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New Tampa Bay domestic violence shelter will bring hope for farmworkers

Isaret Jeffers, a Mexican immigrant and founder of Colectivo Arbol, seeks to help victims of domestic abuse.
Isaret Jeffers, of  Colectivo Arbol, opened a shelter about two hours from Tampa. It has four rooms and is surrounded by three acres.
Isaret Jeffers, of Colectivo Arbol, opened a shelter about two hours from Tampa. It has four rooms and is surrounded by three acres. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Aug. 23

PLANT CITY - During the last two years, Isaret Jeffers has worked more than ever around the fields of Plant City donating food to farm workers, organizing vaccination drives and giving notebooks and backpacks to low-income students.

But this week she added another commitment to the immigrant community. She opened a shelter to help rural women who are victims of domestic abuse.

“The shelter is for those who suffer violence and abuse in their homes,” said Jeffers, 49. “It is an initiative that is going to help the peasant community a lot.”

The daughter of Mexican farmworkers, Jeffers is the founder of Colectivo Árbol, a nonprofit created to help communicate reliable information to Hispanic and farmworker communities across Central Florida. Jeffers started Colectivo Árbol in Kissimmee during 2017 as Puerto Ricans fled for Central Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

Jeffers said the shelter is “in a safe and reliable area” about two hours from Tampa. It has four rooms and is surrounded by three acres that victims can use in their recovery process.

“The idea is that these women recover quickly and feel that they can be useful to themselves and the community, but above all by doing something that they are familiar with, which is harvesting the land,” Jeffers said. “It’s a challenge.”

Jeffers said they have a team of volunteers, spiritual counselors and an immigration attorney who will work with the project.

Their efforts will expand through counseling and workshops. Colectivo Árbol gets support from individuals, government agencies such as the Mexican Consulate in Orlando, and small businesses including dozens of Greek-owned stores and restaurants in Tarpon Springs.

“There is a lot to do because many times these women do not seek help due to the language barrier, the ignorance of their rights or the fear of leaving home with their child in their arms and without financial support,” said Jeffers.

According to the Florida Department of Children and Families between 22 and 25 percent of all women will experience domestic violence at some point during their lives.

In fiscal year 2019-20, authorities in Florida reported 105,298 crimes of domestic violence, resulting in 66,069 arrests. Also during this period Florida’s certified domestic violence centers provided 563,721 nights of emergency shelter. More than14,800 survivors of domestic violence and their children were allocated in shelters across the state.

Kirk Ray Smith, president and chief executive officer with Hope Villages of America, a nonprofit in Pinellas that runs a domestic violence shelter for about 50 women, said that community efforts and initiatives for the immigrant community are essential.

“It is a job that requires a lot of effort and dedication but is widely needed in the community,” Smith said.

Amid the pandemic, domestic violence has taken a more complex turn, especially in the underprivileged community. In many cases, COVID-19 has created a scenario where friends or coworkers are not interacting with victims as often as they were before the pandemic.

“There are several elements to consider when you talk about domestic abuse and the pandemic,” Smith said.

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Nancy Hernandez, a former victim of domestic abuse and a founder of a nonprofit in Tampa — Mujeres Restauradas por Dios, or Women Restored by God — said that the most important thing is to empower women to achieve new goals in their lives.

Hernandez organizes community events and public campaigns, like ¡No more Silence!, to end domestic abuse and to raise awareness of the problem.

“It is like being born again, at slow but steady steps,” Hernandez said.

COVID-19 also has exacerbated domestic violence because some abusers have used the pandemic as a justification to isolate their victims, said Jeffers.

“Within context it’s critical to offer a pathway to reach opportunities and an economic independence,” she said,

So she called for donations and funds to ensure she can continue to help their community.

“The doors are always open to get all the help you can give us,” Jeffers said.

If you are interested in donating, contact Isaret Jeffers at or (407) 307-6090.