Growth and Change in Volunteering at SOH

Adjusting to social distancing isn’t the only change happening with volunteering at the SOH right now, but it is a change that has revealed how dedicated our volunteers are to supporting survivors. This month, we sat down with Lisa and Camille to talk about how volunteering is adapting, and to share some exciting news.

Please introduce yourselves.
Camille: My name is Camille Rodrigues. My pronouns are she/her/hers; they is cool too. I’m the Volunteer Training and Hotline Manager.

My daily tasks include communicating with volunteers, recruiting new volunteers, interviewing them, enrolling them in training. When we do have our training several times each year, making sure that everyone is moving through, working with presenters, the content of the actual trainings. Once the volunteers graduate, I then manage them on the sexual assault crisis hotline; I don’t work on the human trafficking hotline which is under our RISE program. (more about the hotline at 7:20 mark if we want to include more).

I do this work because I want to be the advocate that I needed when I was growing up. And I want to serve folks in a way that the people I care about didn’t get served. I wanna undo some of the harm that I can, the best that I can, so that the folks that I love and care about in my community don’t need to continue going through the same things generation after generation.

Lisa: I’m Lisa and I am the Education Programs Coordinator. I like either she or they pronouns.

The biggest parts of my job are to coordinate our facilitators who go out to schools, in the Clark County School District mostly but also into the public as needed. I’m also a facilitator myself so I do a variety of presentations; I meet the public in a variety of community settings. I have also been writing and designing the curriculum for our Advocate University. I was a long time classroom teacher so I designed a variety of courses and curriculums as department chair where I worked previously. I’m making sure that our curriculum fulfills the national accreditation standards which we are applying for this month.

Why do I do the work I do? Because I want to support women. That was my first motivation. So all of my work, while I am happy to serve any clients of any gender identification, my goal has always been to support women and to help end the oppression of women. I am constantly inspired by my daughter who is the woman of the future, and I want to make it better for her.

What are the different ways for volunteers to be involved at SOH?
Camille: The main draw for folks, what people usually think of when they hear the Signs of Hope, is the crisis hotline. A lot of folks will want to become volunteers so that they can answer hotline calls, they can go out on hospital accompaniments, they can work with clients with emotional support and resource navigation, and making sure we have the information we need to be able to follow up as staff with those clients because volunteer advocates are not working with clients long term.

Volunteers also help out a lot in the office with general office work as well as front desk reception. If they’re here during business hours they’ll be answering the hotline, but they’ll also be handling checking in clients for counseling appointments, making sure that any walk-ins are seen immediately by an advocate on site, and in general dealing with office related needs. We have some folks who help out with projects like getting birthday cards out each month or getting client folders made for stocking the hospital. The third role that volunteers take is to do outreach. So, they help us with tabling events, going to community events and talking with folks who might be interested in volunteering with SOH or potential clients who might want to know more about our services.

What is the training like for new volunteers?
Camille: Well, training will be changing very soon. In general, folks apply, we interview them, and they’re enrolled in the training. The training is about 50 hours but not all of that is classroom time, some of it is homework, and that will change a bit in the future. The 50 hours of training involves listening to presenters. They have a handbook with our policies and protocols, and the basics of working as an advocate. At the end of training they take a test, and if they get more than 80% on that test they pass. And then they get a background check, a drug test, and TB tested, and then they can work on the on-boarding for UMC hospital.

Lisa: It is changing quite a bit just because of the way that national accreditation is set up. We wanted to give our advocates both the basic training accreditation, and give them hours towards an advanced accreditation in sexual violence. So that is why we are increasing the time spent to 60 hours, and there will actually be less in-person hours and more online.

We’re actually looking at the entire thing being online for the June training because of Covid. So we are working on getting that up to speed so that we can offer this training even though the world around us is changing. There’s some things that don’t change unfortunately, and needing to have advocates in this area doesn’t change. So we are looking at ways to get that information to folks in a remote way so that they can train from home. We’re hoping that the training will actually be more thorough, more fulfilling for folks, so they’ll feel more confident and be ready to serve.

