Annual Shelter Conference Celebrates 10 Year Anniversary

Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA)’s Legal Alliance for Survivors of Abuse (LASA) Project celebrated the tenth anniversary of its annual Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Cross-Training conference this May in San Antonio with three days of training and relationship building between TRLA attorneys and staff from Texas domestic violence shelters. Staff from more than thirty Texas shelters attended the training and worked with TRLA staff on issues including immigration, housing, stalking, and child abduction.

Texas RioGrande LegalAid (TRLA)’s tenth annual Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Cross-Training conference took place this May at the Omni Colonnade in SanAntonio. For three days, TRLA staff joined with staff from more than thirty Texas domestic violence shelters to discuss legal issues including stalking, subpoenas, housing, and international child abduction.

Conference participants

The conference kicked off on a Wednesday afternoon with remarks from Marta Pelaez, President and CEO of Family Violence Prevention Services, and Lynn Blanco, President and CEO of the Rape Crisis Center in San Antonio. Both Pelaez and Blanco marked the tenth anniversary of the conference with words of inspiration and encouragement for those whose work often encounters dark issues of violence.

Pelaez reminded the attendees that it is important to continue to do what they do best “changing lives, helping families, restoring dignity, and instilling strength” among people who often feel helpless and trapped in an abusive situation. Blanco reminded the attendees of the importance of taking care of themselves in the face of these constant battles.

“The opening remarks did an amazing job of bringing us all together to celebrate this great anniversary,” said TRLA attorney and director of the LASA Project Maricarmen Garza. “There couldn’t have been a better start to this experience.”

Partner shelters sent staff members to the conference to learn from TRLA attorneys.

Conference attendees had the opportunity to hear presentations from several TRLA attorneys along with representatives from the Houston Police Department, Harris County District Attorney’s Office, Texas Council on Family Violence, Texas Advocacy Project, Denton County Friends of the Family, and the Travis County Attorney’s Office. Shelter advocates also participated in a special victim intake workshop that reviewed the best ways to interact with a victim and document their situation so that TRLA attorneys will be able to help them as best as possible as quickly as possible.

The conference culminated with its traditional celebratory luncheon that served to remind the advocates that victories come with time – and they are worth the fight.

At the luncheon, conference attendees heard from Rhonda, a former victim of domestic violence who found herself turning to a rural shelter and TRLA for help leaving her abusive boyfriend. Rhonda detailed her struggle to leave her boyfriend, including the night he almost took her life and that of her daughter, before finally standing up for herself and seeking help at her local shelter. It was there that a shelter advocate and TRLA attorney came to her rescue and worked with Rhonda to get a protective order, custody of her daughter, and child support. Rhonda recalled the emotional support her advocates gave her the day she went to court to face her abuser and was reminded of the most horrific night of her life.

“Her story was a reminder of the tragic circumstances that often surround victims of domestic violence,” added Garza. “Rhonda is a prime example of why our resources are so important to victims in need of the strength to end the cycle of violence.”

Donna Bloom of the Denton County Friends of the Family gave the closing keynote address and called on the attendees to proudly wear the banner of being an expert on domestic violence issues. Bloom also commended the relationship between TRLA and Texas shelters as a strong example for the entire country to follow in serving victims of domestic violence. According to Bloom, “There is absolutely no better access to civil legal remedies for battered women than Texas RioGrande Legal Aid.”

PAI Awards

Eleven private attorneys were honored for their commitment to providing free legal services to victims of domestic violence.

As the closing act of the conference, TRLA honored eleven private attorneys who have donated their time to helping victims of domestic violence through pro bono work and advocacy. These attorneys play a pivotal role in ensuring that victims get the help they need when legal aid resources are stretched thin. The awards were presented by Garza and TRLA’s new private attorney involvement coordinator Pablo Almaguer.

Overall, the conference did an outstanding job of highlighting the issues faced by victims of domestic violence and emphasizing the important relationships between TRLA staff and staff from Texas domestic violence shelters. The annual conference is one of the highlights of TRLA’s LASA Project as it allows those who meet with victims of domestic violence from the second they ask for help to collaborate with those that end up fighting for those victims through the legal system.

Over the last ten years the number of domestic violence shelters participating in this project has risen from only a handful to more than thirty. The number of lives changed and saved is immeasurable.

Added Garza, “This year’s conference was a great success. It is exciting to know that the knowledge we share here every year really does save lives.”

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