We are proud to celebrate the people who serve and connect our incredible community. Each month, we interview a different member of Resilience’s community to hear more about the work they’re doing to empower survivors and end sexual violence. This month, we’re shining a spotlight on Alondra Guzman, Resilience’s Children’s Legal & Medical Advocate. Read our interview below to hear from Alondra about how she got involved in advocacy, empowers survivors who are minors, and celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month.
You’re a children’s legal & medical advocate at Resilience: Tell me about your role.
I work with different types of clients, but I specifically focus on minor survivors and their needs since those look a little different. We focus on anything involving school accommodations, either through Chicago Public Schools (CPS) or their private schools, as well as Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) involvement. If it’s a case where there was a minor and an adult involved, or other circumstances, DCFS is involved and communicates with the family or guardian. Working with minors and trying to navigate that relationship is something that I focus on. Additionally, I inform minors of what their rights are and the fact that they have the ability to choose how to navigate the entire process, whether it’s medical, criminal, or civil. They do have a say in it, so I inform them of what their rights look like and support them along the way, even if it’s a decision that their parents or guardians may not necessarily agree with. My role is to be that extra support person for them.
What inspired you to pursue this career and work with survivors?
I’ve always been interested in working directly with survivors. I didn’t know it would be survivors of sexual assault until I was in college and I found out about the local sexual assault agency there. I volunteered as a medical advocate and then eventually I interned for them for four years. I realized the need for their services, and that’s when I decided to apply for this position at Resilience. It just happened to be one that was focusing on children and it was a bilingual position. I realized that I would be able to reach out to a larger audience, specifically to Spanish-speaking survivors and their families. Even though it can be mentally taxing, it is very rewarding whenever we have any positive outcomes, such as having a school accommodation being met for the survivor or being able to close out a DCFS case and ensure the minor’s safety.
You’re the only children’s legal & medical advocate in Illinois, which is significant! Why is it important to have a children’s legal and medical advocate?
As I stated earlier, I feel like a lot of times minors don’t realize the rights that they have and the resources that are available to them. So if we are able to have more children’s legal and medical advocates to inform them of what their rights are, then we’re able to empower them more, and they’re able to make their own decisions and communicate with their loved ones about what their needs and wishes are. I feel like being able to offer that service to them could help them in so many ways. It could help them in their healing process, and also if they choose to go down the criminal route or the civil route, they have that extra support person that is focusing on their needs. An assault could affect them in many ways, like in school and in their family relations. I think if we had more legal and medical advocates for children throughout Chicago or the state of Illinois, then we may be able to have more minors speak up. When it comes to minors, they have a different way of processing trauma. So they may not be able to process it right away. It may happen after many years or even after they’re 18 years old. And if that’s what happens, then they still have the ability to choose what they want to do criminally. So if we’re able to communicate that with them, they can decide, okay, I’m not ready right now, but I may be ready in the future. Then we can be able to refer back to their options.
You’re a member of Resilience’s Spanish Speaking Committee and Hispanic Heritage Month is about to begin. Can you tell me about the work this committee is doing and your vision?
Right now we are finalizing brainstorming ideas for next month about how to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, but also how to meet the needs of Spanish-speaking survivors. We want to highlight all of the work that survivors do as well as our staff. That’s in the works and hopefully, we have more news in the upcoming weeks. I think it’s really helpful to have a Spanish-speaking committee and because of it, we’re able to highlight more of Hispanic Heritage Month through survivors and other advocates that have been there for survivors. It can encourage our own clients, of course, but it can encourage others as well to speak up and find resources for them.
How can folks honor or celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month?
What I love about Hispanic Heritage Month is that there are so many cultures and so many countries that are celebrating it, and everyone celebrates it in their own way. I’m of Mexican descent, so even across different states in Mexico, we all tend to celebrate it differently, through food, music, or different cultural traditions. It’s something that I look forward to every year. Even here in Chicago, there are different ways to celebrate, and we celebrate pretty big, so I love to see that. I love the different music involved. It’s all very colorful and very festive and there’s a lot of pride behind it. So there isn’t necessarily one way to tell you how it’s celebrated just because there are so many ways. I think it’s also a great learning opportunity to see how different nationalities celebrate each time.
How can we support the Spanish-speaking community in the work that Resilience does?
We can support the Spanish-speaking community by being able to assess the needs of Spanish-speaking survivors, and what that could look like, even outside of the legal and medical advocacy portion. A lot of times they need resources or be connected to the resources that are available to their community, such as therapy or getting them connected to local food pantries. It is supporting whatever their needs are. It’s being there for them. I think listening in and being open to learning more about their cultures helps out a lot. Especially because in the Hispanic Latino community there are so many survivors that have experienced generational trauma, so just understanding that and how that may impact some of their decisions during the process after they’ve been assaulted, and just being a listening ear—I think that goes a long way.
What’s one fun fact about you?
One thing I’m looking forward to soon is that my favorite childhood band, which originated from a telenovela, actually just went on tour and they’re coming to Chicago on September 8. So after 18 years, I’m going to go see them live, which is such a big deal to my inner child! That’s something I’ve been looking forward to since January when I purchased my tickets, so it’s finally happening. I feel like I’m going to be able to heal and whatnot and kind of just escape for the night with their music, with their vibes, and everything.