Women's Shelter Volunteer
Volunteering in a women's shelter is a much-appreciated service, not only
by the staff members but also by the women and children who participate in
the programs offered.
Anywhere from a few hours each week to a one-time participation will give
the volunteer a sense of having made a difference. Depending on time availability,
skills and desire, most shelters welcome whatever can be offered and will
match volunteers to their needs.
Shelters offer a safe haven, counseling, education and support. Skills
and abilities of volunteers are matched to ongoing needs of the shelter. They
include office work, helping with fund-raisers or helping with direct client
contact. It's a team effort.
Shelters are open 24 hours a day. And there are never enough volunteers
to meet the demand. Most volunteers are women over 18. But many shelters welcome
younger volunteers from junior high and high schools. Every shelter has its
own needs, rules and procedures.
Roberta Bloom is the volunteer coordinator at a women's counseling center.
"We offer a parenting and outreach program to mothers aged 16 to 24 with young
children. Our volunteers are paired together and spend time assisting with
child care, crafts and tutoring while the mothers attend parenting courses,
continue their education, or participate in court-ordered programs," she says.
"Although most of our mothers are not victims of domestic violence, some
are. Many of our volunteers are college students."
Volunteering offers an excellent opportunity to learn about the problems
faced by these young women. You can learn about the treatment the women and
their children receive and find out what education and counseling options
are available to them.
"Having a volunteer who practices confidentiality, who is mature and understanding,
empathetic, responsible and committed to the feminist philosophy and our mission
and values is very important," says Meredith Hazen. She is the resource development
manager at a shelter.
"I found volunteering very rewarding," says Clara Able. She is a volunteer
with a Salvation Army women's shelter. "I was especially touched by the children.
They were older than their years, but they were still children. Reading stories
to them filled a void for me and I know they looked forward to my visits."
Amy Aiello is the volunteer coordinator with a battered women's shelter
in Ohio. She says she became involved while working in university. A few of
her friends asked her to join them at a volunteering event.
"It was an unexpected calling. I came back regularly and tutored some of
the mothers who were working on their high school equivalency degrees. I was
glad to have been able to make a difference in their lives," she says. She's
been involved ever since.
"As a high school junior and senior, I was active in community service
and fund-raising events," says Jennifer Stone. She is now in the U.S. Navy.
"I worked in both homeless shelters serving meals and in women's shelters
helping with office work, usually data entry, answering telephones and filing.
I learned a lot about the real world and how difficult it can be. It taught
me to have more compassion and understanding for those less fortunate than
Michele Hansen is the executive director of a shelter that offers counseling
services. She says a training course may be required. For people who don't
take the course, they offer non-client contact volunteer opportunities. You
could assist with fund-raising events and other administrative functions.
"We also encourage individuals with specific skills to talk to us about how
we can utilize their skills to assist us."
How to Get Involved
Churches and religious organizations have programs that help women and
families in need. Policies, programs and training vary with each shelter.
Many welcome young volunteers who can play board games, watch TV, make crafts
and assist with child care.
"Many of our volunteers are age 18 and up. And most are middle-aged women,"
says Aiello. "However, local high school students come in and read to the
children occasionally. During the holidays, they sort donations of food and
clothing at the shelter. They make contact with the shelter either through
a club or individually, seeking out information how to volunteer."
Ellen Paul is the volunteer coordinator with the Salvation Army domestic
violence program in Cocoa, Florida. She says many of her volunteers are college
students in "service learning" programs. Many are work as interns at women's
shelters. They spend 200 to 250 hours each semester at the shelters.
"We look for volunteers to staff the 24-hour hotline, help reduce the load
on our staff and handle tasks around the shelter. We are always short of volunteers."
Shelter locations are not openly publicized. They maintain a low profile
to protect the privacy of individuals who seek safety there. Information about
local shelters can be found through local social service centers, religious
organizations, the Salvation Army, the United Way or the court system.
Domestic Violence Links
Lots of information here
Family Violence Prevention Fund
National source for women's shelters and emergency assistance
Calvary Women's Shelter
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Provides housing and support services to homeless women