Ser Familia: Creating a Healthier Latino Community
By: Johanes Rosello
More than 30,000 Latinos in Georgia have benefited from a family-centered program created 14 years ago by, of all sources, a couple on the brink of divorce. “We had a separation period in our relationship and in the process of organizing everything to get divorced, someone recommended a couples workshop and it helped us a lot,” said Belisa Urbina, in reference to a program she and her husband, Miguel, attended in Puerto Rico in 1994.
Upon moving to Georgia, however, the couple found themselves not only missing out on the follow-up meetings and camaraderie offered to participants of the aforementioned workshop, but they were surprised and disappointed to not find similar programs available here. For “selfish” reasons, according to Miguel, the couple decided to open their own, “Our idea was to have a couples program that would continue to help the two of us as a couple. We weren’t trying to create an organization,” he said.
From there, the Urbinas began organizing couples workshops in their church, initially not knowing how much interest there would be but quickly realizing there was a great need. “We had requests to do one [workshop] a month and sometimes even more than that. In 2001, ‘Renovación Conyugal’ (Conjugal Renovation) was born. For couples like Marco and Mónica Martínez, participating in the program was the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship with the organization. “Nine years ago we started going to the couple’s workshop out of curiosity, we fell in love with the project and they gave us the opportunity to become volunteers,” said Monica. Support of volunteers like the Martinez family made Renovación Conyugal able to expand and begin providing services such as a youth workshop, parenting class, and a program for survivors of domestic violence, as well as mental health resources.
The organization adopted the name ‘Ser Familia’ in 2013. For participant Juan Carlos Mejía, the meaning behind the new name has been particularly significant. After arriving to the United States from his native Colombia, Mejía found in the youth program ‘Renovación Juvenil,’ a place to heal his wounds after his father’s passing. “This organization gave me a family and I don’t know how to repay them,” said Mejía, who is now a volunteer. Belisa and Miguel, whose five children also volunteer, feel that Mejía and others truly do become like family members. The key to the program’s success, according to Belisa, is that she and her husband always maintain an open and honest dialogue about the problems they have experienced in their marriage, and they work diligently to help couples identify their own marital issues and find the hope and tools necessary to move forward in their relationships.
Nowadays the Urbinas hope is to continue expanding and look forward to the day when their three granddaughters, ages 4 years , 6 months and two months can participate and volunteer. “There have been moments of frustration, but each and every one of those days has been worth it,” assured Belisa.