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Survivors of torture access resources in CO

Survivors of torture access services and build community through IRC’s Survivor Wellness Center

Survivors of torture access services and build community through the IRC in Denver's Survivor Wellness Center Photo: Peter Biro

In 2018, the IRC in Denver received funding from the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), under the Direct Services for Survivors of Torture Program, to launch its Survivor Wellness Center. The program aims to fill gaps in rehabilitative services for survivors of torture and to enhance provider capacity to support survivors—areas that have gone largely unmet since the closure of Rocky Mountain Survivors Center in 2009.

A key component of the program is to increase the capacity of providers to deliver comprehensive and specialized services to survivors. “The program is building relationships with community organizations like the Trauma and Disaster Recovery Clinic at the University of Denver (a subgrantee), by providing technical assistance and bringing providers together through an interdisciplinary consortium to develop and disseminate best practices for supporting survivors,” explains Ariel Zarate, the IRC in Denver’s Survivors of Torture Clinical Case Manager.  Through these relationships and advocacy efforts, the program assists survivors in accessing medical, mental health, and legal services. Legal services are particularly important, as many survivors are lacking legal status or find their legal status in jeopardy. They are highly vulnerable and many local community resources are strained or simply insufficient to address their unique needs. The IRC in Denver now provides in-house legal services for survivors of torture, including asylum representation, in partnership with a network of pro bono attorneys who are recruited, trained and mentored by the office’s legal team.

In addition to basic medical and mental health needs and legal support, the Survivor Wellness Center emphasizes the importance of social and community-based support systems with the goal of clients becoming self-sufficient and engaged members of society. “I have been impressed by the sheer resilience of this population,” says Zarate. “These individuals have endured abhorrent violations of their bodies and spirit, and are often subjected to continuous hardships and barriers to finding safety and building a life in the US.”

Community-based healing is an important tool for survivors to learn to trust people again after facing physical, psychological, and/or sexual torture. “The social aspect of the program focuses on community integration with the intention of recreating a sense of home and normalcy,” says Zarate. “We offer survivors opportunities to get out and interact with their community by attending football games, going to museums, and engaging in other everyday activities that allow them to feel part of the community and develop relationships.”

Under the umbrella of the Psychosocial Support Program, is the IRC in Denver’s New Roots Program, which facilitates client engagement in gardening and access to fresh foods. The program creates safe and welcoming opportunities for new immigrant populations to meet and network with their new neighbors, creating tighter-knit, safer and more economically and culturally vibrant communities. The gardening component of the program has been incredibly powerful and supportive for Survivor Wellness Center clients. “I have seen clients appear radiant and light up after spending time in the garden,” shares Zarate. “Connecting to the ground physically has helped them create a sense of place in Denver. They feel quite literally rooted to the land and begin to understand what safety can look like.”

For more information regarding the Survivor Wellness Center, or to access services, please contact jordan.enger [at] rescue.org.

The Survivor Wellness Center is made possible by competitive funding awarded through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for children and Families, Grant# 90ZT0204. The project is financed with 75% federal funds and 25% private funds generously contributed to the IRC in Denver by corporate, foundation, and individual donors.