As the director of the local domestic violence program, Pamela Gonzalez believes awareness and public acceptance is key when it comes to helping victims through rough times.
“Some people say you should close your doors at night,” said Gonzalez, regarding crisis calls. “But when those deputies bring people, it’s midnight or 3 o’ clock in the morning. Someone has to be here all the time.”
During the 2014-2015 fiscal year, U Care, Inc. served 1,212 victims of domestic violence situations. Gonzalez added that previous victims who visit the shelter for support were not included in the total. She noted 541 were women, 23 were men and the rest were children. She noted that the numbers are just about the same as the previous fiscal year period.
But she believes it’s becoming more common for individuals to seek help and mentioned how the media is playing a part through news reports and popular entertainment.
“There’s always been domestic violence, but they did not have the courage to come forward,” she said.
In each statistical category of incidents, Gonzalez believes there’s a lot of people not taking action. U Care served 127 sexual assault victims, therefore the actual amount may be over 300. The program’s Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) provides treatments, education and works to prevent occurrences in the area.
“So many will not come forward,” she said about the low number regarding the stigma around sexual assaults.
During the fiscal year, 340 secondary victims, children who observed violence, were helped by the shelter. Gonzalez said the majority were under the age of 12. In many cases, she said the abuser becomes sneakier about abusing a victim, because they fear retaliation from children.
“We had a lot of incidents when the son retaliates for the mother,” she said.
Last year, 3,288 meals were provided by the program. The program receives about $600,000 in grant, fundraisers and the Beehive Thrift Store. Grants account for 75 percent of the funding and the other 20 comes from the store. The other 5 percent is from local donations.
“The state and federal (officials) expect you to get more support from your community, so they can dwindle their money off and start other projects,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez believes U Care could use more support from the local community.
“It needs to be 100 percent,” she said. “What we’re doing now is going backwards because we’re having to cutback and do more with less money. We’ve been doing that for probably the last 10 years.”
Due to cutbacks from the state, Gonzalez said U Care had to lay off three employees because of uncertainty surrounding the state budget. Staff members at U Care don’t accept raises and have worked for the same amount of money for years. For Gonzalez, it’s not about the pay. It’s about supporting the overall mission.
“It’s a mission to them,” she said. “There may be a few people here for a paycheck, but most of them are here because either they’re survivors, like myself, or they know someone in their family that’s a survivor. It’s not going to be important until you’ve experienced it yourself. That’s just human nature.”
Along with stagnant pay increase, one of the biggest challenges facing U Care is transportation. Some of the mentioned needs included a van and a new pickup truck, since the tailgate on the existing one is damaged.
“In the last six months I probably spent $3,000 in repairs on those,” she said about the worn-out vehicles. “We just need some dependable transportation so we can haul people around.”
Gonzalez said U Care welcomes volunteers to assist with transportation needs and office tasks such as answering phones. Last year, volunteers donated a total of 4,960 hours. The majority of that time occurred at the Beehive. Several organizations such as churches have donated items and U Care is always willing to accept items such as clothing, fresh vegetables and water.
To help spread awareness, she said members of the program are willing to make presentations at churches throughout the area, free of charge. A major fundraising event includes the Womanless Beauty Pageant, which previously included firefighters in professional wear and evening attire made for women.
“We encourage people who want to do a fundraiser for us to do it,” Gonzalez said.
For more information, visit www.ucaredv.org.
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.