Post # 1
I’m currently unemployed and looking for a job, but in the meantime I thought I’d do some volunteering.
I came across a listing for a rape relief and women’s shelter, which is a transition house for women and their children and they also provide a 24 crisis line for women who are trying to prevent or escape male violence.
Part of the job description says that volunteers offer emotional support, advocacy, and accompaniment to raped and/or battered women, and women dealing with male violence.
Now, have any of you volunteered or worked for an organization such as this? I’m just wondering how intense and traumatic it would be. I’d like to volunteer for an organization that is meaningful to me, but I’m not sure if I could handle it emotionally and psychologically.
Any advice or thoughts? Or could you just tell me about your volunteer experiences (good or bad)?
Post # 3
I’m currently volunteering for an organization that provides educational and emotional support for incarcerated adults and their families on the outside. I started working with them while I was transitioning between jobs, but unfortunately had to cut my involvement a bit because I am now teaching full time. I have started to help coordinate family social events during jail visits, especially around the holidays, and mainly focused around the children. I really enjoy it. In college, I volunteered for Habitat for Humanity and a local tutoring and college prep program for at-risk high school students. Great experiences.
Some positions and organizations can bring about some pretty real baggage. It really depends on your personality and adaptability. Personally, I’m kind of used to high stress and intense circumstances – I teach and work with children with severe cognitive delays and behaviorial challenges (physically and emotionally assaultive), so I’m a bit used to intense situations.
I think volunteering is a great way to give back to your community and feel involved in a much greater purpose. The rewards are truly endless, and it’s a wonderful way to network and meet some awesome people. I strongly encourage you to give it a shot – definitely be prepared for some upsetting stories and depressing circumstances, but just remind yourself of the service you are providing and how gracious the women are who are receiving it.
Post # 4
Though I’m not currently volunteering, I spent a large part of my college years working on a suicide and crisis hotline. And, despite the high intensity of the work, it was great because the people I volunteered with and my supervisor were some of the most amazing people I’ve met (especially my supervisor. One of the best people I’ve met, ever). I’m sure I could tell you a lot of stories, but that would be a long posting. 🙂 But, yeah generally some really hard and incredibly amazing experiences with people. And really, doing that really impacted who I am today. (Sounds cheesy, though it’s totally true).
Additionally…part of my graduate school education included interning in quite a few different environments–in-patient psychiatry, day treatment with teens, and outpatient services. All intense environments for different reasons, and all good experiences for different reasons. And in each situation, I learned SO much, and had some really wonderful (and extremely challenging times).
My advice–if you do choose to work in an environment like supporting victims of rape and sexual abuse (REALLY intense work), make sure that #1, you have a great supervisor and volunteer peers, and #2, that you have a LOT of support in your own life. Working in high stress situations brings out a lot of your own personal stuff that you may not have realized you had. There’s all kinds of fun psychological/Freudian type terms for it, but essentially, you can be forced to confront things about yourself you didn’t realize could be so bothersome. Which is why the support (both at the volunteer placement and outside of it), is SOOOOOOOOO important.
That being said, doing intense volunteer work like that can be amongst the most amazing things you can do–helping people can be SO rewarding and so amazing, and can really be life changing. So, I definitely suggest it. 🙂 And good luck!
Post # 5
I volunteer a lot. I actually started my own challenge – to volunteer 250 hours in 2011. I started a blog and wanted my friends to join in whenever they could! I work for a large non-profit organization also, as the Volunteer Resources Coordinator.
I don’t have any advice directly related to volunteering at a rape relief/women’s shelter, but I think it’s amazing that you’re considering it. I’m sure it would be very rewarding to both you and to the clients you’d be helping. I agree with PP and make sure you have a good network of people both at the organization, and also at home that you can talk to about it.
Good luck, I’d love to hear what you decide!
Post # 6
I think it’s great that you’re looking at volunteering! I volunteer 4-5 hours every week at a Free Medical Clinic. I work in the medical field, and this is a wonderful fit for me. I think it’s important to identify what you’re strengths are and taylor your volunteering to that if possible. Can you talk to anyone who currently volunteers there to find out what it’s really like? Would they allow you to shadow someone? Do they have a formal training program that you will go through so you are taught how to deal with all aspects of volunteering (ex. physical and emotional needs of clients)?
