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Spanish-language hotline available

In a crisis, hearing “No habla Español” can be heartbreaking or even terrifying.

If you speak Spanish and can’t connect with someone who can speak and understand your language, it could be a matter of life or death. That’s why a nonprofit wants everyone to know that bilingual and bicultural help is only one call away for anyone in Virginia who is a victim of violence or injustice.

A first of its kind in Virginia, 24/7 phone hotline goes live Jan. 4 that will provide direct access to trained Spanish-speaking advocates who are ready to assist. The hotline is operated through the Richmond-based Latinos in Virginia Empowerment Center and will serve the entire state.

All of the center’s services are free and confidential.

“I would put it this way,” said Gabriella Telepman, the center’s support services coordinator. “Imagine if you were in a non-English speaking country on a vacation or for business travel purposes and something happened and you needed emergency assistance but you didn’t know who to call and everywhere you called there wasn’t a person that was able to speak English over the phone?” For people who are new to the U.S. and haven’t adjusted to the culture or aren’t proficient with the main language, “that’s what they’re going through,” she said.

The center previously operated a help line during regular business hours. Seeing a missed call from overnight or over the weekend would leave the center’s staff concerned about what may have happened to that person. Enhancing the helpline to an around-the-clock hotline has been a longstanding goal of the organization’s leadership since the center began operating, first as a grassroots organization of volunteers, and then, about two years ago, as a 501c3 nonprofit.

“Why not expand our services to be able to fully attend to these victims of violence in any case, no matter where in Virginia they are, no matter what time of day or night it is? It only seemed like the natural progression for us,” Telepman said.

Trained volunteers on on the hotline who are prepared to help people with crisis intervention, domestic violence, shelter placement, sexual violence, human trafficking, hate crimes or similar situations.

More in-depth services, such as court accompaniment and transportation assistance, are available for people who live in the Richmond area. “If we get a call from a client somewhere that’s a bit far away in Virginia, we might not be able to go to court with them, but we can advocate for them over the phone and get them to the appropriate local, bilingual court advocate that can accompany them,” Telepman said.

And being culturally literate is just as important as language literacy, she said. “You might not know how to say things like ‘protective order’ in Spanish,” she said, which can make it hard for people to navigate through the legal or social services systems.

“What we try to do and what we pride ourselves on is making that process a whole lot easier for that population because we’re always able to guarantee our services are provided by bilingual, bicultural and trained advocates,” Telepman continued. “We can empathize with your situation because we’re from the same culture and speak the same language.”

The statewide hotline number is 888-969-1825. More information about the Latinos in Virginia Empowerment Center is available at latinosenvirginia.org, on the organization’s Facebook page, by calling the regular office number at 804-658-3341 or by emailing hola@latinosenvirginia.org.