By HEAL Staff Writer Jessica Martinez
HEAL and the Nest Domestic Violence Shelter celebrated their tenth anniversary this March and marked the occasion by hosting Business After Hours at the Chamber of Commerce last month. The organization served a delicious spread of hors d’oeuvres provided by Dreamcatcher Cafe and Catering, highlighted information about the shelter, and also honored a recently-retired employee, Corina Montoya.
Montoya is a lifetime New Mexico resident, moving from Alamogordo to the Ruidoso area when she married in 1973. She worked as a Resident Advocate for eight years at the Nest, Lincoln County’s first and only domestic violence shelter. She was drawn to the career while looking for a job for her daughter.
“I had been wanting to volunteer at the shelter since it opened, so when I saw the opening for an advocate position I was very interested,” explained Montoya. “I had worked in jail ministry before, working with survivors, and this work was something I could personally relate to.”
While she enjoyed so much about her experience as an advocate, Montoya’s history of working with inmates as well as her strong faith influenced her favorite aspects of the job: Faith Hour and the Jail Outreach Program.
“Faith Hour is nondenominational and an optional time for shelter residents to talk about faith and how it can be helpful during this difficult time in their lives,” Montoya said. “As a survivor of domestic violence, I know personally how faith helped me to get out and stay out of that cycle. When I would pick up from a resident that they had a faith or one that needed to be nurtured, I would share relevant scripture and incorporate faith into their program/empowerment plan.”
Prior to the offering of Faith Hour, there was always the option to call a pastor for religious support, but no one really did. Faith Hour became a more approachable environment for women who sought faith-based encouragement. Further, advocates and volunteers would also then encourage the interested women to get church support. “Leading women and children back to their faith was a very powerful experience,” Montoya reflected.
Montoya brought the idea of jail outreach to Coleen Widell, then Executive Director of HEAL and the Nest. When they were able to secure a grant for the program, Montoya took the lessons they had used for Faith Hour at the shelter to local jails, Lincoln and Otero County Detention Centers.
“I would incorporate scripture, but it was not always faith-based. It would depend on what women were sharing and what they needed,” Montoya explained. “Almost every woman I met with had some type of abuse in their lives – either domestic violence or abuse growing up, etc.”
The goal was hope. “Once we lose hope, get hopeless, get depressed, it is important to keep going,” Montoya added. “After working with them, these women moved forward with hope in their life – they would say, ‘I’m so glad I talked to you,’ shedding tears because before they had felt so hopeless.”
One woman, as Montoya recalled, was going back and forth with her abuser, who was threatening suicide, and having a hard time letting go of the abusive relationship. Montoya told her she wasn’t to blame, and shared her personal story, which included domestic violence and the tragedy of suicide. “You would have never imagined the relief, hope, and opening up that happened. We had to break through to ‘I’m not the only one’ and ‘there is a future after this.’”
Montoya cautions anyone thinking about a career in advocacy: “Make sure you are in it to do the work; not just a job, but a calling. You think you are going to go in with something to teach women, and you might, but they are going to teach YOU a lot. We need to know we are going to get a lot of resistance – if you aren’t ready for that, then it’s not for you. It is definitely more than a job.”
Now retired, Montoya’s number one priority is to give her all to her family. She helps take care of her mother, and has three daughters, ten grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren with two more on the way. She has been nurturing her own faith by attending daily mass, and takes communion to patients at the local hospital, after having spent some time there herself and noting the service was not being provided. She also plans to continue her work at the Nest by volunteering for Faith Hour and doing other odd jobs, like cleaning out closets.
“Corina is a very special person, and we miss her calming presence at the shelter,” said Susanne Francis, Operations Director at the Nest. “We were so lucky to have eight years of her advocacy and devotion to our shelter and wish her nothing but the best in her retirement.”