Hispanic outreach at women’s center] | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Hispanic outreach at women’s center]

by Jill Darby

After seven years as a crisis counselor and Hispanic outreach coordinator at the South Lake Tahoe Women’s Center, Lorena Gonzalez is passing the torch.

Gonzalez, who is now a peer counselor at the center, is handing off Hispanic outreach duties to Marisela Gomez. Both women are bilingual and bicultural, an important combination according to Lois Denowitz, community educator at the Women’s Center.

“A lot of people have employees who speak Spanish but I think it is important to have people who are bilingual and bicultural,” Denowitz said. “Especially with domestic violence and family violence, it’s so important to have that cultural background.”

When Gonzalez started at the Women’s Center, the Hispanic community was considered an underserved population, as the agency was serving only 2 percent of South Shore’s Hispanic people. The Women’s Center now works with 39 percent of the Hispanic population and according to Denowitz, Gonzalez had a lot to do with the increase.

“What I saw her do is first, she gained the trust of the people,” Denowitz said. “She opened up the floodgates for a lot of other agencies and for us to work collaboratively with the Hispanic community.”

Gonzalez said bringing awareness about domestic violence and sexual assault to the Hispanic community was difficult at first.

“My first goal was to get people to come in and learn what the Women’s Center is about,” said Gonzalez, a 20-year resident of South Lake Tahoe. “We wanted to inform the people and a lot of it was word-of-mouth. We also posted flyers in English and in Spanish. We wanted to inform the Hispanic community and when I starting working here, I thought, ‘How am I going to do that?’ but because I’ve lived in this community, I knew I needed to first gain the trust. Once I did it became easier to let people know what we do here, to break down those walls.”

In her new position, Gonzalez focuses more on one-on-one, long term counseling.

“It’s scary and exciting because it’s a new position,” Gonzalez said. “It’s going to be more on-going, following it through and seeing the outcome. Crisis counseling is very different because you see clients and then they go away. You still support them but it’s short term. One-on-one peer counseling is greatly needed. I know there are a few bilingual counselors in Tahoe but it’s not enough.”

Gomez is continuing Gonzalez’s work with Hispanic outreach and going through crisis training.

“I really like this job,” Gomez said. “At my other job I used to do a lot of translating. Now this is an opportunity for me to help my community, my people and anyone who needs my help.”

Gomez, a member of the Latino Affairs Commission, said she looks forward to the challenges that will come with working at the Women’s Center.

“This is a new position for me but Lorena (Gonzalez) has taught me a lot,” Gomez said. “I’m learning so much from her and from Lois (Denowitz). The people here are real team work people.”

Gonzalez said she is proud of the work she has accomplished at the Women’s Center.

“Before nobody (in the Hispanic community) knew where to go for help,” she said. “Now when I hear people say, ‘Go to the Women’s Center,’ it makes me feel good. Even the children know. And my being here shows people they can do it. I used to work at Kentucky Fried Chicken. I didn’t realize what my skills were. I want to say to other women, ‘You can do it too.’ I feel like they see what I’m doing now and it gives them hope.”

Denowitz said the center’s next goal is to reach out to the Filipino population at South Shore.

“One thing Lorena (Gonzalez) did in the Spanish community is let people know we’re not here to break up families, we’re here to heal families,” she said. “That’s what we want to get out to the Filipino community. They are an underserved population and we want them to know we have services across the board for everybody, men women and children.”

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