I wish we could change the title of this month's column to "Your Voice." After learning more about the upcoming YWCA Wise Options volunteer training, it turns out that your voice is what really matters.
"Domestic and sexual violence doesn't have to exist in our world, but it does. It does because we aren't talking about it enough." Those were the words Lynn Bies, YWCA Northcentral PA Wise Options manager used when discussing the need for more trained volunteers.
Remaining silent is giving your consent to the domestic abuse of 25 percent of women. By not speaking up, you're giving your OK to the sexual assault of one in five women, one in four young girls and one in six boys. "We need everyone to take a zero tolerance stance," Bies said.
Because of the training and eye-opening experience of working hands-on with victims, Wise Options volunteers raise awareness to those around them. The more volunteers we have, the more Wise Options can positively impact the community. "We need people that will be our voices and the voices of so many victims of domestic violence and sexual assault," Bies said.
"As a volunteer, what you are giving to victims is invaluable," she added. "You look in a survivor's eyes and say 'You are not alone. I am here to help you and you do not have to be a victim anymore. You have options.' "
Informational sessions for the new volunteer training will take place at 5:30 p.m. March 21 and at noon March 22 at the YWCA, 815 W. Fourth St.
Classes begin April 9 and have been redesigned to take only four weeks, instead of the previous six-week sessions. Certification, which is good throughout Pennsylvania, also requires a 10-hour hands-on practicum and online training.
"What we really need are volunteers that can help out with on-call, in the shelter or help providing legal and victim advocacy," Bies said.
Volunteers who work in the shelter help meet the needs of the women and children who are seeking refuge and accept women and their children into the shelter.
Legal and victim advocacy involves court accompaniment to both magistrate and county court hearings. "These volunteers support victims by guiding them through the court process and providing emotional support and assuring the victim's voice is heard. We help victims become knowledgeable of their rights," Bies said.
On-call volunteers meet sexual assault victims at the emergency room. "We tell them of our services and explain that we can support them in any way they may need us," Bies said. "We are there to make sure a victim knows their rights and that we support them during a very difficult time."
Volunteers are expected to take a two-day shift of "on-call duty" each month. On weekdays, the on-call shift is from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. On weekends, on-call duty is a 24-hour shift beginning at 8 a.m.
Men and women who have never had a PFA filed against them are eligible to volunteer. According to Lynn, most Wise Options volunteers are women. "If men would like to get involved, we would most likely use them as educators in the community," she said.
If you or anyone you know are facing crisis, Wise Options can be reached 24-hours a day at 323-8167 or 800-326-8483.