A New Lease on Life

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For women looking to leave an abusive relationship, attempting to do so can take an emotional toll, not to mention the logistical nightmare it presents. If a woman is currently living with an abusive partner, safe housing — and whether she can obtain it — is an immediate concern.

However, with Nueva Vida Transitional Housing, women have the chance to retake control of their lives — starting with the roof over their own heads.

The Women Together Foundation — commonly referred to as Mujeres Unidas — created the transitional housing program in 2002 to better serve women leaving abusive relationships. According to the organization’s website, “Nueva Vida is designed to: assist families to become independent and self-sufficient, assist with referrals to community resources, assist with enrollment in higher education, (and) assist in obtaining better employment.” As such, the program represents much more than a safe haven from domestic violence.

“It is an 18-month program for survivors of domestic violence and/or sexual assault,” case worker Rosalinda Rodriguez wrote in an email about Nueva Vida. “Interested individuals should open a file at any of our walk-in centers and ask the advocate to make a referral. The advocate will decide if they get a referral if the client is: safe, if employment is their main source of income, and if the client can identify at least three short-term goals they wish to accomplish while being in the program.”

Women Together has three walk-in centers in the Rio Grande Valley, including locations at 511 N. Cynthia St. and 420 N. 21st St. in McAllen, as well as 111 E. Fifth St. in Weslaco.

The transitional housing program serves up to 16 families at a time. Since its inception, the program has helped an average of between 30 to 75 women and children per year, Rodriguez wrote.

“They are a good support system for survivors that are seeking to accomplish much immediately coming out of the crisis,” she added on the benefits of transitional housing.

This can include learning new skills to help women manage their lives after the abuse, said Perla Reyes, the community education coordinator at Women Together.

“A lot of the times, these females have never had that independence, saying, ‘I get to save this money this month. I get to save $30 to my savings. This month, I get to do this with my money,’” Reyes said. “They never had those decisions being made for themselves.”

Even these basic instructions on how to recuperate following domestic violence often turns into deeper life lessons for everyone involved.

“After those 18 months are over, we hope that they’ll successfully continue this on their own,” Reyes said. “And showing and proving to their children, also, that ‘hey, I can live a life free of violence and be successful on my own.’ It’s really empowering to see and really amazing to see these families moving forward.”

Women Together offers a number of services and programming to the community beyond transitional housing. These include a rape crisis center, counseling services, legal advocacy, community education, and the Batterers Intervention and Prevention Program, which aims to counsel and guide participants following domestic violence situations. This is in addition to the 24-hour crisis hotline and shelter the organization provides to the community. Reyes points out that even though Women Together is the name of the agency, anyone who is a victim of abuse is eligible to seek out help there, including men and children.

And even if an individual has no personal need for intervention from Women Together, the organization seeks for help in the form of volunteers and donations so that it can continue to offer its services for free.

“We’re always looking for volunteers to help with our hotline,” Reyes said. “It does not matter if it’s Christmas, Christmas Eve. We want to be available to any victim that is needing help.” Other volunteer opportunities include being a sexual assault advocate who accompanies victims to hospitals, as well as general office work. Even going to events sponsored by Women Together — like April’s Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, a sexual assault awareness walk, or October’s candlelight vigil for Domestic Violence Awareness Month — helps.

“Attending events like that creates that awareness in the community, saying that we’re here to end violence,” Reyes said.

To seek help for yourself or somebody you know because of domestic violence, call the Mujeres Unidas/Women Together crisis hotline at 1-800-580-4879.

Learn more about the various programs this organization has to offer by visiting its website at mujeresunidas.org.