Domestic Violence Advocacy/Counseling Services
By Amanda Burke, Sentinel and Enterprise
Leominster vigil sends message of support for domestic-abuse victims
LEOMINSTER — Family, friends and survivors gathered Friday evening to mourn the lives of three women who were killed in the course of intimate-partner violence.
“It’s hard to cope, because it hurts so much, but there is a voice, there is a team, there are people who are willing to help,” said domestic-violence advocate Wanda Ruiz. “We have a voice that can be heard, and we don’t have to stay quiet.”
Ruiz works at the Spanish American Center to help women and men in situations of domestic abuse.
She was one of several people who spoke to about 30 people gathered for the vigil at Riverside Village Apartments, where Sonia Rios, 42, of Leominster, was murdered on July 23.
Corrinna Santiago, 42 years old and a mother of two young women, was killed in Leominster less than two weeks before, her body found when a man reported hurting her during an intimate encounter at his home.
The third victim honored at the vigil was Tiana Notice, whose mother stood to share the story of how James Carter Jr. killed her daughter, stabbing her 20 times after she tried to leave him to escape the abuse.
“He decided if she’s not going to be mine, I’m going to make sure she doesn’t end up with anyone else, and that’s exactly what she did,” said Kathy Lewis.
Lewis said her daughter, a Fitchburg State University graduate who lived in Connecticut, was killed in 2009 when she was just one semester away from earning a master’s degree in political science from University of Hartford.
Notice wanted to become a congresswoman.
Audience members fought back tears when Lewis said police could have prevented her death.
Connecticut officers in Plainville, Waterbury, and Bloomfield didn’t arrest Carter when Notice told them on multiple occasions that he had repeatedly violated retraining orders taken out against him.
“It was a conscious decision they made, they chose not to help my daughter,” said Lewis.
Before Lewis spoke, Irene Hernandez, who sits on the YWCA board of directors, addressed the crowd.
Hernandez said she survived an abusive relationship with a man who held a gun to her head before she was able to escape to a shelter with her two young daughters.
Years before that, when Hernandez was a child, she watched her mother suffer similar abuse.
“I remember my pregnant mother being sliced from the back of her ear down to her neck, being stripped naked and beat,” said Hernandez.
Domestic and intimate partner violence, Hernandez said, is cyclic, forged from a history of slavery and mass violence that has been handed down from generation to generation.
“The cycle of violence in our homes, around our children on TV, in our communities, wherever it is affects our children,” said Hernandez.
“Children remember and it’s like an echo of trauma, an echo of trauma that they take from birth until they pass.”
Through tears, Hernandez said society must stop judging victims of domestic violence who remain with their abuser. Escaping, she said, seems like an impossible feat when all you can do is focus on making it through the day.
“Stop judging those victims of domestic violence. Love them, affirm them,” she said. “I think we are missing that.
She named the women who were killed, then led the audience in two minutes of silence to honor Corrinna Santiago, Tiana Notice, and Sonia Rios.
“Let us remember these women that these women were worthy, and their lives have honor,” said Hernandez.
The Domestic Violence Service Counselors provide a structured community-based approach to domestic violence services, by assisting domestic violence victims and their families, and advocating for them. The services include assistance with restraining orders, filling out legal and court documents as well as other forms, providing individual and/or family counseling, and making appropriate referrals.
Call 978-534-3145 to connect to an advocate during regular agency work hours 8:30 AM – 4:30 PM Monday through Friday. (The agency does NOT maintain a Domestic Violence Hotline.)
Domestic violence advocates are employed at the Spanish American Center. Due to the confidential nature of domestic violence intervention, and to protect the safety of both our clients and staff, we ask that you telephone our main number and ask to be connected with the domestic violence program in order to initiate services.
Finding safe place to live a big hurdle when victim
decides to leave violent relationship
Second in a series of occasional stories on the impact of domestic violence in North Central Massachusetts.By Amanda Burke
LEOMINSTER — A woman walked into the Spanish American center last month seeking freedom from her live-in boyfriend, who was also her abuser.
With the help of counselors she hit the phones, called around to area shelters and lobbied for a bed away from the threat of physical violence. She carried a small notebook, into which she’d jot down names of each housing official, each advocate and each social services liaison she spoke to.
By the end of the week the notebook was full, but the woman still didn’t have a safe place to live.
“Those are the cases, those are the situation that break your heart,” said Neddy Latimer, executive director of the Spanish American Center, Thursday at the center alongside her two domestic-violence counselors, Wanda Ruiz and Maria Alicea.
Latimer said for want of safe and affordable housing far from the reach of abusers, she’s helped relocate women as far away as Puerto Rico.
“How many times we have sat down between the three of us and cried because of the situation,” said Latimer. “Here are families that have been here for so long, their children going to school, then they just have to leave.”
