This world-class spa support a cause that makes people uncomfortable: helping victims of physical and sexual abuse

Photo Credit: Gabby Orcutt

Despite all the pampering that goes on at Golden Door spa, in San Diego, California, at the core of the spa’s mission to support a cause that makes people uncomfortable: helping survivors of physical and sexual abuse.

In late November 2013, Kathy Van Ness, COO and general manager of Golden Door, found herself reading an article in the local newspaper about Palomar Health’s Forensic Health Services center being on the brink of closing its doors after it couldn’t come up with the $200,000 needed to keep the program going.

Looming budget cuts and a local economy on a downslide put the San Diego center in a position to have to close its program. At the time, the center processed between 400 to 500 abuse survivors a year.

“There was no one stepping up,” said Van Ness.

A Pay-It-Forward Approach

With a Dec. 31 deadline approaching, Forensic Health’s program assisting survivors of child abuse, which had been opened for about 30 years would see its end. (The hundreds of adults and children survivors of physical and sexual assault who pass through the center every year are given exams to help prosecutors charge their offenders.)

This motivated Van Ness and Golden Door Spa Owner Joanne Conway to write a check for $75,000 to keep the center open. They wanted to support a cause and make a difference in the lives of women and children survivors of abuse, in a big way.

The number of survivors the center is expected to see in the next year is expected to reach more than 1,000 as it becomes San Diego County’s only forensic center for women and children of sexual abuse—something that would have never happened if not for the donation from Golden Door, which put the spa at the forefront of a conscious movement within the spa industry to pay it forward.

And since then, the spa has donated 100 percent of its profits to charity.

“We wanted to do something transformational, and this is transformational,” Van Ness said. “We knew when we picked our mission we had to choose something that was aligned with our goals and views.”

Golden Door Spa is roughly eight miles from the Forensic Health center. The spa’s involvement in this mission runs deep. Since 2013, they have donated $110,000 and have underwritten fundraisers for the center.

“I consider them not only close community partners, but friends,” said Michelle Pius, Palomar Health Foundation’s director of major giving. “I really admired that their company’s responsibility isn’t bounded by their property,” she added.

This world-class spa supports a cause that makes people uncomfortable: helping victims of physical and sexual abuse.

Photo credit: Jessica Sample

Support a Cause

Golden Door is a luxury resort and spa nestled on 600 acres in Escondido, California, on San Diego County’s north side. For decades, it has been a hub for the uber rich and famous to lose weight, recharge and get away from the spotlight.

It was opened in 1958 by Deborah Szekely and sold to Conway in 2013. It has undergone many growth spurts, including expanding from 377 to 600 acres. The spa accommodates up to 40 guests with personalized meal plans, fitness programs, private garden decks and around-the-clock personal service.

Guests have access to seven state-of-the-art gyms, two swimming pools and 30 miles of private trails. They are pampered with services such as the Desert Sea Mud Detoxifier and their choice of seven-, four-, or three-day skin care programs.

Hanging in the spa’s employee lounge are two paintings of hope made by children who now have a second chance.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, one in six boys and one in four girls are sexually abused before the age of 18. Sadly, only 30 percent of sexual assault cases are reported to law enforcement authorities.

“As much as we talk about animals being abused, maybe we can talk about kids being abused in the same breath,” Van Ness said. “The biggest problem is that people just don’t know.

“When we tell people about this, they are shocked and horrified and can’t believe it,” she added. “But it’s real.”

Golden Door is focused on making local change and growing their mission to serve. They have taken the lead in this endeavor to support a cause and are calling on all massage clinic and spa owners to do the same.

Massage therapists, estheticians and employees at the spa have more pride in what they do, Van Ness said, because “ it’s not just for someone’s pocketbook”—there are children depending on them.

Anything Helps

At the Forensic Health Services center, they have seen social consciousness at its best with thousands of small donations that have trickled in from individual donors.

“I always say, ‘the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts,’” Pius said, “Every little bit helps.”

Golden Door’s owner and staff want to inspire people in the industry to take ownership of a cause. Van Ness believes that in today’s society, businesses cannot be successful without a social conscious. There has to be something more than just money they are working toward, to make the world better.

While Golden Door is in a position to donate 100 percent of its profits, this shouldn’t deter spa owners and therapists at small enterprises from donating what they can for a charity or making changes like eliminating the use of plastic water bottles or reducing food waste.

“The fact is that you can imprint in a small way; every single person can make a difference,” Van Ness said.

About the Author

Aiyana Fraley, L.M.T., is a freelance writer and health care professional with more than 17 years of experience in the massage field. She teaches yoga and offers sessions in massage, reiki, sound healing and essential oils.


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