Power of Women honoree Elizabeth Olsen has volunteered at Stuart House since 2016, spending time with young children and teens who’ve been sexually abused. She first learned of the Stuart House program, part of the UCLA Santa Monica Medical Center-affiliated Rape Foundation, as she was prepping for “Wind River,” a film in which she plays an FBI agent investigating the rape and murder of a young woman.
This was in 2015, when Olsen had just moved back to Los Angeles from New York, and was looking for ways to feel more connected to the city. Through her agency, she was introduced to Gail Abarbanel, the president of the Rape Foundation and founder of Stuart House. Abarbanel gave Olsen a tour of the Stuart House space in Santa Monica, where kids who’ve been sexually assaulted are provided free medical, legal and psychological care.
Olsen was impressed by Abarbanel, who, in 1988, she says, “started this entire universe out of nothing.” Olsen understands the appeal of having celebrities represent nonprofits as spokespeople, but, in the case of Stuart House, she wanted to do more. So she asked to join the carefully screened, trained volunteers who work with the kids in its playroom.
Abarbanel says volunteers are key to the healing process for the children, who’ve often been betrayed by the adults closest to them. “The kids can have an experience with a safe adult who’s caring and interested in them,” she says.
After Olsen finished filming “Wind River,” she became a regular Stuart House volunteer, and when she’s not in production, she goes there weekly. “It’s amazing, even for the younger kids, to see their behavioral shifts,” Olsen says.
Abarbanel speaks highly of Olsen’s work at Stuart House. “She has true empathy, and is a very compassionate, gentle person,” she says. “She’s so there when she’s with a child. I think she’s really special.”