Domestic violence doesn’t recognize the boundaries of wealth, race, religion, ethnicity, social status, or jurisdiction.
As the population of Fort Bend County continues its rapid rise, more victims of domestic violence have been turning to Houston and Harris County to find help. That prompted Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse (AVDA) to open an office here. The nonprofit agency held an open house Dec. 7 at its new office in Stafford.
“Fort Bend County wanted resources for victims of domestic violence. It’s fortunate that we were able to respond to the plea,” said Sherri Kendall, chief executive officer of AVDA.
AVDA, which provides free legal services for victims of domestic violence, actually has two offices in the county. The main office is at the United Way Fort Bend Center at 12300 Parc Crest Drive in Stafford and the other is at the Fort Bend County Women’s Center in the Richmond/Rosenberg area.
The Stafford office opened Nov. 1 and is staffed by attorney Kusum Warsi and paralegal Nelda Canales.
“We will have a mini-intake to get their basic information and then set up a time to meet with them,” Warsi said. “We will refer them out to whatever resources they need.”
Kendall said they will be able to offer services to victims in the county who are “working poor,” that is, they have an income too high to qualify for low income services but not high enough to afford the legal representation they need.
“We can say yes because we’re not income dependent,” she said.
AVDA has been providing services in Harris County for 37 years. Although Fort Bend County has resources for victims of domestic violence – 90 percent of which are women – it lacks a service to provide legal aid. As a result, AVDA has seen an increase in the number of clients from Fort Bend seeking help in Harris County.
Denise Gruwell, the crime victim liaison for the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office, attended the open house and immediately noticed a problem. Observing the small office she asked if they have started looking for a bigger space.
“You’re going to need it,” she said.
Senior District Judge Doug Warne made an appearance and talked briefly about the struggles back in the 1980s to get the organization started and then recognized by law enforcement agencies and the courts.
“Getting this concept accepted was something we needed to do,” he said, noting that the first donated office space was literally in a broom closet.
When it comes to meeting the needs of a diverse population like that in Fort Bend County, Warsi and Canales are able to speak in English, Spanish, Hindi and Urdu and have access to other translators if needed. Among the services they provide for clients is legal assistance with divorce, child custody, and protective orders. They work weekdays and take cases by appointment.
To contact the office, call 281-207-2312, visit www.avda-tx.org, or come by the office at 12300 Parc Crest Drive, Suite 140, Stafford.