The Victim Empowerment Program's mission is to provide confidential assistance to FIU students, faculty, staff, and university visitors who have been victimized through threatened or actual violence and to support the healing process. Traditional college-aged students are an at-risk population for violence, and staff are dedicated to assisting students remain successful in their academic pursuits. In addition, the Center seeks to enhance safety and promote healthy relationships by sponsoring awareness activities, prevention education, peer education and collaborating with university officials. Through clinical practice and research, the VEP aims to contribute to the body of knowledge and influence public policy regarding to issues related to victimization.
Sharon "Sherry" Aaron, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is the Director of the Victim Empowerment Program within FIU Counseling and Psychological Services, and has served as Director of FIU's victim services since 2001. She is the former Principal Investigator of a $1.5 million national initiative of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention aimed at identifying and intervening in cases of intimate partner violence in health care settings. Previously, Ms. Aaron served as the Advocacy Director of the Dependency Court Intervention Program for Family Violence, also a national demonstration program, supported by a U.S. Department of Justice grant to Miami's Juvenile Court. Designed to identify and meet the needs of abused children and their battered mothers in the child protection system, the program has been recognized by the National Academy of Sciences Research Council. Ms. Aaron was part of the team that planned, developed and implemented the program. In addition, she designed and supervised the intensive case management and intervention protocol. Ms. Aaron has published, and also presented nationally and locally on domestic violence. At FIU, Ms. Aaron secured a $605,500 grant award from U.S. Violence Against Women Grants Office to coordinate a university and community task force that developed FIU policy and procedures related to interpersonal violence. Throughout her tenure at FIU, Ms. Aaron has secured $889,000 in grants to serve victims of violence. Ms. Aaron is also engaged in coordination efforts within the community; she is past Chair of the Dade County Alliance Against Domestic Violence, and past co-chair of the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Council of Greater Miami. Other community efforts include past service on the Dade County Domestic Violence Fatality Review Team, and since 2008, she has been a member on the Domestic Violence Oversight Board of Miami-Dade County, appointed by the County Commission. Currently, Ms. Aaron is engaged in research related to the effectiveness of batterer intervention programs.
Armeen Irani MSW, LCSW is an alumnus of FIU's School of Social Work and she currently serves as the Assistant Director of the Victim Empowerment Program. Prior to coming to FIU, Armeen had been practicing as a therapist in the Miami Dade community specializing in the areas of individual and relationship counseling; working with young women facing homelessness, domestic violence and issues related to substance abuse. Armeen has also worked as clinical faculty at Florida International University and Florida Memorial University's Schools of Social Work. Armeen believes that each person reaching out for help deserves to be heard and helped in a manner that is best for them.
Lisa Simpson MS, LMHC is the Lead Advocate with the Victim Empowerment Program and a graduate of Nova Southeastern University. Lisa has been practicing in the South Dade community for many years specializing in Multisystemic therapy and Cognitive behavioral interventions. Most recently Lisa worked with moderate to high risk adolescents in the juvenile justice system and their families to prevent residential placement and recidivism. Prior to this as a Trust Specialist with the MDCPS system, Lisa provided crisis intervention and group counseling. Lisa has worked extensively in providing psycho educational workshops addressing healthy relationships; sexual health, and pregnancy prevention.
Brenda Lagunas MSW, LCSW is an alumnus of FIU's School of Social Work and joined the VEP team as a Victim Advocate Counselor earlier this year. Brenda brings with her several years of experience providing individual, couples and group counseling to clients who have experienced sexual assault, domestic violence and high conflict relationships. Brenda has worked in collaboration with many South Florida community partners including local trade colleges, vocational schools and Miami Dade public schools to provide outreach and education related to domestic violence, sexual assault and healthy relationships. Brenda's work is focused on empowering and enhancing the overall well-being of her clients and making a difference, one life at a time.
Jeanine Wooden MSW, LCSWI joined the VEP team in November 2015. Jeanine is an FIU alumnus who comes to us with several years of experience working with individuals and families who have experienced trauma. Prior to coming to FIU, Jeanine worked in the Child welfare field with a focus on adolescents and youth aging out of foster care. As a therapist she specialized in areas of abuse/neglect, domestic violence and substance abuse. Jeanine has extensive experience working with local law enforcement and courts, community agencies, and schools in developing and delivering services to at risk youth and families. Jeanine has a passion for empowering individuals acquire the tools necessary to attain personal success.
Wendy X. Ordóñez H. M.A. T. Miss Ordóñez has been working with the Victim Empowerment Program since 2004. She started as a Peer Educator and became the Outreach Coordinator for the Center in 2007. She plans, recruits, and coordinates the Annual Peer Education Training and has revitalized and expanded the peer education program. She is also in charge of creating, marketing and branding campaigns for Counseling & Psychological Services. She has extensive public speaking experience having presented for thousands of students and managed the scheduling of prevention and awareness presentations about Sexual Assault, Relationship Violence, and Stalking intended for the University Community. Miss Ordóñez completed her Master of Art in Teaching Art Education at Florida International University in 2010.
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