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Volunteering - In General

We are blessed to receive frequent requests about how to volunteer to help victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse. The ways you can help are many, both for our organization, and for organizations in your own community.

Volunteering - What to Know

Before you get your heart set on volunteering to sit down with victims to help them through tough times, it's important to realize that the world of victim services revolves around three key things: victim safety, liability, and confidentiality. What this means for volunteers is that almost no program is going to let you call them and then show up at their program to work with victims. Especially for domestic violence shelters, even the location of the program is confidential and given out on a strict need-to-know basis. Volunteering for these programs often means you'll be working at the administrative or outreach offices - and this work IS important - but before you'll be able to work directly with victims, you'll usually need to attend training courses to become certified - and this training costs time, manpower and money to administer, so you'll usually have to have a track record in other capacities first, or, have to commit a certain number of hours to make it worth the expense of getting you trained. This isn't meant to discourage you, only to make you aware of how important safety, liability and confidentiality are, and to inform you of the commitment needed in terms of time and effort. With that said...

AARDVARC is no different than many thousands of other organizations throughout the country trying to make a difference in the lives of victims. Although it's not warm and fuzzy, all victim assistance programs need dollars, plain and simple. It's great to get government grants to support hands-on services, but those dollars can't be used for everyday things like keeping the electricity on, getting the copy machine fixed, and all the other things that small organizations struggle with every day. So the first thing you can do with your time and talents is raise money. Have a bake sale, garage sale, hurricane sale, pass out flyers at your office or school, etc. Donate that money to organizations like ours or to a program in your own community.

Programs all over the country (including us) would rather have your ten dollar donation than a truck full of used clothes. It costs time and money to pay someone to sort those clothes, clean those clothes, drive those clothes all over the place and quite often it becomes more expensive to manage all the clothing donations than it would cost to simply buy NEW stuff. People want to give clothes directly to battered women's shelters because they dislike the thought that places like Goodwill sell those clothes. But they forget that Goodwill, the Salvation Army and similar programs often EMPLOY battered women trying to earn money to start a new life - and they work with their local programs to get clothing to those in need, including domestic violence and other victims.

Volunteering - Hands On Opportunities

The first place to start if you want to be involved in a hands-on way is in your local community. Depending on your time availability, there are a LOT of things your local community can use help with. You could help to answer the phone, run errands, stuff envelopes for mailings (see - we're back to raising money again!) and much more. If you have technical skills like building websites, electrical wiring, painting - your local programs can use your help! If you do crafts, fix cars - bingo, offer to do a demonstration or hold a class - you'll be building the skills and confidence of the victims you work with and make a lasting, helpful change in their lives.

If you want to do more serious volunteer work, either with court advocacy, crisis intervention or similar higher functioning positions, again, contact your local programs. You will probably be required to submit to a background check and attend training to attain at least a basic level of certification. They can help to coordinate the needed training and get you started down the path to getting really "hands-on".

The next thing you can do is to develop a broad understanding of the issues from multiple points of view. Many law enforcement agencies these days offer a Community Police Academy. These are typically 8 to 14 weeks long, meeting one evening a week. During these academies, you'll get familiar with your local agency, what they do, various divisions, the challenges they face and go on patrol with officers. There's no better way to get a grip on what's happening in your own community and why things work they way they do (or don't). Once you've completed the academy, you may be eligible to receive additional, specialized training that will allow you to volunteer in any number of capacities. Some communities have Citizens on Patrol programs, others give you opportunities to work as victim advocates, help with specialized investigation units, and more. Even if you don't want to volunteer with law enforcement, sit in on an academy - because no matter where you volunteer, you WILL end up working with them one way or the other, and having a good rapport with your local law enforcement agency is priceless when helping victims, so pick up the phone or visit the internet site of your local police department or sheriff's office and get the scoop.

