Latinos in Virginia Empowerment Center started as a grassroots initiative in 2008 with the purpose of providing information to Spanish-speaking individuals so they could better adapt to their new community and lives in Virginia and learn about the services available to them.
Over the years, this has been made possible by the support of bilingual and bicultural volunteers. They donate their time and resources to provide in-person and phone interpretations, translations, and assistance with completing applications for various service agencies that do not provide access to interpreters or that require clients to bring their own interpreter to access their available services.
After several years of grassroots work and having served approximately 20 families per year with only the assistance of volunteers, we hired a consultant to help us build the agency’s capacity in order to better serve our community. The first step was to identify whom we were serving since we were receiving and responding to requests based on the availability of our volunteers. The only criteria we had was that the person receiving help was a Spanish-speaking individual in need.
During this process, we learned that even though our services were not advertised for victims of crimes, 94% of the requests for services came from Spanish-speaking individuals in distress because of a crime committed against them. Almost 90% of those crimes were never reported to authorities because the victim did not know how to navigate the system, or for fear of not receiving help due to their immigration status, language, and other cultural barriers. We then realized that in Virginia, no agency existed that provided services for victims of crimes that could guarantee immediate access to a Spanish-speaking advocate. Being aware of the barriers that Spanish-speaking victims of violence encounter, Latinos in Virginia Empowerment Center renewed its mission to focus on providing education, advocacy, and support to Spanish-speaking individuals affected by violence and injustice in Virginia, and to ensure that these victims can access services that will empower them to become happy, healthy and self-sufficient.
Today, Latinos in Virginia Empowerment Center utilizes the ‘Líderes’ program developed by Casa de Esperanza, now a nationally recognized domestic violence organization. The program draws on an immigrant’s natural strengths and creates an opportunity for Latino survivors of violence to be actively involved in creating a change in their community. Through this program, we are able to provide direct services while also expanding the level of impact on both program alumni and the community by partnering with the ‘Líderes’ within the community.
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