Friday, January 17, 2014

Question & Answer Interview with Healing Hearts Program Manager Maresa Aguon

1. What is your mission at Healing Hearts?

The Healing Hearts Crisis Center (HHCC) incorporates a holistic approach for individuals who may have experienced a sexual assault.  Regardless of when the assault occurred or the age, ethnicity, disability or gender of the victim, Healing Hearts offers a supportive, healing atmosphere with caring people to assist them in regaining feelings of safety, control, trust, autonomy and self-esteem.

2. What specific services does Healing Hearts provide?

Healing Hearts provides crisis intervention, intake/assessment, medical examinations to include collecting forensic evidence (rape kit) and short-term case management for all victims.  In addition, we conduct forensic interviews of child victims between the ages of 3 and 15 and community outreach. 

3. Who is your target audience?

Victims of sexual assault or abuse and their families, as well as the general public to raise awareness and prevent sexual assault and abuse.

4. What are your hours of operation and what is the best way for people to reach you that are interested in assistance?

Healing Hearts is open from 8am-5pm Monday through Friday.

People can call 647-5351.

In addition, after-hours on-call services are provided 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for acute cases.  These services can be activated through the Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center’s Crisis Hotline at 647-8833 during non business hours, weekends and holidays.

5. In addition to direct services, what resources does Healing Hearts offer?

We provide linkage to other needed services in the community, especially counseling.  Healing Hearts contracts with licensed therapists to provide counseling to our clients.  We also conduct training to various sectors of the community, such as the Guam Police Department, Department of Education and non-profit organizations.

6. Thinking about current events, how do you foresee recent events in your field of work affecting your organization and its work?
When a high profile case is highlighted in the media, it can prompt an increase in disclosures and clients referred to Healing Hearts.  We provide red flag/green flag presentations to schools as well as participate in community outreach events.  These opportunities to be readily available to the general public can help those who may not have been able to come forward to seek the help they need.  High profile cases also highlight the unified community response to sexual assault and abuse, and bring together various agencies with a common goal to work together more closely and forge more partnerships and collaborations. 

7.  Can you discuss your community
partnerships and how they contribute to the overall success of Healing Hearts individually.

Healing Hearts has many community partners; first and foremost HHCC is part of Guam’s Sexual Assault Response Team which also includes agencies such as the Guam Police Department, Child Protective Services, the Attorney General’s Office, Victim Advocates Reaching Out and the military counterparts.  Having a team that works together in these cases makes response more effective and efficient, can highlight gaps in services and provide an avenue for improvement. 

8. Can you touch on the history of Healing Hearts and how the organization is set up?

Guided by Public Law 21-44, the Healing Hearts Crisis Center (HHCC), under the Guam Memorial Hospital was established in 1993.  The intent of the program was to provide survivors of sexual assault with “discrete, immediate, and full medical attention”. A year later, Public Law 22-23 removed the program from the hospital’s jurisdiction and placed the program under the Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse, now the Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center. 

As such, HHCC is a government agency and all clients that come through also become clients of GBHWC.  As a government agency, HHCC is not eligible for a lot of funding that other rape crisis centers are, as most rape crisis centers are non-profit organizations or private medical clinics.  In response to this, Dr. Ellen Bez, HHCC’s long-time Medical Consultant, established the Guam Sexual Assault and Abuse Resource Center Association (SAARCA) to help augment funding and provide opportunities for training and technical assistance to HHCC. SAARCA works hand in hand with HHCC through an MOU, availing HHCC to all the benefits that SAARCA can provide to the organization.

9. Any upcoming plans or projects that our island community should be aware of?

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, be looking out for joint HHCC-SAARCA projects! Otherwise, HHCC continues to provide presentations in our island’s schools.

10. Lastly, why do you think the work you do is important to our island community and the world at large?

Sexual assault and abuse affects the entire island community; and an incident has a ripple effect.  It is hard to talk about, and has been culturally taboo and secret historically.  Unfortunately, most of the victims know their perpetrator, and family members are often left asking questions and turning blame onto themselves.  Healing Hearts works with victims to provide immediate medical attention, and we also work with families to help link to other needed services, provide support and information.  We also work in the greater public.  Knowledge is power, and sometimes making people more aware of the behavior of those who are in their care can be helpful in identifying possible abuse and being able to talk about it. 

The work we do not only serves to help victims and their families; we also serve to assist the successful prosecution of criminal sexual assault cases through the collection of forensic evidence.  In that way, we impact the health and safety of our island people.  

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