By Alton Porter
The Family Crisis Center of East Texas branch office in Crockett is settling in and wants abuse, sexual assault and other victims of family violence to know they are here to assist persons victimized by domestic violence and they are here to stay.
Center staff members started seeing abused women and other non-offending family members victimized by family violence in June 2017, and held a well-attended ribbon-cutting ceremony for the facility, located at 310 E. Houston Ave., officially opening it roughly two months later on Aug. 23 last year.
Since that time, Maria Rodriguez, the center's legal advocate and case manager, and other staff members have assisted various clients and are becoming entrenched in the community, Rodriguez said.
"They (daily center operations) are going good. We are being found (by abuse victims and others). People have realized that we're here. So, we have had walk-ins. And then, we've had phone calls as well. It's easier for them (family crisis victims) to find me than before."
She noted the Crockett office is very accessible, located right off the downtown square. "So, if people are needing to come into town for one reason or another, they don't have go far to find us," she said.
"So, I do feel like we are getting more clients now that I'm here. And then, the counselor (Mary Curtis) is meeting with the clients for counseling as well. So, it's been good."
Rodriguez said she and other center staff members saw 19 clients in Crockett in all of 2016 when they were operating here out of the Family Crisis Center of East Texas headquarters office in Lufkin and were meeting with clients here in borrowed space.
However, they served 59 clients in 2017, the year the Crockett branch office opened. The majority of these clients' cases involved domestic violence, she said, adding, these clients needed assistance filing for protective orders and in the area of legal advocacy. Legal advocacy covers helping clients file police reports, criminal charges and divorce paperwork.
Another big service center staff members provide is counseling, Rodriguez said, noting Curtis "saw five women just today," Thursday, Feb. 1, who were in need of such assistance. "Counseling and legal advocacy are hand in hand," she said.
"We handle and assist (in any case involving a) victim or survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault."
Rodriguez keeps office hours at the Crockett center three days a week—Monday, Wednesday and Thursday—from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., and Curtis meets with counseling clients on Thursdays. Rodriguez said she also might be able to meet someone at the office on another day of the week if there is a special circumstance.
"I feel really good about the progress of the Crockett center (and its growing entrenchment in the community)," she said. "I feel a lot better than before when I was able to come only one day a week and put everything in one day (before the center opened here).
"So, I'm able to set up the appointments. And then, I'm able to be here and actually have somebody come in as a walk-in. Before, I had to go to the office (in Lufkin), pickup a vehicle and then come over here. So, I didn't stay all day. I only stayed from 10 (a.m.) to 3 or 4 (p.m.), which is not much. But now, I come directly here and I leave directly from here. So, I don't have to go to another office."
Rodriguez said she's seeing an uptick in clients in Crockett now that the center has its own set office in the city. "I have walk-ins that come on their own, and its for counseling or legal advocacy," she said. "They have more options. It used to be one day and it was hard for some of the people to get off work. But now, they have more options as far as the time and the days (they can come in)."
Rodriguez said she and Curtis are the two staff members who are at the center most of the time. However, other staff members who travel from Lufkin to the Crockett center as needed, are a housing specialist, medical advocate, sexual assault advocate and a child advocate.
In addition, the center offers a prevention program for perpetrators of violence through its BIPP (Battering Intervention and Prevention Program), co-facilitated by Will Windham and two other people, which meets at the Houston County Adult Probation Office in Crockett.
She said the center owes a debt of gratitude to members of the community, as well as Kalin's Center, a child advocacy center located in Crockett that serves both Houston and Trinity counties, for making referrals to the family crisis center.
She added, "I really just thank the community because I think that's how they (victims) are finding me—by word of mouth. Other agencies and individuals are giving information about where we're located. We appreciate the partnership we have with Kalin's Center very much."
In furtherance of providing legal advocacy and counseling, Rodriguez said she and other family crisis center staff also provide information and referrals to other services and resources in the community, accompany clients to court hearings and proceedings and prepare clients for such occurrences.
In addition, she said she goes with clients to the police station, sheriff's office and other law enforcement entities to file the charges or reports if they (clients) have not done so, and does any needed follow-up.
Likewise, "I am able to education them (clients) on their rights as victims and the services and options that are out there for them," Rodriguez said. "I work with (the Texas) Crime Victims' Compensation (Program)—CVC. If they qualify, I assist with (completing and filing) the applications and impact statements.
"And then, I help them if they need attorneys. We go through Lone Star Legal Aid. If they don't qualify through Lone Star Legal Aid, we go through our own attorney. If they already have attorneys, I still am able to accompany them to court for divorce and (to obtain) child custody."
Rodriguez added, "And then, any other services that they might need (are available). Besides a shelter in Lufkin, we have a transitional program. If they qualify and want to relocate to Lufkin, we can do that. They can live there a year and a half and don't have to pay rent. But, they have to work on goals and save their money, so when they go out on their own, (they will be prepared).
"Other services available to victims through the crisis center, include utilities'—telephone, electricity and natural gas—waivers for those who are starting over and need to start their own accounts. In addition, the center has a thrift store in Lufkin. The only thing is I wish we had a thrift store close by (in Crockett)."
Rodriguez said she is trying to build up a food pantry and toiletry storehouse in Crockett "so I can have them here. So, when somebody comes in and they need anything like that (they will be available)." Community residents may donate food and toiletry items to the crisis center for this project, she said.
She said the need for food and toiletry items and the need for someone to care for children while their parents attend support group and counseling sessions are the biggest things lacking at the center at this time.
"I'm hoping to find a volunteer who can watch the children as I do the support group once a week," she added. "We have individual counseling and peer support group, as well. I'm also looking for a volunteer who would answer the center's hotline."
The Crockett office hotline and office phone numbers are 936-546-0023 and 936-544-2151. The center's 24-hour crisis hotline phone number in Lufkin is 1-800-828-7233. The center's web address is www.FamilyCrisisCenterofEastTexas.com.
The message Rodriguez sends to the community is: "If you're in a situation where there is domestic or family violence or sexual assault, there is help. We are here."
As for the future, she said, "I see that we will be able to provide both the Spanish-speaking support group, English-speaking support group, and that we also will have support group for the children."