Volunteering - Group Activities

Church groups, Sunday School classes, community activism groups, campus organizations: you have passion and people, and with these, YOU can make a difference! Here are a few suggestions for drives that can make a world of difference to victims of family or sexual violence:

Domestic violence victims in crisis who have just entered emergency shelter need everyday items that we all take for granted. Here are the basic items that a shelter generally must try to provide for each person - so gather and deliver:

  • Personal toiletries such as new toothbrushes, toothpaste, hair brushes and combs, shampoo, and feminine hygiene items

  • Many have left behind the very basics, so please consider rounding up towels, washcloths, pillows, blankets, and sheets (usually twin size)

  • General clothing needs are usually pretty easy to meet, but no one ever donates new packs of socks or underwear. While not glamorous, these would be more appreciated than you can know.

  • Women living in shelter who are working or trying to find work often need small alarm clocks, panty hose, and bus passes (remember that domestic violence often includes isolation and control - so many women in shelter don't have cars and find transportation to be a HUGE barrier to long term success)

  • Still along the lines of isolation, many have been estranged from their families for many years or have been moved away from their families by their abusers. You can help to reunite these families by providing long distance phone cards. Re-establishing contact with lost family and friends can be an integral part of helping victims transition into survivors. Phone cards also help protect victim privacy from abusers who may be monitoring cell phone use or checking the bills to see who the victim is calling.

Shelters themselves have constant needs as well:

  • Food! Each shelter runs differently; in some all meals are provided, in others residents do their own shopping and cooking or pick from among what gets donated. Please call your local program and find out if a food drive would be beneficial. Canned items are best, but the reality is that in many shelters, the walls are packed with cans of soup, and for some reason, canned chili seems to be a favorite donation item. If you really want to put some smiles on faces, visit your local farmer's market (cheaper than the grocery store) and grab a box of lettuce and a few tomatoes. This is the type of stuff that rarely gets donated, and the diets of those in shelters (and their children) often leave a lot to be desired.

  • Cleaning supplies! Imagine multiplying your house times 10, 20 or more. Shelters go through insane amounts of papertowls, toilet paper, paper plates, dish soap, laundry detergent, bleach, and general cleaning supplies. Mops, brooms, scrubbie sponges etc. are always appreciated.

  • First Aid/medical Supplies! Bandaids (the kids always appreciate the colored or patterned ones), peroxide, asprin, Tylenol, children's Tylenol, reuseable ice packs and related items get put to good use.

  • Diapers and forumla!

Victims transitioning from shelter to a home or apartment of their own face additional challenges. Many move into their new digs with literally the clothes on their backs and whatever they can carry. If your group is large and/or motivated enough, consider "sponsoring" transition families who are setting up a new life and probably need:

  • One or more beds and/or couches/couch beds

  • a table and chairs

  • a set of dishes and glasses

  • towels, washcloths, and a shower curtain

  • a set of pots/pans

  • silverware and basic cooking utensils

  • a garbage can

We can't stress enough: TALK with your local shelter. If they have a transitional housing program, work with them to anticipate when a new family will be ready so you can plan your drive(s). If the legwork is problematic, consider raising money to provide gift cards to WalMart or a local dollar store or other retailer. One easy way to accomplish this, especially if a group effort, is through your credit card. Many card issuers, like Discover and Chase, have reward programs that allow you to rack up points and cash them in for gift cards. Save your points up and cash them in for several gift cards and donate those cards to your local program or coordinate with them to get your donated cards to the families in transition. Such donations make a HUGE difference in the confidence and self-esteem of those stepping back into life with a new violence-free framework, and gives them additional and expanded opportunities to take control of their lives again.

Helping Us

There are MANY ways you can help OUR agency:

If you'd like to help with this website project, here's what you can do: look under the various areas of the site for your state. Double check the links - they change frequently and with over 600 pages of information currently online under this site, it takes us forever to check up on all of them. If you find broken links, please email us at aardvarcinfo@aol.com so that our webmaster can update properly. If you're aware of a program we don't have listed, let us know. If you see a program that doesn't have a website listed, whip out your search engine and see if you can find one - you could even call and ask if you're local. Call your local police and/or sheriff, find out if they have an on-staff victim advocate that we can list and email us the info.

You can also support us when you shop online or you, your family, your group, or your business can sponsor particular pages on the site, or can sponsor training for our board and volunteers (there's a LOT of legal issues and promising research and best practices to keep up with, so training tends to be our largest expense).

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Last Updated: March 3, 2011