Authors Articles byJoycelyn Cabrera

Joycelyn Cabrera

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IF YOU GO
What: Great Gatsby Seeds of Change Gala
When: Feb. 29, 6 p.m.
Where: Province Town Hall
20942 N. Province Parkway
How much: $50
Benefiting: Against Abuse
Info: SeedsOfChangeGala.org

Against Abuse Inc. hosts its 15th annual Seeds of Change Gala Feb. 29 to fund maintenance and operational expenses for its Maricopa shelter for women and children, La Casa de Paz.

The event will be held at Province Town Hall. Tickets are available for $50 and will be limited to 300 guests.

“It’s always been a way for businesses to come together and network and share their passion of helping the community with one common goal,” said Torri Anderson, Gala chairperson and Against Abuse board member. “And that’s what the shelter does.”

This year’s gala, advertised as a “Great Gatsby Gala,” is Roaring ‘20s themed. Costumes are welcome, and the night will include food, DJ, raffle and silent auction.

The first gala was held in February 2006 and raised $60,000 to fund construction for the Maricopa shelter. Against Abuse Inc. received a $300,000 donation from the Ak-Chin Indian Community for completion.

Now, funding goes directly to upkeep and operations.

“To keep the building open, it takes about $100,000 a year,” Anderson said. “That can go up or down depending on if a waterline breaks or a freezer goes down. That’s what we plan on for people, salaries, light, electricity, kind of everything for an entire year.”

Against Abuse Inc. has provided services and support for survivors of violence in Pinal County since 1981. Fundraising for the organization in Maricopa began in 2005, and the Maricopa emergency shelter was opened in 2015. Against Abuse has been continuously raising awareness of local resources for survivors of violence.

After years of selling out, those considering attending are advised to purchase tickets early for the 21-and-older event.

“People can come up in their Great Gatsby outfits, have a good time and support a cause that’s near and dear to your heart,” Anderson said.


This story appears in the February issue of InMaricopa.

Vinny Fiordilino of Brooklyn Boys Italian Restaurant. Photo by Joycelyn Cabrera

 

As the final fixed increase to minimum wage hits, local businesses are adjusting.

Jan. 1, the state of Arizona increased minimum wage from $11 to $12, after several increases from previous years. In 2021 and beyond, Arizona’s minimum wage will change based on the cost of living in the state.

Local business owners shared the struggles of running a home-grown business under rising minimum wage, costing the employers more money from limited resources.

Headquarters Restaurant and Bar owner Alma Farrell discussed tough choices the eatery has to make. Since the minimum-wage increases started in 2016, she has had to raise prices.

Alma Farrell, owner of Headquarters. Photo by Joycelyn Cabrera

“You have to keep your customers happy because they don’t want you to raise the prices, but how can you not raise them? How do you keep your vendors happy?” Farrell said. “That’s the biggest issue, is trying to find the balance to raise the wages for your employees, keep the vendors that you have, and keeping the customers happy.”

Arizona voters passed Proposition 206, the Fair Wages and Healthy Families Act, in November 2016, when minimum wage was $8.05. The initiative implemented two measures into law: minimum wage increases until 2020 and paid sick-time requirements.

Brooklyn Boys has been a locally owned restaurant in Maricopa since 2007. The owner of the New York-style Italian restaurant, Vincent “Vinny” Fiordilino adjusts the budget with each minimum-wage increase.

“Looking at a different point of view as an owner, especially when business is kind of slow, it hurts. It hurts a lot because you’re always on a tight budget,” Fiordilino said. “It’s a rough business, no matter what kind of store you have, but you adapt and you go with the flow. You try to make the best out of it.”

The Industrial Commission of Arizona implements and enforces Prop 206’s requirements.

The current state minimum wage far exceeds the federal minimum wage of $7.25, which Arizona has been above since 2010, when the state last matched the nation’s hourly wage. According to the U.S Department of Labor, in 2011, Arizona raised its minimum wage 10 cents above the federal wage and has been increasing it ever since.

 

Pat Kieny of Native Grill and Wings

Maricopa’s Native Grill and Wings is part of a chain of locations across Arizona, Texas and Illinois. The raises since 2016 have caused layoffs and cut hours while the restaurant figured out ways to reduce supply costs. Native Grill also had to recover from a months’ long closure in 2019 after a fire.

“Some places end up closing and stuff like that when minimum wage continues go up. It’s too early to tell how it’s going to affect us,” owner Pat Kieny said of the latest increase. “Hopefully it’s not too damaging. So, all we can do is wait and see and keep moving forward.”

