Loretta Lopez, writer and case manager at Sanctuary for Families
Yet another #PeerCnnekt Campaign discovery has birthed yet another amazing interview. Loretta Lopez is a creative soul who dedicates her life's work to improving the lives of refugees and survivors of gender-based violence. We think that’s enough for a standing ovation, especially with all the negativity surrounding these subjects in today’s world. BUT- there's even more from this powerhouse. Loretta is a writer and aspiring therapist with a mission to put other's minds, especially Latino and minorities, at peace. We think the world needs more Lorettas and it’s only right to tell her story. Get ready to feel inspired because Loretta's words will take you to Church.
Loretta, can you tell us a bit about who you are and what you do at Sanctuary for Families?
I am a writer and aspiring therapist. I was born and raised in Guadalajara, Mexico and migrated to the US to study creative writing. After college I worked in the non-profit sector, mostly with recently arrived Latino immigrants and found their stories, struggles, hope, and strength moving—I would even say life-changing. My clients helped me realize I want to be a therapist so I can learn from them more deeply and help them to self-realize.
I want Latinos and minorities to understand their inherent worth and beauty. Our society and politics unfortunately devalues that.
During the day I work at Sanctuary for Families with clients—mostly women—who are survivors of gender-based and domestic violence. I’m their Case Manager, which means I help connect them to services they need: attorneys, housing, food, and education. In the evening I attend Columbia’s School of Social Work.
Before Sanctuary for Families, you worked at Big Brothers Big Sisters, Safe Passage Project, and even taught English in Vietnam. All of this requires others to be extremely dependent on you. When and how do you make time for YOU?
Discipline is freedom. I’m strict about reserving weekends to work on my memoir. I also am strict with myself about taking my full lunch hour and not staying late at work so I can stretch and exercise. What I’ve found is that I have to be healthy in order to provide for others, so I try to prioritize my wellbeing.
What about mentally? These situations you deal with daily must take a toll. How do you turn negatives into positives or even turn “OFF” the switch all together?
The women I work with amaze me everyday. They have gone through the worst situations imaginable—sexual, physical, and verbal abuse, coercion, extreme poverty, and homelessness—yet they are still managing to survive in NYC. People in social services world talk about “vicarious trauma,” and it’s a real phenomena, but I like to focus on “vicarious resilience.” When I feel weak I think about my clients. They motivate me.
Also, you said “Go to therapy to give therapy.” In our minds, this is SO important. Has working on yourself made a significant difference in the way you work with others?
It’s made a big difference. Sometimes I feel afraid or irritated or sad and I don’t know why until I talk it out with my therapist. If my mind is at peace then I feel more open to listen to others.
Now as far as next steps, you have big plans. From writing a memoir, to finishing graduate school, to serving on the board of a non-profit. Can you give us a sneak peak on what to expect?
One day I hope to either work for an organization or have my own practice where I provide therapy for perpetrators of violence. I hear so much about men who treat women horribly and I want to work with them to understand why they do it, how they feel about it, and what we can do to stop it from happening.
My memoir is slowly, but surely coming along. Next step is getting it published.
And last but not least, I’m so excited to serve on the board of the Brave House a non-profit which launched this month. It’s a community space for immigrant girls, ages 16-21, in Brooklyn which will provide free legal representation and a range of holistic services – including therapy! I’m so proud and to be a part of this project. If you’re interested check us out at: www.thebravehouse.com.
Interviewed by Emily