The best reward Leticia Garcia receives for her work is when a former client spots her in a crowd or at the grocery store and tells her they are now living a normal life.
“I love when they tell me they are working now, they can safely take their kids to the park, or go shopping by themselves,” Garcia said.
Garcia is the Executive Director of Lower Valley Crisis and Support Services, an organization that helps victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. The organization takes on many roles, including helping people fill out paperwork and find other resources.
“We work with a lot of other organizations,” she said. “We need to always be up-to-date on what’s available so we know where to send people for the help they need.”
Garcia learned to be a source of information when she worked for Heritage University. She was a receptionist who answered the campus switchboard, which meant she needed to know about every department so she could direct calls to the right person.
“It took a lot of knowledge,” she said. “One day right after I took the job I came home and told my husband they’d made a terrible mistake, that I was never going to learn it all.”
Garcia’s family moved to Washington to be with extended family when she was a teen, leaving an increasingly crowded Southern California for the relative calm of the Yakima Valley. She graduated from Toppenish High School and immediately started working as a bi-lingual parapro in the Zillah School District. Her husband, a student at Heritage at the time, encouraged her to apply for the Heritage job.
“I wanted to grow and develop, and the job was a chance to learn more,” she said.
Despite the steep learning curve, she stayed. She worked at Heritage for about 10 years, moving to the admissions office after a time. She said she loved meeting students, and eventually they inspired her to go back to school herself.
“Heritage had a lot of non-traditional students, and I realized I could do it as well,” she said.
She started with a couple of classes, intending to just get her feet wet and see if she would enjoy it. She started the next term with a full class load.
“I loved it,” she said. “I was a full-time student, a full-time employee, a full-time mom and a full-time wife.”
She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2007 and is now working on her Master’s degree. But right after getting her degree, she felt a little uncertain about the future.
“My husband was working for child protective services, and I knew I wanted to go into the social services field,” she said. “But I was very comfortable at Heritage.”
She decided to take a chance. After seeing an ad for a job at the Sexual Assault Response Center for someone who had supervisory skills, experiences with statistics and the ability to conduct outreach, she applied.
“Those were all skills I had learned at Heritage,” she said. “I moved from a non-profit college to a non-profit organization. It wasn’t a huge jump. I just had no experience working with victims of sexual assault.”
She said that part of the job took a lot of training. She was soon working with victims, being the calming voice in the hospital room, letting them know there was help.
“It was a rewarding experience,” she said.
Garcia kept at it for almost four years before taking the job at Lower Valley Crisis and Support Services. As the executive director, she oversees the agency, applies for grants, makes sure they are always in compliance, and takes care of the advocates who, themselves, take care of others.
“The advocates listen to traumatic stories every day,” she said. “They need proper support as well.”
The organization serves the entire Lower Yakima Valley, from south of Union Gap to Prosser. In addition to running a 24-hour crisis line, they also provide legal advocacy, helping with paperwork and explaining how to obtain legal help against abusers.
They also direct their clients to other sources of help, with the goal of giving the survivors of abuse and assault a chance at a normal life.
“Seeing a client living safe and happy is the best reward,” Garcia said. “It’s why we do this.”
Lower Valley Crisis and Support Services can be reached via their hotline 24 hours a day at 509-837-6689.