Helping individuals from underserved communities navigate crisis services and get the help they need is a passion for Yalitza LaFontaine, which is why October is an important month.
October marks both National Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Hispanic Heritage Month.
LaFontaine is from Puerto Rico and serves as the Director of Operations at AshaKiran, a nonprofit organization that helps people experiencing trauma, like domestic or sexual violence. She says the pandemic has highlighted just how critical it is to make these services accessible to all.
“Because of quarantining and the proximity and having to live with abusers, there are a lot of victims out there who are hesitant to seek shelter because of the pandemic,” LaFontaine said.
She says providing crisis services in multiple languages with a layer of cultural competency is a top priority. Last year, AshaKiran helped 160 clients, around 100 of which were Latino/Hispanic.
“For me, being able to assist clients without making them feel marginalized or without making them feel stigmatized in any way is the largest accomplishment that we can have,” LaFontaine said.
LaFontaine was raised in a family very invested in politics and serving others. Her father was both a Methodist minister and a psychologist, her mother was a teacher, social worker then reporter and her grandfather was a labor organizer in Puerto Rico.
“We learned that we always should be using our voices and whatever tools we have and our privilege to help those who are either less fortunate or oppressed by the systems of colonialism,” LaFontaine said.
Along with her family, LaFontaine says she was greatly influenced by famous Puerto Rican women, like Julia de Burgos, Mariana Bracetti and Lolita Lebrón, who fought for women’s rights and the rights of Puerto Ricans.
In 1987, LaFontaine’s family moved to Nashville when she was 15. For a time, she was the only Hispanic student in her high school. She eventually became a teacher and worked in Tennessee for many years before coming to Alabama, where she has called home for 15 years.
She hopes to continue serving the community for many years to come.