When Hanncel Sanchez was finishing up her bachelor's degree in women and gender studies at Eastern Washington University in 2017, she started volunteering as a victim advocate answering calls on a crisis hotline run by Lutheran Community Services.
"Later that year, I started realizing I never came across any Latinx survivors, whether on the phone on the hotline or at the hospital," Sanchez says.
She talked to her supervisor, the YWCA, and other organizations, and realized there was a gap in reaching the Spanish-speaking community in the region.
"I realized I had to do something for my community, because I knew that domestic violence and sexual assault were happening in the Latinx community," Sanchez says. "It was important for me. That was a moment for me to take action."
By September 2018, Mujeres in Action (or "Women in Action") was born. In the first year or so, the organization provided assistance like safety planning, domestic violence protection order filing and more on a completely volunteer basis.
Then, in December 2019, the organization received a generous grant that enabled the nonprofit to hire Sanchez as executive director in January 2020 and pay another part-time staff member to help with administrative issues.
This year, the tiny staff has already helped more than a dozen families dealing with domestic violence, Sanchez says. The vast majority of those she's helped are women with two to four children, and while the majority of the children are documented citizens, most of the adults are not.
"So they're mixed status, and 92 percent of the adults have limited or no English proficiency," Sanchez says. "It's important for us that they feel supported and supported in a culturally responsible way."
The organization's staff and volunteers are trained in intervention, safety planning, navigating the court system and more, but they can also provide bridges to other services offered by regional nonprofits, Sanchez says. Oftentimes, that might look like immigration status assistance from World Relief, or temporary housing help through other organizations that can assist women and children. This year, with the pandemic, the organization helped other nonprofits provide rent grants to families that were ineligible for the stimulus checks from the federal government.
Most of the families that have been referred to Mujeres in Action so far have been directly put in touch through others in the Latinx community, Sanchez says. Whenever that first contact happens, as advocates, their initial job is to listen to the survivors and help figure out what their needs are.
"A lot of times these families don't know, they're not sure exactly what they need," Sanchez says. "As advocates, that's an important thing we do: We provide options for them. Once we figure out what their needs are, we prioritize according to what the survivor decides is the most important thing for them."
Oftentimes, working with survivors is a lengthy process that can stretch on for months or years, she says.
That's partly why the organization hasn't done a lot of work to advertise their services yet. She wants to be sure any survivors that come to them can receive the care they need. The organization plans to add at least another staff advocate this year and will be raising needed additional funding during a virtual auction Oct. 23 and 24.
The nonprofit is still looking for donations of services and items to include in the auction, Sanchez says. Anyone who wants to help with that can reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org. Plus, they're always in need of volunteers.
"As we grow, the more advocates and staff we have, the more we're able to spread the word and meet the demand of our community," Sanchez says. "Domestic violence affects everybody, and it is up to us, each one of us, to take a stand against it. Everyone deserves to be loved, respected, and valued in a relationship." ♦