Why is it so important for the training to be so rigorous?
Camille: You know, being able to become an advocate is a privilege, in my opinion. It’s a privilege to bear witness to folks in a moment in their life that can be so traumatic that you rely on the folks around you to help guide you. In that moment, you need someone who is gonna be understanding and empathetic, who is gonna understand how to communicate with you, and give resources to you in a non-judgmental and accepting kind of way.

Without training, folks can mean well but they can also say things that maybe they think is comforting to hear and maybe clients won’t think that. They also are in training to help address some biases that we’re taught in society, that you really don’t have a chance to examine until you get into a setting like this where we’re talking about trauma and violence and patriarchy and toxic masculinity in ways that aren’t discussed.

Lisa: Advocacy is activism. It is anti-oppression work. By training people thoroughly, and deeply, and meaningfully in a way that changes the way they see the world and themselves and other people’s positions in the world, that is how true change occurs. That’s what activism is all about. So that’s why it’s so necessary for us to give a very thorough and very deep training to these advocates. It’s for the advocates so they’re confident. It’s for the clients so that they’re in good hands. And it’s for the world so that it becomes a safer place for everybody.

I understand we are in the process of getting the new advocate university nationally accredited. Can you tell us more about the process?
Lisa: The accreditation process is only open twice a year; they only accept applications in April and October. So I have been working since February 1st on building this curriculum. Since I am an educator and I have been trained in pedagogy I start from objectives and working on what levels of learning are going to occur. So, with a lot of collaboration I have built a curriculum that covers a lot of objectives about both the basic training topics and advanced topics in sexual violence.

It’s a one page application; it’s very brief! It asks what topics are covered and how much time is spent on them. So I have an enormous spreadsheet that breaks down the topics, the objectives, and where all of those are covered, and how many minutes are spent on each.

How has volunteer advocacy changed in this time of physical distancing and shelter in place?
Camille: One of the first things that changed when we began sheltering in place was that we immediately saw an increase in applications. So it seems as if folks are home and reassessing their abilities to serve their community, and in their eyes a good way to do that is to apply to volunteer at the Signs of Hope. And I love that.

As far as our current volunteers, everyone on the hotline has maintained. When we first had the stay at home order we didn’t quite know what that was going to look like at the hospital and we had to coordinate quite a bit with the nursing staff that we work with. For the first week or two we took small accommodations, which increased to what we’re doing now which is completely remote.

I was really encouraged that folks who don’t have to do this are still making space for folks even during this societal trauma. And we’ve had to adapt, so volunteers learned to use new forms, do everything electronically, password protect things. And they learned how to talk to clients over the phone without being able to see their face or to display empathy on your face, which is a huge part of being at the hospital. But everyone is making it work.

Have you seen a greater need for the hotline during this time?
Camille: Things at the hospital have slowed down, it’s true. We’re slowing down but we’re not stopped, and there are still several hospitals calls each week. At first the hotline did seem really busy, fewer people were choosing to go to the hospital even though they were calling to get information and resources. As of April, folks are calling a little less and going to the hospital even less than last month. I did notice a big uptick in March in people who were displaced or needed shelter. The problem with that is the shelters in Las Vegas shut down fairly early, so that was really tough.

Is there anything you’d like to say to all the current SOH volunteers?
Camille: This is actually great timing because Volunteer Appreciation Week is in April. We are honoring everyone who has put in 12 or more hours in 2019. Instead of a big party or event like we usually do in April, we’re sending thank you notes, gift cards. The folks that are on our hotline every week (all of whom have been doing this two years or more) they’re getting some extra love. They’re getting some personalized products with a new logo we designed for SOH. It’s kind of a prototype so it’s very exclusive and special. I wanted to give them something only they have. And eventually, hopefully we’ll have a party this summer.

Do you have a message for folks who have been considering volunteering with SOH but haven’t taken the plunge yet?
Lisa: I read somewhere that somebody said we shouldn’t be thinking about going back to the way things were. We need to accept the idea that there’s gonna be a new normal. So it’s this huge opportunity to change, to do something new, to do something that you thought you always might like to do and just didn’t see how it fit in your life before. But our lives look different now so maybe this is an opportunity to get some folks in there who would be amazing, and now maybe have more of an opportunity.

Camille: Yeah, absolutely. And I hope that folks are more encourage to serve their community and work with folks in a way that is compassionate, especially now that we’ve seen how much we need each other.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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