Advocates in the Twin Cities say more people are coming forward for help accessing safe housing, the job market and navigating the legal system as they try to escape situations of domestic abuse.
“It’s greater and greater for each of the programs that we offer here,” said Latimer, whose organization also provides child care, free meals and a slate of other community outreach programs. “In terms of people in need, it’s getting bigger and bigger every year.”
In Leominster, 383 protective orders were filed citing domestic abuse in 2015. The following year, that number jumped to 558.
Many survivors, said Amarely Gutierrez Oliver, director of YWCA Central Massachusetts domestic violence programs, avoid the legal system, so the snapshot represents only part of the picture.
When a person walks through the door of advocacy organizations like the YWCA and Spanish American Center, two primary local organizations working directly with domestic abuse survivors, it sets off a chain of events, starting with finding a temporary place to stay while a network of advocates start developing a safety plan.
Many survivors prefer to stay with friends and family until they find an apartment, making shelters a last resort in emergency situations, said Oliver,
Still, demand for beds at YWCA’s two regional shelters always outpaces supply. From month to month, Oliver said at lease 50 people who request a bed aren’t able to get one.
“We’re always full, there’s only enough time to turn a room before a new family or individual is welcomed,” said Oliver.
Last month, the shelter didn’t have room for 120 people, many of whom were ultimately were taken in by family, friends, or one of the very small number of hotels willing to contract with local advocacy organizations to house survivors.
As Leominster police’s civilian domestic abuse advocate for the past five years, Lesly Borges manages each case reported to the department. She spends each day listening to survivors and coordinating services with City Hall, shelters and area advocacy organizations.
Domestic abuse, she said, is becoming more common in Leominster. She suspects the uptick could be tied into the tough economy.
“The economical situation is getting worse for a lot of people, and housing is one of the issues,” she said, adding that when a survivor does leave a relationship the person often has to find a new apartment, which she said can be difficult for a single wage earner in Worcester County, where just 41 units of “extremely low income” housing exist for every 100 families who qualify, according to the National Low Income Housing Commission.
The public’s awareness of the services available through organizations like the YWCA and Spanish American Center is also increasing demand, said Alicea.
“Today the word of this is an agency that can assist you with your situation is more out there, she said. “The awareness of the agencies who are providing services is more now.”
The compromise state budget agreed on by house and senate lawmakers shows funding for domestic violence and sexual assault treatment and prevention services in fiscal 2018 would stay nearly flat over last year despite the rising need seen in communities across the state, said Jane Doe Inc. spokesperson Toni Troop.
“Local programs have identified a tremendous need that is not going to be covered by state funding,” said Troop.
June 10, 2017 by Peter Jasinski, Sentinel & Enterprise
More fuel to fight domestic violence
Spanish American Center welcomes $220G state grant to help victims
“This money is very critical to us because what we see is so really bad,” said Neddy Latimer, executive director of the Spanish American Center in Leominster. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE FILE PHOTO
LEOMINSTER — Staff of the Spanish American Center are hoping to increase their ability to help victims of domestic violence with a grant for more than $220,000 they recently received from the state Department of Public Health.
“We are so pleased because we have been running this program the longest, at least 40 years and we have seen it all. This money is very critical to us because what we see is so really bad,” said center Director Neddy Latimer.
Although the center has been awarded this grant in the past, Latimer said the amount of money they were given is among the largest they have ever received from the state. This year’s amount represents and increase of more than $30,000 over last year’s grant, which Latimer and domestic violence support staff hope will allow them increase their outreach capabilities and develop more services for children.
“This is crucial for us because this is a crisis right now. It’s constant and it’s grown like a plague,” said center staff member Wanda Ruiz, who counsels domestic violence victims. “We have so many people coming through our doors and being referred to us every day. This amount to me is a blessing because the work is a lot.”
As staff member Maria Alicea explained, the funding is so crucial to the domestic violence program because there are so few other resources for victims in Leominster and Fitchburg.
“This will ensure the futures of the victims and the survivors that we are helping,” she said. “In the area of Leominster and Fitchburg there are no other agencies that are able to help in the way that we do.”
The Spanish American Center offers a variety of resources to domestic violence victims from basic counseling to more specialized services. Center staff work to find shelter locations for individuals trying to flea from abusive homes, but also help victims with finding the permanent residences and employment they need in order to live more independent lives.
Staff members are also bilingual, which makes the process that much easier for residents who don’t speak English as their first language. As Alicea explained, many of the individuals she and Ruiz work with are immigrants who might be less inclined to seek out help from people who aren’t able to easily communicate with them.
The center was also recently awarded a $5,000 grant from the George Wallace Foundation in order to further support their programs for feeding hungry and isolated people in the Leominster area. Money from this grant will be used to underwrite the costs of the center’s Breakfast Cafe and evening soup kitchen as well as other existing partnerships with the New Life Spanish Christian Church.
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