Airline makes big donation

NORTHEAST GLENDALE — United Airlines on Wednesday agreed to provide 10 free tickets a year to the YWCA Glendale for women and their children who are in immediate physical danger from abusive partners and need to be rushed out of state at a moment’s notice.

The offer — which comes with a 24-hour call service — is the only one of its kind, administrators said, and caps a 10-year effort by the YWCA’s domestic violence programs director, Kathie Mathis, to provide the service.

“They are giving a gift that I don’t even think they know how huge it is to the women and children who are being threatened with abuse, and whose lives are being threatened with death,” Mathis said. “I’m blown away, I really am.”

Last year alone, six women and their children at the YWCA’s shelter were at immediate risk of physical harm from abusive husbands or boyfriends and could have used the tickets to fly on any United route within the country to escape the danger, change their identities and set up a new life in a different state, Mathis said.

Many of the battered women who come to the YWCA from other shelters as “safety transfers” do so because they were found, or in danger of being found, by resourceful abusers, she said. This means it is often only a matter of time before they are discovered in Glendale.

“Anybody can be found if you want them found, and you have the money to do it,” Mathis said.

While providing vouchers to domestic violence shelters is not new, the agreement with the YWCA Glendale is the first time United has done so for the purpose of urgent moves and the only one that has access to a 24-hour corporate hotline for flight assistance, said Sonya Jackson, president of the United Airlines Foundation.

She approved the vouchers during a conference call with Mathis on Wednesday without an application package or any real knowledge of the YWCA’s shelter program — an extremely rare move that falls well outside the usual six- to eight-week review process through the foundation, she said.

“This is so powerful and something United needs to get its arms around because we’re in a position to help,” Jackson said. “There was such a tone of urgency, and it just really makes sense.”

That the conference call happened at all was the result of a fateful meeting between Mathis and Judy Lerner, a business consultant who enrolled in a training session for domestic violence counseling.

As she frequently does, Mathis told her class about a dream goal to set up a program giving battered women a one-way ticket away from their abusers on an emergency basis. Lerner was a frequent United Airlines customer through her job consulting for Fortune 500 companies and had a corporate contact. That person referred her to Jackson’s assistant, who in turn set up Wednesday’s conference call.

Lerner and Mathis said they dialed in with tempered expectations.

“I knew it could be an uphill battle because everybody who calls this lady wants something,” Lerner said.

Just 15 minutes into the conversation, the vouchers were already on the table after what Jackson called a “really powerful moment.”

Combined, the tickets are worth up to $10,000, depending on the destinations, she added.

While the service sets the YWCA Glendale apart from other shelters, other domestic violence shelters can use the unneeded vouchers as demand for them can vary from year to year, administrators said.

After Wednesday’s call, the fact that 10 years of searching had just ended with such a comprehensive, unprecedented response was almost incomprehensible for Mathis.

“I started crying, everyone started crying,” she said.

But while the feeling of surmounting the impossible may have permeated the YWCA Wednesday, on Friday, Jackson addressed the fateful precedent with a simple: “We’ve never been asked.”


 JASON WELLS covers City Hall. He may be reached at (818) 637-3235 or by e-mail at jason.wells@latimes.com.

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