ATLANTA — While the COVID-19 pandemic initially drove unemployment up, others were working around the clock to serve domestic violence and child sexual abuse survivors.
"In the last year and a half, we've seen more hunger, more desperation, need to levels we never imagined," CEO Belisa Urbina said. "We sadly expect that the demand is going to continue in years to come. The families are in crisis."
Ser Familia provides family, social, and mental health services for Latinos. That includes couples programs, parenting classes, youth programs, domestic violence awareness, emergency relief, immigration services, and mental health counseling. Lately, it's also been providing food in its food pantries.
"We gave out more than half a million pounds of food in the first six months of the pandemic and we paid $1.2 million from March to December last year in rental assistance," she said.
That's because the need has really escalated during the pandemic, especially as the number of domestic violence victims and child sexual abuse referrals climbed. Urbina said she believes this is because many families moved in together during the pandemic because they couldn't afford rent.
"Usually kids are going to be abused by people they know and if the child now has contact with 11 adults as opposed to three adults, it's a sad numbers game. It's going to happen because they have access to many more adults," she said.
That reality is reflected in the number of calls Ser Familia has received during the pandemic. According to the organization, this past year the staff has served 112% more domestic violence victims and they've seen 231% more referrals for child sexual abuse so far.
"The numbers continue to skyrocket. Many of our Latino families were very fragile before the pandemic. The pandemic has put them in a position that is going to take years for them to overcome," she said, referring to handling financial difficulties and educational gaps that the pandemic created.
That's why instead of closing its doors during the pandemic, Ser Familia hired more staff and expanded three of its four locations. This also helped give more privacy to clients, especially those receiving counseling for domestic violence.
"Being in person allowed us to be the lifeline of the community," she said. "We serve an important number of domestic violence victims and providing mental health counseling to them via an electronic need, we didn't feel it was too safe because you don't know who else is in the room."
The organization helps those in need for free in a private and safe setting. One of the thousands of people they have helped is Frances.
We are not disclosing her last name for safety reasons. She spoke to 11Alive Reporter Paola Suro on the phone in Spanish. We have translated it into English.
“I was a victim of domestic violence," she said. "Then I found out that one of my brothers abused of my son sexually. It wasn’t letting me be in peace. I was hurt and had so much resentment.”
Frances began using the organization's services about a year ago. She said it's because of the help she has received that she's able to speak about this openly now.
“I used to not even talk about this… my throat used to be in knots. But after counseling I feel better," she said. "I want to let people, especially single moms know, that there’s almost always some kind of abuse in families. Please be aware of your children and where they are. Pay attention because when you’re not watching, they take advantage. That’s why I tell people to go to Ser Familia, so they learn how to defend themselves and defend their kids."
Last year the organization also hosted a coat drive, where they gave out more than 800 coats. In addition to coat and monetary donations, Ser Familia is accepting volunteers as well.
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