The California Wellness Foundation chose Community Solutions’
Perla Flores, a passionate advocate for domestic violence and human
trafficking victims, for its selective California Peace Prize.
The California Wellness Foundation chose Community Solutions’ Perla Flores, a passionate advocate for domestic violence and human trafficking victims, for its selective California Peace Prize.
The honor and $25,000 cash prize is awarded each year to three people for their endeavors to prevent violence and promote peace in their communities.
“She’s absolutely committed. For her it’s not just a job, it’s a vocation,” said Erin O’Brien, Community Solutions’ president and CEO. The agency provides treatment, intervention in mental health, assisting child abuse and domestic violence victims among other programs to help communities from South San Jose to San Benito County.
Flores came to Community Solutions eight years ago with no professional experience in advocacy, working in the private sector in coordinating and project management.
“I actually only planned to stay here maybe two years,” Flores said.
But after working as the coordinator of shelter services and experiencing how Community Solutions was able to help the community, Flores knew she had discovered her passion in life.
“It changed her life. It focused her on what she wanted to do in the world, working toward a society that is free of violence,” O’Brien said.
Flores was born in Mexico and moved to the U.S. at age 5 with her family. She said while she never witnessed domestic violence during her upbringing, there were people at agencies similar to Community Solutions who helped to connect her family with the resources they needed.
“They were always empathetic and I always felt I wanted to support the immigrant community,” Flores said.
She will use the $25,000 to pay off student loans – she’s close to completing her master’s degree in public administration.
Flores’ department, Solutions to Violence, works daily to raise community awareness about preventing domestic violence and human trafficking and interacts daily with victims.
She has championed prevention programs in schools and community centers that focus on sexual assault and family violence.
She was instrumental in establishing a facility in Gilroy’s South Valley Medical Center that allows members of Santa Clara County’s Sexual Assault Response Team to gather and address victims needs.
Prior to joining Community Solutions, Flores was a community liaison at East Valley Public Health and a marketing professional working in the private sector.
Flores has been committed to identifying and helping human trafficking victims – an issue most know little about.
“It’s very clandestine. Often, they don’t know they’re being exploited,” Flores said.
Through fraud, force or coercion people can be transported to the United States with a promise of a job or opportunity but are tricked, forced or coerced into sexual slavery or horrendous working conditions, she said.
In Gilroy, a woman originally from Veracruz, Mexico was tricked into immigrating to the U.S. with the promise that she would get a stable job, but was forced into prostitution, abused and held against her will for many years.
“We were able to help her, and others like her, because of education, outreach and connections that work to put the issue of human trafficking on the table,” Flores said.
Twelve victims of human trafficking have been helped by Flores’ team directly.
“Most people are surprised to learn that this can happen in their own backyard,” she said.