This month we want to highlight the women owned and women led companies that are changing our community for good. CASA is a beautiful example of an organization redirecting the lives of those in need. CASA is Pinellas County’s official domestic violence service provider and one of the largest shelters in the state with 133 beds. Programs and services include prevention education, emergency hotline, housing support, crisis counseling, legal aid, safety planning, law enforcement, justice advocacy, mental health support, case management, and so much more.
We spoke with Amber Valente, Marketing & Communications Coordinator for CASA to learn more.
MK: When was CASA founded and why?
AV: CASA was founded by Sr. Margaret Freeman in 1977 as the “Free Clinic Spouse Abuse Shelter,” a service of the St. Petersburg Free Clinic providing emergency housing for up to 8 domestic violence survivors at a time. It soon became an independent 501c3 nonprofit organization, able to expand its services with financial support from a network of caring community organizations and members.CASA’s main goal is to create a #ViolenceFreePinellas
What is the main goal of CASA?
CASA’s main goal is to create a #ViolenceFreePinellas by challenging the societal acceptance of all forms of domestic violence through advocacy, prevention, intervention, and support services.
MK: Tell us about the new FJC
AV: CASA’s Family Justice Center had its grand opening in October 2022. The Family Justice Center is a nationwide best-practice model for public health and safety endorsed by the U.S. Department of Justice, and CASA’s FJC is the only one in the entire state of Florida.
The Family Justice Center brings comprehensive, collaborative, trauma-informed, free services together in one place. Before the Family Justice Center, a survivor would need to visit multiple organizations and locations across the county to seek services, which could involve telling their story multiple times, missing work, and seeking childcare. Now, a survivor tells a CASA advocate their story only one time and can be connected to whatever resources they may need, like law enforcement, medical treatment, criminal and civil legal services, childcare, mental health counseling, and so much more. Partners from various community organizations have offices onsite and can support survivors efficiently and effectively all in one location.
Since the grand opening in October, CASA services have increased 65%. We’re seeing about 55 walk-ins each week, really illustrating the need for something like this in our community.
MK: What is your favorite part of your involvement with CASA?
AV: Breaking the stigma that surrounds domestic violence. Often times, people think of domestic violence as something that could never affect them, but the truth of the matter is 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men will experience abuse in their lifetime. It isn’t always what we see in the media, and it isn’t always physical. It can be emotional, financial, psychological, sexual, or verbal.
Domestic violence is a community crisis that doesn’t discriminate based on gender, sexual orientation, age, ethnicity, ability, or socioeconomic status, and neither does CASA. We are proud to serve all members of our community and #StandUpToSilence against domestic violence.
MK: What is a woman owned business you think is making an important impact in the community?
AV: Of course Mother Kombucha always comes to mind! But we also love Sans Market, a fabulous woman-owned business and just so happens to be the Family Justice Center’s neighbor in the Edge district. Sans Market is a zero-waste lifestyle store that not only sells eco-friendly alternatives to replace single-use plastics but also educates the community on how to live greener.