Post # 7
@MsGolightly: I’m currently training as a volunteer for the rape relief and women’s shelter in Vancouver. I have exactly the same concerns as you do.
From what I understand so far, there are a lot of ways to help out at the transition house besides working on the crisis lines. I went for my first orientation at the house recently and spent a few hours doing dishes, sweeping, chatting with the women, and looking after a baby whose mom needed a little break. There’s plenty to do behind the scenes.
But if you want to read about experiences, and how to cope with them, this is a really good resource: http://ask.metafilter.com/164598/Help-me-to-be-of-good-help
Post # 8
Thanks for your input ladies. I truly appreciate it.
@jayce: That’s exactly the place I’m looking at to volunteer for, since I’m in Vancouver now. What made you choose this organization? Do you have previous experience doing stuff like this? I’m really interested to hear about your experiences there. Would you mind PMing me your thoughts about it?
I am really interested in doing this, but I still don’t know if I can handle it. Unlike @izziebear I’m not used to intense, high-stress environments like this. I feel like I might end up taking everything very personally and internalizing some things. I also tend to dwell on ‘disturbing’ stories I read about in the news, so I feel like I’ll not be able to shut off from this job once I get home, you know?
I’m really going to give this a long, hard think, because the last thing I’d want to do is leave halfway through training or something because I can’t deal with it. I need to be honest with myself. But either way, I’ll end up volunteering my time somewhere.
@Ryansgirl: I’ll definitely let you know what I end up deciding. Good luck to you with your 250 hours in 2011! Amazing.
@judithsr: I know exactly what you mean about having a great support network at the organization and at home. I was discussing the possibility of working at this centre with my SO and he has the same worries I do, because he knows how I get about this subject material… but maybe like @izziebear said, I just have to prepare myself and know that I’m making a difference.
@EvaBostonTerrier: They do have formal training, which is great. The link that @jayce sent is awesome because it is a posting where people write about their experiences in a shelter such as this one. Very helpful. Also, I totally agree with finding a position that works with my strengths. I’m sure I’ll find one!
Thanks again for all of the advice everyone!
Post # 9
@MsGolightly: I volunteer at the oncology ward of a local hospital once a week – which is obviously quite different from a rape relief center, wanted to chime in. I think when you train, they’ll help you learn about boundaries and protecting yourself from what are potentially traumatic situations. Plus it’s great for taking taking things in your own life for granted. I say go for it!
Post # 10
@MissBoston: That’s so great that you volunteer in oncology. I feel like I really do want to push myself out of my comfort zone, and I’m hoping that the training would enable me to protect myself at the same time. I agree that I’m sure it would help me to not take my life for granted either. I’m sure I’d appreciate my SO on a whole new level.
Post # 11
I’m also unemployeed and volunteering. Right now I volunteer at the library…it’s not exactly a “rape and suicide” kind of environment, haha. But it’s a good environment for me. Methodical, fun, and I get to work with books. The librarians seem to appreciate my obsessive-compulsive sorting. 😛
I hope you find a place you enjoy and can really contribute to! If you do decide to work for the women’s shelter, good luck!
Post # 12
I volunteer all the time! I love it! In college I use to volunteer in a house set up through Mercy Hospital for women with children who were abused, homeless, ect. It was so fun and yes the stories were always sad, but I just always went there with the mind set that I was there to help with a new happier chapter in their lives, and it’s not to smile back when somebody smiles at you! Plus once I started playing with the kids it’s hard to not start laughing and having fun! I miss a lot of those kids and moms and I always hope they are doing well!
I use to volunteer at a house that provided a place for families to stay who had children with chronic illnesses in the hospital and the families couldn’t afford a hotel room to stay in. That was hard to see the worry on the parents faces every day, but most of them had pretty positive outlooks and they really truely appreciated everything we did to help them.
