2017-03-03 / Front Page

UNE med students volunteer for domestic violence hotline

More volunteer slots available
Senior Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD — Sometimes, the caller just wants someone to listen. Sometimes the caller has dialed the hotline number before, and is in the process of making a decision that will result in an abuse-free future.

Sometimes, the conversation starts this way: “I don’t know if this is abuse or not.”

Whatever the conversation, the calls keep on coming — because the number being dialed is the 24/7 emergency hotline for Caring Unlimited, York County’s domestic violence resource center.

These days, Caring Unlimited has 10 people who volunteer to take calls from the hotline. Ideally, they’d like double that number, said Betsy Fleurent, the agency’s volunteer and hotline coordinator. While Caring Unlimited staff take hotline calls most weekday shifts, she said the greatest need is for weekend and overnight call takers.

Four years ago, the first students from the University of New England in Biddeford began answering the phones.

This year, Cameron Bubar and Ellen Clark are among the university volunteers. Both are second-year, UNE medical school students and signed on to help when the volunteer gig was pitched from the class before them. 

“I saw this an an opportunity to get involved,” said Clark, who said she had a family member who had been in a domestic violence situation.

“Both of us, in a few years, will be one of the first lines of defense for situations like this,” said Bubar, noting their future roles as physicians. “This is a nice way to give back to the community now and advocate for those not able to advocate for themselves.”

He said he’s found that callers can be at different stages in the process that may eventually lead to a life away from their abuser. He said he’s been told that in some cases callers have dialed the hotline more than half-a-dozen times before making a change.

“It's never a snap decision,” he said.

Training for new volunteers starts Monday, and there are new training opportunities every few months. The training is 40 hours and takes place Monday and Thursday evenings at Caring Unlimited’s main office in Sanford.

"One thing you learn in training is the importance of empowerment. We’re not here to make decisions for other people,” said Bubar. He said hotline volunteers are listeners — someone to talk out the situation with — and let the caller draw their own conclusions.

Fleurent said UNE students and other students groups have worked out well volunteering for the hotline. She said students can take calls on their cell phones and the agency can work around student’s busy schedules.

 “Many UNE students have told us that the training and experience working on the hotline makes them better doctors,” said Fleurent. “The skills they acquired through volunteering will be an asset in working with patients.”

According to the volunteer job description, call takers return all calls forwarded by the hotline answering service. Call takers provide support and information as well as making referrals for those calling, Fleurent said.

She said hotline volunteers must have a sensitivity to the issues of violence and abuse towards women, children and men; must be at least 18-years-old and have the ability to work with individuals in a non-judgmental and supportive way. Fleurent said it is preferred that volunteers have an awareness of the social and political aspects of violence and feminist principles. The 40-hour training is a must.

Bubar, of Lisbon Falls, said his work on the hotline has opened his eyes and highlights a need for resources to be directed toward domestic violence issues.

Clark, who hails from Connecticut, said answering calls gives students like herself perspective on people’s lives.

“It's humbling, she said. “And it feels good when I hear relief in someone’s voice; you can hear the caller breathe. I feel like I’ve done a bit to help them out.”

Bubar said volunteers can feel accomplished or frustrated at the end of the shift — he said sometimes, he is left feeling he wished he could have done more. But, he said, his frustration is nothing compared to what the caller is dealing with, and said volunteering to take calls is “100 percent fulfilling.”

“If people are going through this, call us, we’re here, 24/7,” said Bubar. “You’re not alone, give us a call.”

For those wishing to contact the hotline to talk to a volunteer, the number is 800-239-7298.

To apply to join Caring Unlimited as a volunteer, visit caring-unlimited.org or call Fleurent  at 490-3227, ext. 102.

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 324-4444 (local call in Sanford) or 282-1535, ext. 327 or twells@journaltribune.com.

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