Meet two of our most hilarious and dedicated volunteers, Ann and Esther. They have been volunteering at DVSAS for a combined 15 years! Every Monday they go to the Whatcom County jail and facilitate a women’s support group and hold one-on-one sessions with survivors. The two are some of the most inspiring people you could ever know!
What inspires you to volunteer?
Ann- I’m retired, a school social worker, a clinical social worker; I retired from 25 years in a school district. I wanted to continue working in the social work field to use my skills and I’ve always been interested in in domestic violence. It’s a good place to be able to work, to give back.
Esther- I’m a marriage family therapist. I was involved in starting a crisis line and shelter for sexual assault and domestic violence in my old hometown of Ukiah, Ca, for Mendocino County in northern California in 1977. I was on the board. I quit to be a case manager in the shelter and then I decided to go into private practice. And I’ve done a lot of training in domestic violence and been a trainer. There was not as much known then as there is now, there weren’t state laws. When we started in 1977 it was a matter of educating the public that sexual assault is not okay. It was like sexual assault was “she asked for it.”
A- A lot of victim blaming.
E- It was typical. For domestic violence, it was always “she asked for it.” That was the zeitgeist of the time, the culture. In my private practice I did everything. I think my specialty was trauma. When I came here in 2008 I didn’t want to do a thing involved with trauma. After a year I wanted to get involved again. And I thought, “Do I want to do domestic violence all over again?” and I thought, “Oh well, I’ll start there.” And then I got caught and I realized after the training there’s a whole lot more information and understanding and I can learn from it. I like the feeling. People here really care and support each other and it’s a good atmosphere. So I thought, “I’m just going to hang here.” I wanted, before I moved here, to work in jails. I wanted to work in jails for a good 10 to 12 years and I don’t know why. It doesn’t feel like I’m helping you poor people. It feels like I’m enlivened being with you. I like being with you, it’s a very alive thing.
A- Some of them are such interesting people. We think of them as being the bad people of society, but they’re not that way at all. Some of them are caring, compassionate people and they just had some bad breaks.
E- Mostly the bad breaks have come early on in their lives.
A- Through domestic violence, a lot of them. Or sexual assault or early child abuse.
E- A lot of child abuse. And then coping mechanisms, mostly drugs. They may not be caught because of their drugs, but their stealing because of their drugs.
A- Many of these women are mother. There are an awful lot of children affected by the jail system, which bothers me because I’ve been working with children all my life.
You regularly do the jail support group, what do you enjoy most about facilitating it?
E- Being with Ann.
A- We work very well together. Like frick and frack.
E- Or click and clack.
A- I just really enjoy seeing them as a human beings and trying to give them support because they don’t get very much in jail. Being able to validate some of their feelings and to listen to them. They’re always so grateful. And we offer them individual sessions. When you do the individual sessions some of them can be really powerful.
E- Some change may occur because of group, but there can be an individual session that is really pivotal for some of them. A lot of these people don’t have connections that they can really share deeply with.
A- And they trust us.
E- Yeah, I feel like when we come in the room with them they breathe out and let go, and know it’s okay.
Do you have any inspiring words for volunteers?
A- Generally, I think there’s a lot of support here. Just go in, do your thing, and don’t be afraid of making mistakes. I think people sometimes are afraid of making a mistake, but there’s always support here, you can always ask for help.
E- When people first begin it feels a little overwhelming.
A- It is overwhelming.
E- Because you get all this training, you can’t remember everything, and you’re not doing anything yet, so it’s not habit. You’re dealing with people in crisis. So it’s a combination of not feeling fully prepared and having to be a responsible person to help people that are in trouble. And basically, I’m just dittoing what [Ann] said, there’s a lot of support here.
Do you have any personal projects or exciting things coming up?
E- I go to Israel about once a year, I have family there. I’m taking a class right now through the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center. I’m hoping to get an understanding of conflict and how to deal with conflict that will move towards resolution. I’m a nature lover. My undergrad degree is in biology, mostly botany. So I became a Master Gardener. So I go to Hovander Homestead Park once a week and work on the gardens there.
A- I do a couple of other social work- y type thins. I’m on the Family Support Committee for Habitat [for Humanity]. And I do financial assistance for Hope House, which is working with low income and homeless people. I’m also really interested in working with the homeless. For fun, I’m an avid reader. I read at least a book a week, sometimes more. I belong to two book groups. I do a lot of photography. I used to exhibit when I lived in New York.
E- I didn’t know that.
A- I’ve had a lot of exhibits. I like to be outdoors. I can’t stand to be inside when the weather is nice.
E- I’m a supervisor for the Supervised Parent Program through CPS, where parents are court ordered to have a supervisor when they visit their kids, I do that. I think I do something else, but I can’t remember what it is right now. Some kind of volunteer thing.