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Volunteer crisis counselors find work rewarding

Cory Fisher

A woman is battered every eight seconds in the United States. Every year, 1,400 women are killed by their husbands or boyfriends.

Closer to home, the statistics don’t appear to get any better.

The South Lake Tahoe Women’s Center reports that of 553 jurisdictions in California, South Lake Tahoe ranks 38th highest in domestic violence. In fact, the Women’s Center has roughly 1,800 people come to them each year for domestic violence services.

“That’s why our volunteers are so important to us,” said Program Coordinator Tina Callahan. “By providing a 24-hour crisis line every day of the year, volunteers are the life blood of our program.”

The Women’s Center is hoping to expand their pool of 10 volunteers, said Callahan, and anyone who signs up will become involved in a worthwhile experience they’re not likely to regret.

“Our volunteers find it very rewarding to be there when someone really needs them,” said Callahan. “It’s a very meaningful way to give back to the community – we wouldn’t be here without them.”

Crisis volunteers make it possible for the Women’s Center to receive calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Once the office closes at 4 p.m., a volunteer will go on call until 8 a.m. the following morning, or for an entire weekend.

Volunteers sign up for the crisis line anywhere from one to five days a month, said Callahan. Many women who work full-time find they are able to fit crisis counseling easily into their busy lives.

“The big time block is the initial training,” said Callahan. “Once that’s done, it’s really not a very big time commitment.”

The 80 hours of state-mandated training is offered through Lake Tahoe Community College, with 40 hours devoted to domestic violence and 40 to sexual assault. “Volunteers receive a certificate and college credit – this training can be very valuable to someone who is interested in going into the social sciences,” Callahan said. “And coping with crises are skills we can all use in our own lives.”

Volunteer Catherine Strawn, who works in human resources during the day, said the training has helped her to recognize employee problems. “The training has really made me more aware of what’s happening around me,” said Strawn. “I’m now better equipped to deal with situations in a proactive way. As a crisis volunteer, it’s been a real feeling of accomplishment knowing I can really be there for someone.”

Volunteers carry a beeper while on call, or receive crisis calls from their homes, said Callahan.

“Sometimes a woman will just need validation for what’s going on in her life,” she said. “The majority of support is offered over the phone. We don’t try to direct women, we just discuss options and let them make their own decisions – a central part of our philosophy is empowerment.”

Every so often, however, a volunteer will get a call to assist a victim at the hospital or police department. Victims may need support during a medical examination or help finding a place to stay. Volunteers often help explain procedures and provide comfort.

Volunteers meet monthly over lunch to discuss confidential cases, Callahan said, as well as to listen to guest speakers or obtain further training.

“I was scared at first, but I’ve learned a lot,” said new volunteer and local business owner Lora Menchel. “It feels really good to be there for women. It often helps just to listen and to confirm that they have every right to feel this way.”

The next training course begins April 8, and will meet two nights a week from 5:30 to 8:55 p.m. For details, contact Callahan at 544-2118.


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