Sony Picture Studios in Culver City.