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Cherokee Family Violence Center hosted the official launch of Georgia’s first Statewide Hotline for Spanish speaking victims of Domestic Violence on July 18, 2014 at the Bluffs in Canton, Georgia.  The Inauguration celebrated a momentous day for victims of Domestic Violence who, for too long, have been isolated from safety and resources by lack of access to help in their native language.  CFVC Staff were joined at the event by allies, funders, Advocates, survivors and champions in the fight against Domestic Violence and the belief that access to safety should not depend on where you live in the state, or on the language that you speak.

CFVC is home to a thriving Multicultural Program, which had humble beginnings in 2002.  At that time discussions began as to how our agency could better reach and serve victims from the growing Latino community in Cherokee County.  Since that time, CFVC has consistently worked to overcome our own cultural ineffectiveness, addressing issues such as our lack of Spanish speaking Advocates, and the lack of culturally appropriate food and clothing in our shelter.  We have championed the work of challenging the growing anti-immigrant culture that was present in our community, and how the lack of access to supportive resources made it incredibly dangerous for Latino victims of Domestic Violence in Cherokee County.

It was in 2002, that CFVC identified a definitive need to establish a hotline so that Spanish speaking victims could access our services.  We determined the need for a staff with Advocates and volunteers that were bi-cultural and bilingual, and that truly understood the specialized needs of Spanish speaking victims.  We acknowledged the necessity of services to be offered 24 hours a day and, by the end of 2003, CFVC launched the Cherokee County 24 Hour Spanish Language Domestic Violence Hotline and Multicultural Program.

Since those humble beginnings, the CFVC Multicultural Program has assisted 346 families from 56 countries.  Under the current leadership of Pilar Sarmiento and the support of Vivian Keller, the Multicultural Program has continued to grow with the addition of specialized advocacy services, Spanish language support groups, housing assistance for immigrant victims escaping their abuse, translation and interpretation services for court hearings, and direct assistance to victims of Domestic Violence with qualifying immigration remedies such as U-Visas and VAWA relief.  It is with these building blocks in place, that we finally felt in a position to expand our services to Spanish speaking victims throughout the State of Georgia.

In 2013, CFVC applied for and was awarded a grant through the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council to provide a 24 hour hotline to Spanish speaking victims of Domestic Violence for the State of Georgia.  Using the existing Statewide Domestic Violence Hotline accessed at 1(800)33-HAVEN, callers now have the option to “Press 2” to be connected directly with a Spanish speaking Domestic Violence Advocate from anywhere in the State of Georgia.  The caller will be connected with a CFVC Advocate, who will then have the ability to provide lifesaving services to victims, in their own language, by conducting immediate safety planning and connecting them with the local Domestic Violence program in their area.

The scope of this project is matched by the talented staff of our Multicultural Program: Pilar Sarmiento (Multicultural Program Director), Vivian Keller (Advocate), Lorena Jacobo (Outreach Advocate), Claudia Estrada-Petit (Hotline Advocate), Isadora Fernandez-Velez (Hotline Advocate), Jessica Garcia (Hotline Advocate), Maria Martinez-Garcia (Hotline Advocate), and Mercedes Sherman (Hotline Advocate).  Each of the members of our Multicultural Program Staff were thanked by CFVC’s Executive Director, Meg Rogers, at the Inauguration Ceremony.  Our partners in this project, the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council and Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence were also recognized during the event.

The Inauguration featured a keynote address on Immigrants and Domestic Violence by Dr. Julia Perilla, of the Department of Psychology at Georgia State University and a moving survivor story by CFVC Program participant, Maricela, who shared her appreciation for CFVC’s Multicultural Program and her hope that victims throughout the State will now be able to access the needed services that she was able to access in Cherokee County.