La Casa Inc.

20150525__LSN-L-LA CASA-0526La Casa Inc., the only domestic violence service provider in Doña Ana County, has an 80-bed emergency shelter serving 560 people a year in Las Cruces, a satellite office that helps victims and their families in rural south county and Hatch, transitional housing and education programs — and a funding problem that could shut the whole thing down in the matter of two years.

“In our 2009 to 2010 fiscal year, our state contract was $1.3 million, and the very next year, 2010 to 2011, our state contract was $1 million, so we lost $300,000, which is big considering our entire budget is only $2 million,” said Theresa Armendariz, La Casa’s executive director. “The very next year after that, our contract went down to $853,000, so we went from $1.3 million to $853,000 in two years.”

Theresa Armendariz is executive director of La Casa, a nonprofit dedicated to providing programs for domestic violence victims and offenders.
Theresa Armendariz is executive director of La Casa, a nonprofit dedicated to providing programs for domestic violence victims and offenders. (Jett Loe — Sun-News)

To compensate, La Casa has had to dig into reserve funds to the tune of more than $100,000 a year — and as high as $260,000 in the 2010-11 fiscal year — but that money won’t be enough to sustain the nonprofit as it is for much longer, Armendariz said.

“If we stay the same as we are now, we will be closing our doors within two years,” she said.

The lower level of funding has caused La Casa to trim its workforce, Armendariz said.

20150525__LSN-L-LA CASA-0526-p3“Three years ago, we had 65 staff and I now have 50, and we’re still providing the same amount of services,” she said. “That’s a huge drain on everyone here. In addition, we can’t afford to give raises. My staff hasn’t had a raise since 2010.”

La Casa has done its best to avoid cutting services, Armendariz said.

“We have a model that’s working and that our community is used to, and if we cut services, it’s going to negatively affect the victims that we’re trying to provide services for,” she said.

Bella’s Story:

The first time Bella reached out for help at La Casa, she stayed at the emergency shelter with her two sons, ages 3 and 4, for just a few days.

“I was so embarrassed,” said Bella, whose name has been changed for safety reasons. “I was mortified. So I left to go live with a friend for a few months. The second time (I went to La Casa), it was OK. I was more apt to receive help.”

Bella, 33, said the boyfriend she had been with for about four years had abused her mentally and physically, and it had finally gotten to the point where she couldn’t take it anymore.

“I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown,” she said. “I put up with it for about two and a half years. I just thought it was normal because I grew up with it, and then finally, someone was like, ‘You need to get away from this. He shouldn’t be treating you like this.'”

Ceci Pinales is a residential advocate at La Casa. In addition to running a domestic violence shelter, the nonprofit also offers services such as a transitional housing program. (Jett Loe — Sun-News)

Bella said she was finally able to turn her life around after learning about the signs of abuse and the cycle of violence through services provided by La Casa. She went back to the shelter a third time and participated in the transitional housing program and work stipend program.

“I haven’t been back with (my ex) yet — and that’s since 2013,” she said. “I’m independent. It’s just me and my kids. I can go places. I can go out if I want to. I can stay home if I want to and (my kids) are happy. They’re more outgoing. They don’t throw fits anymore when I try to take them to day care. They’re happy to go.”

A new model:

Armendariz said La Casa may need to come up with a new operating model and change how it provides services.

La Casa’s emergency shelter program in Las Cruces serves about 560 people each year, including 250 adults and their children from Doña Ana County and other areas. The nonprofit also helps about 300 non-residential adults through the Las Cruces location and La Casa’s south valley satellite office in Anthony, Texas, where staff members travel to Hatch, Sunland Park, Chaparral and outlying rural areas when necessary.

La Casa also offers counseling and support services, GED programs, English as a Second Language, help with résumés, job searches, a transitional housing program that provides rental assistance, parenting education, civil legal services, a children’s program and more.

A tree dedicated to the memory of Sylvia Maynes Piñon, a victim of domestic abuse, grows at La Casa’s Memorial Garden. (Jett Loe — Sun-News)

The nonprofit is working on plans to raise funds through more frequent events. The annual La Casa Holiday Bazaar held in December is the organization’s largest fundraiser. But it is dropping La Casa Girl’s Night Out, which was successful for about five years, Armendariz said, because Helping Hands Event Planning is no longer putting on the event.

“So we’re trying to come up with more ideas,” she said. “Last year, in October, we did a Purple Purse campaign which was pretty successful.”

La Casa launched a fundraising campaign, called One Hundred/Thousand, at the beginning of the month with the goal of 1,000 donors giving $100 each.

As of Friday, the campaign had raised $60,000. Armendariz said.

“Hopefully, we can get the community on board with knowing how important we are here … and get our corporations in Las Cruces, our local businesses sponsoring us, and really letting people know what we can do for them and what they can do for us … and not having our complete existence based on what the state is going to do,” Armendariz said.

Armendariz said La Casa also serves as a place for law enforcement to bring victims of domestic violence when necessary.

“Even if it’s just for a day, so they can get settled and figure out what they want to do, that’s a safe place for them to go, and if (La Casa) isn’t here, that’s an option that law enforcement doesn’t have,” she said.

How to help:

To make a donation to the One Hundred/Thousand campaign, or to donate any amount, visit lacasainc.org, drop off your donation at La Casa, 800 S. Walnut St., or mail your donation to La Casa Inc., P.O. Box 2463, Las Cruces, NM 88004.

Armendariz said those who think there might be something that isn’t right in their relationship, or think they might be a victim of abuse, can visit or call the 24-hour domestic violence hotline at 1-800-376-2272.

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