Valencia Shelter Services to kick off ’25 in 2014′ event

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It all started with a handful of women wanting to help other women — wanting to help women trapped in violence, looking for a safe harbour.

So with some donated space, $1,000 and a single phone line, Valencia Shelter Services — Valencia County’s only domestic violence shelter and advocacy service — was born in 1989.

Alexandria Taylor Executive director of VSS

The founders didn’t have much to work with, but they always made sure to answer the calls for help, transferring the crisis line from volunteer to volunteer every 12 hours.

Now, a quarter century later, VSS has formed a comprehensive network of counseling and advocacy services, and emergency and transitional housing for victims of domestic violence.

A visit to VSS’s website, boils the issue down to two sentences: “Domestic violence knows no boundaries of race, age, socioeconomic status, religion, gender, ability or any other characteristic that defines us. One in four women will be a victim of abuse from their partner, husband, or lover in their lifetime.”

And while the one-in-four women statistic is the national average, VSS Executive Director Alexandria Taylor says that number climbs to one in three in New Mexico.

“That’s close. It’s your coworker, your friend, your family. It is touching us and the people we know,” Taylor said. Talking about domestic violence, which for decades, has been an unspoken stigma that families suffered in silence, is important to the community as a whole because it is important for the community to know how to respond.

“People need to know what to do; from a family member who doesn’t understand why they stay to a neighbor who sees something and wonders, ‘Should I call the cops?’ to the first responders and law enforcement,” she said. “What we’re really talking about is helping families and the community. No one should be suffering in their home.”

Taylor said across the state there are 33 different domestic violence programs, but VSS is unique in part because it serves all of Valencia County.

“People think we only serve Belen or Los Lunas, but we go from north to south, east to west and everywhere in between,” she said. “We serve the really rural areas where people are isolated.”

Another message Taylor wants to send is that VSS is still around. When the nonprofit moved from Belen to Los Lunas a few years ago, it seemed like people thought they had folded up shop, she said.

“We are still here and we are constantly talking about how to reach out to areas our services might not be in,” Taylor said.

One area Taylor says VSS wants to focus on is services for the children who witness domestic violence.

“When they see that, it effects everything from their school work to their future relationships,” she said. “The cycle, it’s real, especially here in Valencia County. It’s where the next generation of abuse begins.”

The services VSS offers and the support it gets from the community has grown over the last 25 years, Taylor said. The organization has been lucky to have several consistent donors — local businesses and individuals willing to put up the money needed to let VSS continue providing services.

“And when I talk about community support, I’m not really talking about money, but the support that really acknowledges the work we do,” Taylor said. “Community support is to not view domestic violence as something that happens to ‘those people, over there.’ It’s our problem, our children. Not us and them.”

Telling the story of VSS and the people it has served is important for many different reasons, Taylor said.

“Our goal is to make the community well, so it’s important to tell our story because after 25 years, there is still a lot of work to do, there are still families to serve,” she said. “There is a rich history here, really humble beginnings. We are doing a lot but there are so many things we still need to do. We have a very clear vision of what we want the next 25 years to be like.”

Over the years, VSS has developed a core group of services for the community.

Its 24-hour-crisis hotline — 864-1383 — assists individuals affected by domestic violence in accessing shelter and other resources they may need. Calls from all over the country are accepted, and staff can refer individuals to other shelters and resources as needed.

Helen’s House, the local shelter, is a 17-bed emergency domestic violence shelter for women and their children who are fleeing domestic violence. Shelter services include a safe place to sleep, healthy meals, individual and group counseling, weekly goal oversight, on-site advocacy, clothing, laundry facility, limited transportation and referral to other services as needed.

La Vida Nueva is a scattered-site transitional housing program for eligible families leaving the emergency shelter.

This two year program provides rental assistance, weekly case management, advocacy, ongoing goal support, life skills training, job readiness training, limited financial assistance for job and school related necessities, individual and group counseling for the entire family, and case management for up to six months after leaving the program.

VSS provides a 52-week educational group for offenders of domestic violence, as well as a legal advocacy program that includes support in filing restraining orders, court preparation, limited court attendance and community outreach and education.

Individual counseling and therapy is offered to women and men who have been abused, as well as to those who are being abusive.

The organization’s team of licensed therapists have years of experience working with individuals suffering from PTSD, stress, ADD/ADHD, personality disorders, substance abuse, eating disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, sexual abuse and domestic violence.

For further information, call VSS at 565-3100 or visit www.valenciashelterservices.org. For those in need, call the 24-hour hotline at 864-1383. VSS is located at 303 Luna Ave., Los Lunas


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.