One of the shops along Jackson Street in downtown Harlingen is a thrift store that not only recycles old clothes and other merchandise, it fosters new beginnings for victims of domestic family violence and sexual assault. The small retail outlet is operated by the Family Crisis Center of the Rio Grande Valley.
“Repeat Performance generates revenue that comes back into the center to help us run the center,” said Laura Martinez, executive director of the Family Crisis Center, which offers services to victims in northern Cameron County and all of Willacy County. The small store is jammed with racks of clothes, shoes, household items, books and other miscellaneous merchandise for sale at deeply discounted prices.
And the shop has a more direct impact on domestic violence victims than simply helping with the organization’s finances. “Sometimes when our victims leave an emergency situation, they leave with just the clothes on their backs,” Martinez said. “If they need clothes, we give them a voucher and they can go in and get what they need. Victims do not pay for anything they get there.”
Repeat Performance is managed by Yolanda Bonilla, the shop’s only paid employee. Bonilla started out as a volunteer for two years before becoming store manager. She has worked there for 16 years and her story is a testament to the work done by the Family Crisis Center.
“I think it is a wonderful program,” she said. “And I think it means a lot more when you have had a personal experience, and I have been there.” But Bonilla does not see herself as a victim. “I call myself a survivor. I sought help by phone and I got counseling. And it changed my life.”
Martinez said Repeat Performance helps victims succeed in starting to turn their lives around. When someone has escaped a violent domestic situation and relocated to get a fresh start, they can get help furnishing an apartment, for example, or dressing for success when looking for a job. “A lot of the professional clothing we receive, we try to hold it for our clients for job interviews or if they have to go to court for some reason. So we want people to know that any professional clothing they donate, we are using it for our clients that need it for job searching and other things.”
Repeat Performance revenues are part of the Family Crisis Center’s annual operating budget of about $900,000, which funds shelter for victims, legal advocacy programs, counseling, a 24-hour hotline, public education and more. “Grants are our biggest source of funding for victims’ services,” Martinez said. “But our budget also includes donations, regular contributions we receive from the community and fundraising efforts that our board does every year.”
Repeat Performance accepts donations of all kinds, from clothes to furniture to household items to entertainment like movies and music. Bonilla said the shop even happily accepts old shopping bags and newspapers. “We recycle just about everything. We recycle bags, we don’t purchase our own bags for merchandise. We use old newspaper for wrapping purchases.”
The Family Crisis Center, through Repeat Performance, also partners with Loaves and Fishes, a nonprofit that services the area homeless community. “They send some of their donations over here, and then they get vouchers so their clients can shop for clothes for free,” Bonilla said.
Established in 1981, the Family Crisis Center today boasts extensive services for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. What began as an all-volunteer effort, the center has grown to 23 full-time staff members and volunteers who perform various job duties and provide services that benefit clients, as well as community outreach in the form of educational and violence prevention programs.