Humans of the Institute - Geraldine
Geraldine is the newest of our Victim Advocates from our Victim Services team. A Rhode Islander since the age of eleven, Geraldine is a proud wife and mother of two boys in addition to currently pursuing her degree in Social Work from Rhode Island College, inspired by the social workers that helped lift her up to where she is today. Besides being a woman of many talents, she brings a perspective to our Victim Services team that we consider priceless. She credits the "real life heroes" from her past for her success today, but to us and her clients, SHE is the "real life hero."
G.U. = Geraldine Urena, Victim Advocate
A.T. = Abigail Terry, Development VISTA
A.T.: So, how did you first find your way to the Institute?
G.U.: I feel very blessed to have found my way to the institute after I graduated from The Community College of Rhode Island. I grew up a few blocks over from the Institute so I feel very much at home working with people from the community I grew up in. The Institute is a very special place and the victim's service team hold a very dear place in my heart.
A.T.: Not only is your work important, but I would go as far as to say that your work is also quite unique. How do you go about explaining what you do to others for the first time?
G.U.: I would say as a Victims Advocate I help victims of violent crimes and their families in whatever they may need. I would explain our work as a support system like no other. I encourage my clients to call me on any day and time even if it is only to chat. I connect clients to needed resources from housing, to clothing or food drives, to employment opportunities. I speak to my clients about the importance of mental health and encourage them to reach out for support when needed.
A.T.: Has your life prior to being a victim advocate prepared you for this work in any way? If so, how?
G.U.: I became a mother at the young age of 16. My son is the best gift life has given me but raising him came to many, many heartbreaks. I learned that the world is a harsh and cruel place. It was at this time that I began to learn about racism and sexism. I learned about statistics as strangers shouted them out to me and my unborn child in the streets as I walked to or from school. This was also the time where I met some of the most amazing people in my life. People who I will never forget, to me they are real-life heroes. These people were my counselors and social workers. They were the ones who helped me apply for college and edited my college essay. The ones who taught me how to set up checking accounts, helped me get jobs to provide for my son, the ones who made sure I made it into my college campus and safely into my car after my life was threatened and one of them even danced with me at my wedding when I married the man of my dreams.I owe these people so much of who I am today and I feel like the only way to truly repay them is to pay the kindness forward.
I once came to a crossroads, in college I was asked to finally pick a major. As I spoke to my then Fiance about my choices all of these memories came rushing back to me like waves in the ocean. It suddenly dawned on me, I want to give someone the same hope my heroes gave me. At that moment I decided that I wouldn't let all my previous hardships and heartaches go in vain I would use everything I had learned through the years to help others. I truly believe I was destined to be an advocate for others.
A.T.: What has this job taught you about trauma and healing?
G.U.: I have learned that trauma and healing looks different on everyone. It is as unique as a fingerprint. Healing is a lifelong journey of trials and retrials until we find what works best for us. I have learned that isolation is detrimental to the healing process and that humans need each other to thrive.
A.T.: Your bio says that you’re currently attending Rhode Island College pursuing your degree in Social Work, what are your strategies for balancing school, work, family, friends, kids, etc.?
G.U.: I am a creature of habit. I thrive on a schedule and routine. I take advantage of planning tools such as good calendars and my personal agenda to plan out my days and weeks. It is very easy for me to get lost in the shuffle of things so I try to stick to the plan I set for myself. If the plan or schedule doesn't work or I find myself getting overwhelmed to re-asses and re-plan for the following week. I enjoy spending time with my girlfriends as a reset or a time to wind down from my sometimes hectic life. My friends give me the authority I need to be unapologetically me. Without any judgment from the outside world.
A.T.: How has social distancing and the implications of COVID-19 impacted the way you interact with/support your clients?
G.U.: The biggest impact I have noticed is the inability to huge my clients. I believe hugs are magical and medicinal and healing so it pains me when I can tell a mother or sister wants a warm embrace but due to social distance restrictions, we cannot share a hug.
A.T.: What is something you wish more people understood about trauma, healing, and/or the profound experience of loss?
G.U.: I would like for people to understand that people exhibit signs of trauma in different ways. I see people push away from victims who are attempting to heal from a traumatic experience instead of embracing the person with love and kindness. I would like for people to be more understanding even when they don't understand.
A.T.: If you could give any advice to someone who is interested in being a victim advocate to one day, what would it be?
G.U: A word of advice I would give someone interested in becoming a Victim Advocate would be, Brace yourself this is not for the faint of heart. But it's the most rewarding career a person can have.
Learn more about our Victim Services department here.