REACH recently concluded the spring version of our extended training for new staff and volunteers, which happens twice a year. We asked one of the participants, Carrie Lieberman, to share her perspectives on the experience.
Looking to expand my ongoing domestic violence-related volunteer work, I initially contacted Lauren Montanaro, the Community Engagement specialist at REACH, last October. What good fortune that Lauren happened to be the one to take my call! She responded to my inquiry with such positive enthusiasm and a genuine desire to connect me with volunteer opportunities at REACH that would both bring value to the agency and meaningful engagement for me. Lauren wasted no time in getting me involved and promptly invited me to a “mini-training,” DV 101, scheduled for later that same week. I took a chance and attended this introductory session, led by Jess Teperow and Lauren Montanaro. It was so informative and thought-provoking (and attended by such terrific people) that I immediately signed up for the “full volunteer training” set for this spring.
As can often be the case in New England, spring (and the training) was a long time in coming. April finally arrived, and all the new volunteers and many from the REACH staff finally gathered early one morning at the Mass Medical Society facilities and embarked on what appeared to be a daunting training schedule including long hours and challenging topics. As each of the attendees introduced themselves and explained why they had chosen to attend, it quickly became apparent that all of us were in for an extraordinary experience. Hearing the vast array of backgrounds and circumstances (both personal and professional) that had prompted each of these individuals to undertake DV work was so powerful and life affirming. I couldn’t help but reflect on what a privilege it was to be a part of such an amazing group!
Perusing the list of topics outlined in the training schedule does not come close to conveying the depth and breadth of materials and exercises that trainees cover. The REACH staff and their consultants are SO committed to insuring that trainees are exposed to carefully planned, high quality sessions that introduce a full range of topics and issues related to domestic violence. Let me assure any potential volunteers that if you too decide to do the REACH training, certainly you will be introduced to the basics of DV work including the history of the domestic violence movement and all of the appropriate language and necessary definitions. However, this is truly only the very beginning of what you will learn. You will gain so much more. For me, the real richness (and excitement) of REACH’s training was the staff’s continual encouragement and their desire for all trainees to gain experience through “hands-on” practical exercises based on actual agency cases that asked us to “handle” DV scenarios. We did this through role-playing activities and team brainstorming sessions where together with fellow trainees we explored possible survivor options. Time and again, the staff supported us as we attempted to strengthen our active listening skills. Repeatedly, they asked us to consider the best ways to respect the boundaries necessary in working with survivors and helped us to understand the unique and special sensitivities helpful to supporting various survivors including children, immigrants, members of the LGBQ/T community, and teens.
As we moved further into our training, increasingly, I became aware of the complexity of the agency’s work. REACH wants its volunteers to become familiar with the entire array of their services and their commitment to truly REACH Beyond Domestic Violence. The agency tackles this work on so many levels and in so many dimensions. We spent training sessions learning about outreach measures aimed at preventing and reducing teen dating violence, efforts to use community members to share information with survivors about the availability of shelter and other supports, and how we, as volunteers, can educate and sensitize members of our own communities to the issues facing DV survivors, hopefully thereby ultimately increasing public awareness and knowledge and reducing the prevalence of domestic violence.
On the last night of training, Lauren and Jess asked us to reflect about the program and to share our thoughts and wishes for the future as we added special “wish” pebbles to the agency’s collection jar of pebbles begun by previous trainees. As each of us stepped forward to place our pebble into the jar and to articulate our hopes, there was a palpable positive energy in the room, a sense that together, as new volunteers, we are prepared to take the next steps in supporting REACH’s critical work in ending domestic violence. I am so excited to embark on this journey, knowing that my volunteering will continue to be supported by a remarkably bright, dedicated and enthusiastic staff who stand ready to guide and support my work.
Truly, what an extraordinary privilege to be a part of such a team! If you are considering volunteering with REACH, do not hesitate. Your inquiry will be met with warm welcomes and enthusiasm.
REACH has several upcoming learning opportunities. On Monday, May 2nd from 6-8pm, our Elder Services Project Coordinator will lead a discussion on how to support elders in your life who may be at risk of being abused. Later in the month, we are holding a 6-hour mini-training (like the one Carrie referenced above) on Friday May 13th (DV 101) & Friday May 20th (Trauma 101) both from 9am – 12pm. To learn more, email our Community Engagement Specialist, Lauren Montanaro.