Safe Berks announced Friday the appointment of Mereliss Colon Ortiz as the organization’s chief operating officer, effective Monday.
Colon Ortiz has served Safe Berks since 2006 in the Safe House, providing shelter and services to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Since 2017, she has served as director of residential services at the Reading shelter.
When Colon Ortiz joined the staff as a bilingual counselor/advocate, Safe Berks was known as Berks Women in Crisis, and clients were sheltered in a secret location. She has been promoted several times during her tenure, including serving as drug-and-alcohol counselor and a weekend supervisor in the shelter.
In 2012, when Berks Women in Crisis moved to the current building at 255 Chestnut St., Colon Ortiz was promoted as assistant director of residential services.
“Mereliss Colon Ortiz has a long history with this organization and has grown with us as we transitioned from BWIC to Safe Berks, and from our previous location to our great new facility,” said Beth Garrigan, who has served as chief operating officer the past two years and will lead Safe Berks as CEO effective Monday. “She is passionate about the work we do and every survivor we serve.”
As a survivor of domestic violence herself, Colon Ortiz said in a press release from the organization that she understands the danger and the fear that every client of Safe Berks faces. Social distancing and family isolation required to stop the spread of COVID-19 has increased danger to people trapped at home with abusers, she said.
Colon Ortiz said her short-term goals include continuing to provide 24-hour services despite the challenges of the COVID-19 health crisis. Her long-term goals include increased education to all residents of Berks County about Safe Berks and the free services available.
Another long-term goal is to partner with agencies at other locations who provide education and rehabilitation to abusers.
“The abusers are part of this equation,” Colon Ortiz said. “Even if we can reach a small percentage of abusers, and make them aware of the damage they cause, and help them change, that will help prevent domestic violence.”
Safe Berks also announced Friday that Aleida Rodriguez has been named to succeed Colon Ortiz as director of residential services.
Rodriguez has served the organization for the past 12 years, most recently as assistant director of residential services.
The organization is seeking an assistant director of residential services.