Students aid abuse hotline
For the past 31 years, the Family Violence Project (FVP), in cooperation with the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence (MCEDV), has helped victims of abuse in both Kennebec and Somerset Counties. The project offers a variety of programs including advocacy and referrals, emergency shelter, support groups and community awareness education. "A community without violence where people treat each other with respect...we believe victims of abuse have the potential to control their own lives and can be helped in doing this through support, information and encouragement," reads the Family Violence Project Vision & Mission. Although the project now has over 25 employees, their work depends on the support of volunteers, many of whom are Colby students.
In order to volunteer with FVP, all applicants take a 36-hour training course over twelve weeks. The course is comprehensive and covers a breadth of topics related to domestic violence. Volunteers learn about the history of domestic violence, what it legally is, why it happens and its effect on victims and their families. Several students at the College are currently enrolled in the FVP training program as they prepare to become volunteers in the spring of 2010.
Andrea Birnbaum '12 trained last spring and has been volunteering since August. "I was really motivated to volunteer," she explains. "I was interested in learning more about domestic violence. I knew little because it is something people don't really speak about. It makes me realize how prevalent domestic violence is."
As a telephone hotline/helpline operator, Birnbaum works on the victim advocacy and referral side of FVP's endeavors. She is typically on call three nights a month. "Each night I usually only get about three calls, but sometimes more, sometimes none at all," she explains. "When I'm talking to someone on the hotline, I'm there to empower them to make a change in their life; I'm not telling them what to do. I ask them what their options are and we make a safety plan." In certain cases, Birnbaum refers callers to other FVP programs, support groups, free lawyers or shelters and motels.
"If a Colby student wants to volunteer with the Family Violence Project, he or she should expect to become a hotline volunteer," she says. FVP does partner with law firms to get protective orders for victims. Students who are interested in law could potentially shadow a lawyer for a day if they're looking to get involved.
"I like being 'on call,'" Birnbaum emphasizes. "My favorite part of being with the program is listening to the women's stories. They really confide in me and I am grateful to hear them speak. This has been a really rewarding experience. Domestic violence happens everywhere, and by doing this I feel like I gain a greater understanding of what many women endure all around the world."
FVP has branches in Augusta, Waterville and Skowhegan. They are financed by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and the United Way agencies of Kennebec Valley and Mid-Maine. However, they stress, "We could not provide our services of advocacy, community education and school-based education without the ongoing support of a large and active network of volunteers."
Students who are interested in volunteering with FVP should contact the Waterville office by telephone at (207) 877-2248 or by e-mail at email@example.com. Anyone wishing to contact FVP for help or information can call their toll free crisis line at (877) 890-7788, which operates 24 hours, seven days a week.