New support group in Rifle offers safe place to talk for Spanish-speaking women

Irma Contreras, miembro de un nuevo grupo de apoyo de latinas, participa en yoga en Mistyoga en Rifle el viernes.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

The list goes on and on.

Cancer. Domestic violence. School issues.

Whichever the case, it’s especially tough to reach out to anyone to chat about life’s various afflictions when your first language is Spanish and the majority of social services in Garfield County are English dominated.

Over the past three months, however, Rifle local and Discovery Cafe peer support specialist Salomi Gonzalez has offered an invaluable service to help curb the norm: Free group and personal therapy sessions geared specifically toward the Spanish-speaking Latina community.

Every Thursday evening at the Rifle Branch Library, Gonzalez hosts a group session of about 22 Latina women who spend time conversing about whatever issue is on their minds. The group also does things like yoga classes in a downtown Rifle studio.

“We don’t just focus on drugs or alcohol,” Gonzalez said. “It’s more support in the community.”

A Latina support group prepares for yoga at Mistyoga in Rifle on Friday.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

Gonzalez, herself a survivor of domestic violence, became an advocate for the local Latino/Latina community around 2009. She also spent time working for a Glenwood Springs nonprofit that offers a bilingual helpline for domestic violence and sexual assault cases.

Gonzalez said there are not a lot of support services like these for Latina women locally, and that Spanish speakers who do find any sort of help “struggle more with the language barrier.”

Gonzalez eventually took a job with Discovery Cafe, a Rifle-based nonprofit that supports homeless, addicted and disenfranchised people. Speaking with Discovery Cafe Executive Director Gabe Cohen about her ideas on offering more Spanish-speaking services, Gonzalez not only began a new support group, they used funds from Colorado’s opioid settlement to begin a new Spanish-speaking hotline for Latina women.

“Sometimes they only want to talk to me about their day, if they’re having a bad day,” Gonzalez said of people who call her. “I really think it helps because they’re in a situation and they don’t know what to do in this situation. Some of them say, ‘I really don’t even know why I’m living.’”

“When we meet, we meet here, we meet at McDonald’s, anywhere we can talk.”

Maira Lujan first met Gonzalez about 12-13 years ago. It was because Lujan sought help due to a domestic violence situation, she said.

Lujan said she decided to join the Latina support group because she can use her previous negative experiences for something positive.

“It’s very interesting trying to help other people because you already passed through all those situations,” she said, adding people will start actually listening because of this experience. “They hear about your situation in the past and they relate what’s going on in their lives now and then maybe they can open their minds or they have some ideas.

“They will know they’re not alone.”

Maira Lujan does yoga with a Latina support group at Mistyoga in Rifle on Friday.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

Flora Romero was having problems with her 14-year-old son, who was said to have a gun. Translating for Romero, Gonzalez relayed to the Post Independent that this is when Romero reached out to her.

“Flora called me and she was really worried. She’s like, ‘I don’t know what to do,’ and she was really upset,” Gonzalez said. “I said, ‘OK, well just calm down, how can we fix the situation?

“We ended up filing a police report, and I went with Flora as an advocate for her. We went to the high school and checked on her son and there’s no gun. That’s how she got my trust.”

Veronica Reyes, who speaks little English, lost both her mother-in-law and father due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Reyes said, from this, she needed somebody to listen to her story.

“I have depression,” she said. “I went to the program and they helped me.

“Right now, I don’t cry when I tell my story.”

Another member, Gloria Reyes, has cancer. When Gloria was diagnosed, she really had no one in the Spanish-speaking community to seek console.

“She’s looking for worth and our friendship,” Gonzalez said of Gloria. “I guess she needed us at this moment.”

Cohen himself said he’s not aware of too many services for the local Spanish-speaking community, except for maybe an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in Carbondale run in Spanish. Cohen said Gonzalez hit the ground running getting this new group going.

Discovery Cafe’s Salomi Gonzalez smiles just before starting at yoga session at Mistyoga in Rifle on Friday.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

“You’ve got to find that champion to do this work, and that’s what Salomi’s doing for us and the Latina community,” he said. “I give her all the credit, because we had it on our calendar.”

Cohen said Discovery Cafe also runs Spanish-speaking meetings at its Basalt location every Wednesday and is receiving a $150,000 grant every year for the next three years from the Colorado Health Foundation “specifically for capacity building of our organization and also to grow our model into the Latino community.”

“We’re hoping to get more Spanish-speaking male members. We certainly want to have more meetings for the Spanish-speaking community,” Cohen said. “We want to grow it, from Aspen down to Parachute with support meetings in this valley.”

“If there’s any way we can be of service, we’re looking for other champions in our community.”

To reach Gonzalez to talk, call 970-404-9420.

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