Founded in 1990, by Dr. Julia Perilla, one of the nations’s leading experts and researchers in intimate partner violence and Latinos, Caminar Latino began at a time when the Latino presence in Atlanta was just beginning to appear.
As a result, the program began its work following the approach that was used by mainstream organizations. Women were encouraged and expected to become autonomous individuals, so they could leave their abusive partners. Following this model Latina participants attended group and obtained support and information for themselves without the program addressing the needs of the rest of her family. It soon became apparent that the women did not find this conventional approach helpful and participants began to challenge program team to “think outside the box” as it pertained to services.
In 1993, the women asked program staff to create a youth program for their children (all of whom had experienced and/or witnessed violence in their home), that would help them understand their experience and learn non-violent ways of being. Two years later, in 1995, the women requested that Caminar Latino start offering services for their violent partners, with whom many of them continued to live. All of them wanted the violence to stop, but very few of them wanted to leave their relationship. They argued that their partners needed help in learning new ways to behave non-violently and that the women’s newly-acquired understanding of the nature and dynamics of domestic violence needed to be understood by the men as well. While individuals and agencies expressed concern that we would be placing the women and children in danger if we also worked with the men, the women’s voices prevailed and Caminar Latino incorporated a 24-week, state-certified family violence intervention program for men.
Beginning in 2006, Caminar Latino started to create programming that helped to achieve the second part of our mission: helping to transform the community. This programming is based on the belief that our role in the community is to (a) provide opportunities for families to recognize their own strengths and use them in ways that stop the cycle of violence and (b) increase the capacity of the community to address this and other social problems. Based on this idea, programming was created for Caminar Latino participants to use their expertise in a manner that benefits them, their families, and their community. For the first five years of this initiative, the primary focus of our community capacity enhancement was the research that youth participants were conducting about their experience with violence and their recommendations about how to best address this issue. In 2011, Caminar Latino was offered the opportunity to adapt Casa de Esperanza’s Women’s Community Leadership (“Lideres”) curriculum to be utilized with women survivors who had received Caminar Latino’s support services in the past. In 2012, Caminar Latino began offering community trainings and technical assistance to other social service providers to increase their ability to serve Latinos in culturally competent ways.
Today Caminar Latino is a nationally recognized program for our approach in addressing intimate partner violence. As we did in the beginning, we continue to consult with and listen closely to the voices of the families.