The February 2018 VAV Spotlight interview is with Zarina Moreno. Before beginning the social work master’s program at UT, Zarina was a hotline advocate at SAFE (formerly known as SafePlace) where she conducted crisis intervention and created safety plans with callers who were experiencing IPV. Zarina also provided hospital accompaniment and support to those who went to the hospital for Sexual Assault Forensic/Nurse Examinations following their experience with sexual assault. Now Zarina works as a hotline advocate for Asian Family Support Services of Austin (AFSSA) where she continues to provide support to those in crisis experiencing IPV or those just searching for support.
How did you get involved in IPV work?
A: When I graduated with my bachelor’s in psychology I knew I wanted to do counseling but didn’t know how to get there. I initially wanted to take a year off to gain some work experience and figure out if I wanted to pursue counseling through psychology or social work. When I graduated I got a job at SafePlace and I didn’t know anything about interpersonal violence (IPV). I pretty much learned about IPV and all its related topics on the job. It was pretty shocking working at the crisis hotline and hearing about everything that people were going through. I realized that I lived in this little bubble where I didn’t know much about what was going on with IPV, so it was a wakeup call to hear about all the things people were going through. Working at SafePlace also helped me appreciate how the skills I learned while working as a hotline advocate could apply to my life, such as how my family, friends, and I could be safer. It is surprising how these skills and talking about the topic of IPV applies to everyday life and how it affects how I notice red flags and how I safety plan. I didn’t know what SafePlace was when I applied. I just needed a job and stayed for two years instead of just one like I had originally planned. I am actually back at school now because there was only so much I could do as a crisis hotline advocate and I want to learn more about what more I can do in IPV work.
What do you hope the impact of your work in IPV will be here at UT and beyond?
A: Beyond UT I want to continue to work in the IPV field. If I do not work in the IPV field, I am glad that I’ve learned the skills to talk about IPV and support those experiencing it with any population or field in my social work career. I know that wherever I work, there will be people who have experienced IPV. Here at UT I want to increase my skills in counseling as well as my skills doing IPV work so that I can reach communities and people that are underserved, such as people of color and people from different cultures. I want to be able to work with people who may not feel comfortable seeking help and resources.
What has been your favorite experience working in the IPV field?
A: Being able to see and experience the resilience that people show! Also being able to use my Spanish with the Latino population hits close to home for me. This population is so underserved, so being able to provide support and truly listen and hear people in a language that they understand has been so important. Being able to use my skills to support people has been a great experience both at SAFE and at AFSSA.
Do you plan to incorporate IPV work into your life even after grad school? If yes, how?
A: I don’t know where exactly I will end up after graduation and I’m not sure that I’ll be working at a domestic violence shelter or somewhere that deals mostly with IPV, but if it does come up in other settings then I know that I’ll be ready and available to provide support. Although I might be serving people with a lot of different experiences, I know that IPV will come up wherever I work in the future and I’ll be able to provide support. It wasn’t easy learning the skills to do so, but I know I will be ready when it happens.
What keeps you going when IPV work gets hard?
A: Supervision is and was really important for me! I didn’t really think about what it meant that much before grad school. When I started the master’s program professors were stressing how important supervision is and it started to really click. It helped me a lot at SAFE when I first started and was having nightmares, and couldn’t eat. The work definitely affected me. When I talked to my supervisor about what I was going through she talked to me about secondary trauma and asked me what I was doing for self-care. That was the first time I heard about self-care and I started to realize how important it was. So hanging out with friends, talking to my boyfriend about things that are unrelated to IPV, eating healthy, and learning different recipes and cooking all help me to unwind. I would also turn my phone on “do not disturb” if I had a particularly difficult hotline call just to clear my head.
Anything you would like to add?
A: Remind yourself that people are resilient and there are always resources and places to reach out to when you feel lost!