Sara K. Johnson, BA in Communication Arts, WomenStrength Director
Sara became a WomenStrength volunteer in 2001 and the program director in 2005. She currently trains in Krav Maga, a combat self-defense system used by the Israeli armed forces and has previously trained in Shotokan Karate.
In 2008 she founded the GirlStrength program for girls ages 10-14 based on a need in our community. In her current role as director of WomenStrength, Sara supervises 40 volunteer instructors, develops curriculum, creates community partnerships (including private and public companies, community centers and churches) teaches safety workshops and self-defense classes. She has facilitated over 400 co-ed safety workshops for women and men. Since 2005, Sara has trained over 8,500 participants on personal safety topics and self-defense skills including: relationship violence, assertiveness skills, de-escalation and options to escape from dangerous situations. In the 34 years of program success, WomenStrength has provided self-defense training for over 30,000 women and teenage girls.
Sara is part of the Alliance for a Safer Community (Formerly Sexual Minorities Round Table), where she represents the Police Bureau and provides insight into safety needs for the LGBTQII community. She has presented at local and statewide conferences on the subject of holistic self-defense and the safety of survivors. Under Sara's leadership, the WomenStrength program has expanded to include a full-length Spanish program while also exploring curriculum for students with diabilities.
Delving into her knowledge of safety, one of Sara’s recent projects has been working on a national project to provide safety prevention and intervention for home care workers. She is co-developer of computer based training for this project and teacher for an expert led class on de-escalation. This project is sponsered by OHSU and Johns Hopkins Univerisity. Sara's passion for ending violence against women and girls lends itself to her intense dedication of teaching safety skills to everyone.
Shelby Davidson, MSW, GirlStrength Director
Shelby started her journey with GirlStrength as a new volunteer instructor in 2017 followed by the opportunity to be the Program Director in 2018. She absolutely loves teaching GirlStrength classes and having the chance to empower our students.
In 2009 after graduating from DePauw University Shelby was hired as a residential counselor at a home for children with social, emotional and behavioral challenges. This was an incredibly impactful experience and motivated Shelby to go to graduate school and pursue a Master’s in Social Work. She began that journey at Loyola University in Chicago where she interned at the Chicago Department of Public Health in the Office of Violence Prevention. This was her first experience working in prevention and studying the effects of violence on youth. After realizing her passion for community work Shelby transferred to Portland State University where she could focus on community-based practice and equity in education.
After receiving her MSW, Shelby began work with under resourced youth in East Portland as the after-school program coordinator at Fir Ridge Campus. In this role she got to plan community events, set-up afterschool classes like rap class, yoga and urban farming and get to know the amazing students at Fir Ridge. Next she moved on to coordinate career explorations classes through the Urban Opportunities program at Impact NW where she had the chance to practice curriculum development and hone her teaching skills.
In her current role as GirlStrength Director Shelby works to ensure that curriculum is relevant and effective. She also develops partnerships with schools, community centers and other youth-serving programs to plan and implement GirlStrength classes. She also recruits, trains and supervises the GirlStrength volunteer instructors who help to teach about 150 girls violence prevention and personal safety skills each season.