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August 10, 2017
Back in April, we brought you a piece from a new volunteer named Sumana, who had just completed her extended volunteer training with REACH. We thought we’d check in with her and see how her first few months of volunteering have gone.
In my first three months as a REACH volunteer, I have the privilege of serving in two different capacities: first providing childcare for survivors’ children during support group sessions and second as a hotline responder. The knowledgeable staff members and experienced volunteers create a smooth and seamless onboarding process easing me into a routine. While these initial few days seem quiet on the surface, I recognize the courage shown by the staff and the survivors in ways big and small on a daily basis. A couple simple stories come to mind, stories of everyday life, but ones that to me showcase the strength of this community.
During my first day as a hotline volunteer, we go through guides on how to support survivors on the hotline. As staff open up about past calls they addressed, the hotline rings and the room turns quiet. A staff member jumps to answer the call and I hold my breath feeling inexplicably on edge. I listen to the initial “hello, this is the hotline,” trying to imagine the scene at the other end. I didn’t get much of a glimpse however, as within seconds, the staff member responds with “I’m sorry, we have no available space at the moment” and the caller hangs up. It’s a jarring moment for a new volunteer like me, a feeling with which the staff are sadly familiar. While other types of calls may require more skills, these prove to be some of the hardest conversations as we turn away survivors due to resource constraints.
At the same time, life continues at a rapid pace at the shelter, barely giving survivors a chance to breathe. During my third month at the shelter, I reflect on the events and changes during my time so far. Already, one of the residents has delivered a child while another resolved some custody issues over her kids. After months and dozens of rental applications, one resident finally prepares for a move-out and another new resident with a child fills an existing open space. During this time, the staff members are busy enabling doctor visits, helping with the move-ins and move-outs, maintaining the house, and offering emotional support as survivors cope with all the changes in their lives in addition to their trauma. A new observer into this world, I’m amazed at the courage shown as survivors and staff work together to make daily life happen in the face of intense barriers.
Even the children do their share, in the ways they know how. I volunteer as one of the childcare providers for a small group as their parents attend a support workshop. On one of the better summer days, the option to go to a nearby park is entertained and the younger kids lean heavily in that direction. The two older attendees of this group, a 9-year-old and a 12-year-old, prefer staying indoors and entertaining themselves. With hardly any persuasion however, they soon relent to the requests of their younger siblings and even help the volunteers with taking care of them at the park. They show a remarkable level of maturity as they support their parents by helping where they can.
Some of these moments can easily be missed in the grand scheme but they provide a glimpse into the chaotic lives lead by survivors and the staff that support them. It takes significant courage and stamina to stay focused day by day while continuing to deal with the emotional onslaught that trauma often brings. At three months, my time volunteering with REACH is fairly young but the lessons come fast. My biggest takeaway though is that I’m glad to be able to offer a helping hand.
REACH’s fall training will begin on 9/6. A limited number of spots are available. If you are interested in joining this training and volunteering like Sumana, please contact our Community Engagement Specialist.