The local domestic violence prevention center, now TESSA, reached out to the community in 1996 for bilingual therapists who could help Spanish-speaking victims.
Two not only answered the call, but also founded Centro de la Familia "to be a cultural anchor for Hispanic/Latino families" adapting to a new, diverse culture.
Therapists Sandra Hernandez and Mary Ann Carter created a one-stop center serving more than 1,600 individuals annually with family and individual counseling, parenting education, crisis intervention and holistic advocacy. Carter retired in 2009, and Hernandez will retire in the first quarter of 2018.
Their programs at Centro de la Familia, which remain firmly in place, were the focus of a recent Latino Visions and Dreams fundraising breakfast at Cheyenne Mountain Resort.
"All these parents want is to have better lives for their children," said Hernandez. "They're industrious, respectful. We validate them. We celebrate them."
The morning's video and speakers told difficult stories. A number of mothers had ended up alone in a new country after escaping abusive, alcohol-fueled family situations, often when the men walked out. The women were working toward self-sufficiency and learning to speak up for themselves. Former clients talked about college and vocational training, jobs and their children's now-bright futures and education.
Centro was there to advocate when a shady landlord tried to charge Spanish-speaking families $10 for each of their children caught playing outside apartments.
A young father, who candidly admitted his "machismo" side, had been denied visitation rights after his divorce. He said he's trying to break "Mr. Macho" for himself and his future and wants to help other Latino men. But, "if I can't help myself, I can't help others."
Retired 4th Judicial District Chief Judge Gilbert Martinez saw the need for Centro services for those appearing before him when he was on the bench. "Kids and parents shouldn't be denied services because they don't speak English," he said. It was personal as well. Raised in Trinidad, his parents, grandparents and all parts of their community spoke Spanish. "It was a cultural shock when the family moved to Denver," he said, where even none of the clerks spoke Spanish. (elcentrodelafamilia.org)