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In Madison, UNIDOS exists to empower the community to break the cycle of domestic violence, end sexual assault and promote healthy family systems. It was founded in 1996 as a group of volunteers committed to helping Latina survivors of domestic violence access local services.

Unfortunately, one in three Latinas have experienced domestic violence and there is a tremendous need for support of those victims who often feel like they have nowhere to turn. To help meet that need, UNIDOS this week has launched their new, interactive website that will allow UNIDOS to share more information about their events and programs targeted at victims/survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking in the Latino community in central Wisconsin.

UNIDOS Executive Director Veronica Lazo (left) pictured here with former UNIDOS Executive Director Cecilia Gilhouse
UNIDOS Executive Director Veronica Figueroa (left) pictured here with former UNIDOS Executive Director Cecilia Gilhouse

“Our new website is really an attempt to have more information out there for victims and survivors and allies. It really allows people to interact with the members of the community,” UNIDOS Executive Director Veronica Figueroa tells Madison365. ”People can contact any staff member through our website, they can contact the board [of directors] through the website. We have a calendar event where people can check out volunteer opportunities and employment opportunities. It’s very interactive and there’s a lot of information at the site.”

UNIDOS, founded in Madison in 1996, exists to empower the community to break the cycle of domestic violence, end sexual assault and promote healthy family systems. The new website can be viewed in either Spanish or English, which is important when reaching out to those who may need access to help in either language. The site serves as a complete resource for people looking for more information and support and it highlights the programs and services UNIDOS provides, including community education, support groups and creative workshops.

UNIDOS's new website
UNIDOS’s new website

“We just launched it yesterday. More and more people are getting to the site. The feedback I’ve been getting so far has been great so I’m really excited,” Figueroa says. “The people like it. We’ve put a lot of work into it.

“It’s so important to have a great website for what we do at UNIDOS,” she adds. “There is an ‘escape’ button for those who need to leave the site quickly and when you press that it displays a generic search engine page on the computer screen.”

When UNIDOS was first founded, domestic violence was a serious problem within the Latino migrant and immigrant community but local services did not have the resources or knowledge about Latino culture to effectively work with this population. Over the years, UNIDOS has become a leader around the state as a resource for training and technical assistance to a variety of agencies throughout Wisconsin who work with abused Latinas.

UNIDOS community art projects are also a way to raise awareness and organize people around a shared goal for the future.
UNIDOS community art projects are also a way to raise awareness and organize people around a shared goal for the future.

The UNIDOS offices recently moved from the smaller area they had at Olin Ave. to a much bigger place on Fish Hatchery Road in Fitchburg. “Our staff is growing. I think the last time we talked we were at 3 employees; now we are at 7 full-time employees and have a part-time position available for a volunteer coordinator,” Figueroa says. “We’re expanding and growing.

“I think we have become much more accessible in the community. Many of our clients are from Fitchburg and that surrounding area. There are bus routes that come through every hour and we are very close to the South Transfer Point,” she adds. “I love the new place. As soon as it gets a little warmer, we will be doing an open house and an ice cream social at the new place for people to come and see our new space and to talk about UNIDOS – past, present, and future.”

This is Figueroa’s 7th year with UNIDOS and her 3rd year as executive director. “My favorite part about being involved with UNIDOS is being able to really get involved with families to really support them – helping them go from that victim stage to the survivor stage to that empowerment stage. Being able to really see the kids as they grow older and to really be able to break that cycle of violence and stop it at an early age. We’re able to impact a family from the inside rather than the outside. It’s very powerful to be able to witness this.”

Fun support groups are a great way for UNIDOS’ survivors to have a great time and participate in all types of activities such as going to theatre performances or partaking in sports activities. Some of the responsibilities of a volunteer include providing transportation, sending out invitations for upcoming events and helping organize the activity.
Fun support groups are a great way for UNIDOS’ survivors to have a great time and participate in all types of activities such as going to theatre performances or partaking in sports activities. Some of the responsibilities of a volunteer include providing transportation, sending out invitations for upcoming events and helping organize the activity.

Figueroa is excited about UNIDOS’s 21st-anniversary event “Embracing Cultures: Strengthening Communities” coming up this summer saying that it will be “a great chance to talk about what UNIDOS does in this community.” The event will be held Friday, July 28, at Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center.

“Our 21st anniversary is coming up and we’re really looking at the political climate and all the craziness of the world and we’re really trying to make this event about community and culture and how we can all come together regardless of the color of your skin, your beliefs, your values,” Figueroa says. “We want to put our differences aside and come together and just celebrate UNIDOS and supporting victims and survivors of domestic and sexual violence as well as human trafficking, which is increasing in the state of Wisconsin, unfortunately.

“The event will be a call for action for people who really want to get involved and be active participants in ending and eradicating violence against women in our community,” she adds.

Written by David Dahmer

David Dahmer

A. David Dahmer is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Madison365.

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