 Another demographic affected by the minimum wage increase is the employees. Maricopa High School graduate Harrison Edmondson, a full-time Arizona State University student studying supply-chain management, said his major gave him a lot more insight into how minimum wage can affect people within the same community very differently.

Harrison Edmondson

“Small business-wise, they rely so much on community support and community engagement, that when they have their operating costs increase, they’re going to have to lay people off or cut hours, benefits,” said Edmondson, who works as a community assistant for ASU and previously worked at Fry’s. “But, unfortunately, if they can’t afford to pay these workers and decrease the profit margin a little bit to cut the labor cost, I just feel like they may need to reevaluate the business model.”

Edmondson said he has struggled to keep up with expenses despite the increases in pay.

“Budgeting was always something that I tried to do, but considering the amount of money I made, I still wasn’t able to cover my basic expenses. I had to get a credit card to help cover the expenses, so I have a little bit of credit card debt right now,” Edmondson said. “Personally, whatever medical expenses come up for me, I am basically not able to pay those at all.”

According to the U.S Department of Education, the average cost of in-state college tuition in Arizona was $9,337 from the 2018–19 academic year. This does not include housing or other costs. This is $1,114 less than the previous year (10.7% decrease). This also is representative of one academic year; students will typically pay four to six years of university tuition.

Arizona now has the fifth highest minimum wage in the country, tying with Maine and Colorado, which share the $12 hourly wage, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Only Washington, California and Massachusetts are higher.

Antonio Gonzales

Maricopan Antonio Gonzales is a full-time ASU student who also has to make ends meet working entry-level jobs while attending school. He is currently employed at a Chipotle.

“I think it’s a good thing, but I don’t think it’s going to solve all of the problems that everybody thinks it will,” Gonzales said. “Minimum wage jobs aren’t for people that are trying to support a family and pay off the house and all that stuff. It’s an entry-level job, and then people use that and build into a career where they can afford that stuff.”

Local government is also affected by minimum-wage jumps, as many minimum-wage employees provide various services for the City of Maricopa. Spokesman Adam Wolfe said the City has 71 employees impacted.

The 2018 median household income for Maricopa sits at $68,908, 16% higher than the state’s $59,246, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

Over the past decade, the average annual cost-of-living adjustment has been about 1.5%. The cost of living in Maricopa has risen 2.2% during the past year, with the biggest increases in transportation and food, though housing is edging up, too.

 Minimum wage will continue to increase to accommodate any rising cost of living, which means some years may see no increase, large increases or small increases depending on what is deemed necessary by the Industrial Commission.

“Hopefully, it’ll get easier from this point on,” Fiordilino said. “I’m all for this for the employees, because I used to be an employee once before being an owner, and I understand what kind of hardship they go through, making a living. However, being an owner has its perks and disadvantages. Owning a business is not easy.”


This story appears in the February issue of InMaricopa.

Center helps public safety, nonprofits embrace domestic violence victims

After a year in operation, Maricopa Family Advocacy Center has proved its necessity in the community’s efforts to combat domestic assault.

It joined Against Abuse Inc. in assisting survivors of domestic violence. Those who live in Maricopa can seek shelter or medical attention close to home, which has not always been the case.

 

 

 

“Can you imagine getting sexually assaulted and then getting into a car with a stranger?” said Mary Witkofski, founder of the Maricopa Family Advocacy Center. “Victims sometimes decline participating in the criminal justice system due to the amount of travel, or decline in getting that examination.”

Witkofski is programs manager with the Maricopa Police Department. Before the center opened in January 2019, survivors had to turn to law enforcement or travel to the nearest center for medical care and investigative procedures with victim’s advocates – more than 45 minutes away to Eloy, San Tan or Mesa.

The long travel times for treatment is a contributor to unreported cases and women staying with their abusers, according to Dynia Abraham, domestic and sexual violence residential services director for Against Abuse Inc.

“One of the first questions after disclosure that they say is, ‘Where is it? How far? Is this something that takes a really long time?’ because people are in crisis in that moment in time,” Abraham said. “And when those answers were different,’ we would get a lot more, ‘No, thank you, I just want to go take a shower and lay down.’ We don’t see that much anymore. ‘It’ll take 15 minutes,’ and they’ll say, ‘OK.’”

The Turnaround

Dynia Abraham, domestic and sexual violence residential services director for Against Abuse Inc., said her most memorable case at the Maricopa shelter involved a mother and her children becoming self-sufficient while utilizing their resources.

