Innovators and Idealists: Meet the 2019 Cohort of Rubinger Fellows

Natalia Otero, Executive Director of DC Survivors and Advocates for Empowerment (DC SAFE), won a coveted Rubinger Community Fellowship award from the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), the nation’s largest community development organization.

Named in honor of LISC’s former President and CEO, Michael Rubinger, the Community Fellowship invests in exceptionally talented leaders from across the country who have an entrepreneurial spirit and deep ties to their community. LISC awarded $40,000 to each of nine dynamic community leaders from across urban and rural America, to support a special project that addresses critical challenges — from economic development and financial literacy to affordable housing and community engagement. The cohort of leaders are convened together, with the overarching goal of finding innovative solutions that improve the quality of life for people and places.

Natalia Otero was DC LISC’s nominee for this prestigious fellowship.

Natalia Otero has spent her career advocating for victims of domestic violence. First as co-founder and today as Executive Director of DC SAFE, she has nurtured the organization from a small group helping survivors navigate the court system, to a robust crisis intervention program helping 10,000 people a year reach safety and stability. As a Rubinger Community Fellow, Natalia will research the relationship between trauma and fiscal health and develop a tool that could be used to assess needs, overcome barriers, and connect survivors to services.

LISC is supporting DC SAFE as they work to construct a new building which will serve as both emergency shelter for survivors of domestic violence and as office headquarters. The shelter will include 30 apartment style units for individuals and families who need safe shelter due to domestic violence. The building will also house DC SAFE’s administrative offices, as well as nonprofits who will offer medical care, counseling, and legal services to shelter residents and others. DC SAFE is the only provider of crisis housing for domestic violence survivors in DC, and the new shelter will double their capacity.

When asked about what fuels her passion for this work, Natalia said it is her clients, “One of the greatest misnomers about survivors are that they are weak and don’t know what they need – this is not true; survivors are powerful and do a lot to manage their lives despite multiple barriers. I’m humbled by their passion.”

“Natalia’s exemplary leadership at DC SAFE coupled with the research opportunity that this fellowship grants will result in better outcomes for survivors and better lives ahead,” says Ramon Jacobson, Acting Director of DC LISC. Natalia’s selection as a Rubinger Fellow is not only a recognition of her great work to date, but also of her plans to further empower survivors going forward, he added.


Congratulations to Natalia and the rest of the 2019 Rubinger Fellows! Read more about the fellows here, and read more about DC SAFE here.