YWCA Our Voice

Volunteering can change the world

The first time Cassie Brelsford heard the Wise Options crisis hotline ring, her stomach dropped to her feet. She was nervous in the beginning but each call made her more confident that she was changing lives.

Our volunteers are the ones answering the phone 24/7 to help individuals in need, going to the hospital to talk to sexual assault victims and going to health fairs to represent the program.

We are hosting a training for new volunteers from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sept. 29 at the YWCA, 815 W. Fourth St.

After the training is completed, what is it really like to volunteer in Wise Options?

Brelsford, a legal advocate, began her YWCA career as a shelter advocate answering the phones and going to the hospital. She and I chatted together about what it is like doing such important work.

In shelter, she had the phone with her at all times because she never knew when somebody was going to call, Brelsford said. The type of call could range from someone confiding in her about what is going on in their life, asking a question about services or calling to come into the shelter.

“You have to be prepared for anything,” she said.

After the person on the phone tells her what their needs are, it is up to her to figure out if they qualify for one of the Wise Options programs such as counseling or legal services.

The more experience she had answering the hotline, the less intimidating it became. She had to come to terms with the fact that she could not solve everyone’s problems.

“We don’t have all the answers,” Brelsford said. “If our resources and options aren’t what they are looking for, that’s ok.”

Another responsibility volunteers can have is to respond to sexual assault victims who go to the Williamsport campus of UPMC Susquehanna for a physical exam. There is a team of sexual assault forensic nurse examiners in the emergency room who contact Wise Options when a victim comes in.

Someone from Wise Options goes to the hospital to talk to the victim as well as their friends and family, she said. She would tell the victim who she is, why she was there and what resources are available at the YWCA.

On one occasion when Brelsford was called to the emergency room, she had the opportunity to talk with the victim’s supportive family and a friend. Informing the positive people in a victim’s life is essential in helping them through such a traumatic experience.

“Domestic violence and sexual assault doesn’t solely impact the victim,” she said. “It impacts everyone around the victim.”

Hearing heartbreaking stories from hurting individuals is difficult work even for the person with the thickest skin. Brelsford said the work can be frustrating but the fulfillment outweighs it.

“The appreciation from the victims and their support system keeps me going every day,” she said.

If you are interested in volunteering in Wise Options, contact Heather Reeder at hreeder@ywcawilliamsport.org or 570-322-4637 ext. 130.

Bloom is the communications associate at the YWCA, 815 W. Fourth St. Her column is published on the first Sunday of each month in the Lifestyle section.

If you are experiencing domestic abuse or sexual assault, Wise Options can help 24/7 with a confidential hotline at 800-326-8483.