“We had a mom with a few children come into our shelter program, she was married to someone who would not allow her to work or to interact with her children,” Abraham said. “So, her children were at home but she wasn’t allowed to talk to them. She was assaulted, so she came in, we provided domestic violence support group and education for her.

“She was able to get her first job while staying in shelter, her first bank account, driver’s license, she became very independent. She bonded and grew a really deep relationship with her children, she did end up getting employment. After a few months she was able to get an apartment.”

One survivor, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect her and her children from re-victimization, provided perspective.

“Because of what happened, our house was destroyed,” she said. “We were homeless, we couldn’t even move back in. Every window was shattered, one of the bullets had hit a water line so the bottom of the house was six inches in water, the ceilings in the bathroom and laundry room had fallen in; it was an absolute disaster.”

The survivor said the exit plan for her family would have looked much different had she had access to a center in town at the time.

“What would’ve been different and really helpful to me and my family is, because our situation involved a crime other than domestic violence, we were taken to the police station,” she said. “I think they would have taken us to the advocacy center and had the police come there, which would have been a lot easier on the kids and I.”

At the police station, the family was provided a change of clothes after the abuser had died on the scene.

“When you’re at the police station, it [is] an open room with fluorescent lights, and we’re not even wearing our (own) clothes, and we’ve been in a physical fight, and it’s uncomfortable,” she said. “Whereas at the advocacy center, we would’ve felt much more comforted. So, it would’ve made a big difference.”

The Maricopa Family Advocacy Center is a program within the Maricopa Police Department.

MPD Officer Donnie Burnias has firsthand experience responding to domestic violence calls throughout the community. He said he gets them every day.

“It’s probably one of the most common calls in the country,” Burnias said. “Everyone lives together, everyone has problems, and sometimes those problems need the police department to intervene.”

Maricopa Family Advocacy Center 2019
Survivors 96
Interviews with minors and vulnerable adults 50
Assaults: physical, sexual, child abuse, elder abuse, strangulation

Against Abuse Maricopa 2019
Adults 220
Children 189
Nights of housing 15,267

Abuse Reports
Daily calls to domestic-violence hotlines nationwide: 20,000
Arizona hotline calls in 2018: 39,000
Pinal County hotline calls in FY 2019: 706
The Arizona Department of Economic Security estimates 10 million people a year are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States.

Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence reported 73 domestic-violence-related deaths in the state from Jan. 1 to Oct. 31, 2019. That included an incident in Maricopa that resulted in the deaths of two adults and an unborn child.

“I expect the numbers to go up because the services are there and available,” Witkofski said. “More comfortable reporting, not having to travel, having the center here raises awareness.”

According to Witkofski, law enforcement can respond to a call on domestic violence and then bring the victims to the center, or the victim can call crisis lines and request a victim’s advocate to escort them.

“All the patrol officers work very closely with Mary and the FAC (Family Advocacy Center),” Burnias said. “Anytime the Victim’s Assistance Program or DVRT (Domestic Violence Response Team) needs to go to a residence, we go with them.”

Burnias said the role of local police is de-escalating the situation and assisting the survivor with any criminal law questions.

Many survivors have gone through the advocacy center and have been turned over to Against Abuse for emergency housing after initial investigations.

Against Abuse is a nonprofit organization offering resources for survivors of violence. Against Abuse offers emergency resources like the advocacy center, but also long-term resources to guide survivors back into society.

In fiscal 2017, the Arizona Department of Economic Security recognized Against Abuse in a Programs Fund Report for providing the fourth-highest number of shelter overnight stays for men, women and children.

“It’s a really important resource to have,” the survivor said. “Women and children need a place to go, and there are sometimes men also. But we really, really need it here. Sometimes these women come with the clothes on their back if they’re even lucky to have that.”

Advocates from Against Abuse provide calls to places of employment and landlords, legal advocacy, job interview accompaniment and supervised visitation for children, among several other services.

“Our goal is to provide services, support and education to all who experience the effects of family dysfunction or violence,” said Torri Anderson, an Against Abuse board member.

Anderson has worked on the board 15 years, after identifying the need of domestic violence services in Pinal County with various other members. She said the community has become more empathetic and aware of domestic violence survivors compared to other communities around Arizona.

“Domestic violence is a very serious thing,” Burnias said. “It impacts the whole family. It can get to the point where people’s lives are being lost due to domestic violence. We have to be sympathetic to this family and talk to them and kind of figure out how can we assist them, so that both parties are safe from each other, and give them information about the next step.”


This story appears in the January issue of InMaricopa. Joycelyn Cabrera of Maricopa is a student at Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications at ASU.