I now do a lot of volunteer work with people with developmental disabilities who are 18+ I have been really busy work lately so I usually just try to help out at a local teen center that holds a dance every other saturday for them. It’s fun but it is def. the most taxing volunteer work I have done. I help monitor a lot of bf/gf break ups and make ups, and name calling. Sometimes it reminds me of my high school dances but they are always a blast!
Post # 13
I volunteer for a local animal rescue group as a “foster mom”. We don’t have a shelter so all our animals are living temporarily in volunteer homes until they get adopted. I’m fostering an adorable one year cat right now. It’s a lot of fun!
Post # 14
@MsGolightly: I didn’t really choose this organization over any other… I guess I was just looking for some volunteer work to do and this one jumped out at me. I don’t any previous experience doing this, so I’m really quite clueless! Sorry I don’t have more to share with you, but I’ll tell you what I know so far…
There are six classroom training sessions. It’s half like a class where you learn from the women who run the sessions, and half like a big group discussion where we share our experiences as women. Each session focuses on a different aspect, everything from current women’s issues, to raising public awareness and fundraising, to how to take a call on the crisis line. There are also a couple of homework assignments to turn in.
You also do four orientation sessions at the transition house. You sign up for these sessions to suit your own schedule, but ideally you’re supposed to finish the last orientation at about the same time you finish your last training session so that you can start officially volunteering at the house.
You’re also required to help out with fundraising for a day. The day that I went out to fundraise, our group raised over $4000. That felt great!!
I haven’t finished the training or orientation yet, so I haven’t officially worked a shift at the house. I haven’t had a chance to sit in on the phone calls yet, but from what I hear from the other women you’ll definitely have a chance to see what it’s like to take a call before you have to decide if you can do it or not. They won’t just throw you in the deep end and see if you sink or swim!
And If it turns out that taking crisis calls is really not your forte, there is still a lot you can help with behind the scenes. If you’re really worried, I’d highly recommend giving them a call. The women are really, really nice and I’m sure many of them had the same concerns as you when they first started out. They’ll be happy to talk to you about it and share their own experiences.
I also want you to know that you shouldn’t feel bad about showing up to training when you’re still uncertain about doing the volunteer work. You’re not wasting anyone’s time, and even if you don’t end up volunteering, the women who run the organization are just glad to see other women taking an interest and learning about what they do. Most of the sessions I went to had about 40 women show up. There’s plenty of room for everyone, and lots of women don’t stay on to volunteer. Don’t let your uncertainty stop you from checking it out! Maybe I’ll see you at the house sometime!
Post # 15
Back in high school, I did habitat for humanity. In college, I volunteered at a hospital.
Now, I do i’m involved in my job’s volunteer group, where I donate supplies to a teen center or work at a food kitchen for the local shelters. I don’t know is this is techniquely volunteering but I do donated blood and I am now a member of the bone marrow registry.
Overall, they have all been good. I would do them over again if I had the time.
Post # 16
I have volunteered in the rape crisis field for many years. In college, I taught classes on sexual assault, drug-facilitated assault, and relationship violence/healthy relationships to fellow college students through a student organization. That provided a good background for my current volunteer work, as often students would approach me after a class and disclose incidents.
For the past two years, I have been a volunteer victim advocate. I work a 6pm to 6am shift once a week, answering sexual assault hotline calls as well as responding to the hospital when an SA shows up in the emergency room. I will say that while it is an incredibly rewarding experience, your first few calls will be quite difficult. Training with a rape crisis center thankfully includes self-help lessons, where you will be taught how to distance yourself, protect yourself from emotional distress, and so on. I’m sure you will also be encouraged to speak with staff if a case ever gets to you. You will have to sign a confidentiality agreement and won’t be able to discuss cases with others, so it is good to rely on staff.
After two years, I do still find some cases particularly hard. Any time I get called to the pediatric emergency room, my heart still breaks. If I get a case with a victim that is a high school student, I still find myself calling my little sisters the next day “just to check in.”
This volunteer work is not for everyone, but if the issue is something meaningful to you, I certainly encourage you to give it a try. If it proves to be too much, there is always something less hands-on that you can do to help the rape crisis center (filing, childcare during parenting classes for non-offending parents, speakers bureau.