40 Years of Volunteers
As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of Alexandra House, we also look back at the role our passionate and committed volunteered have played in bringing our mission to life. In 1977, Lexi Selvig, Mary Zagaros, Margaret Langfeld, and Sharon (Coleman) Lawrence formed The Anoka County Task Force for Battered Women. When the crisis line began taking calls the following year, it was staffed by concerned community members.
Sharon Lawrence, an Task Force founder and crisis line volunteer who joined forces with other advocates around the state to lobby for the passage of legislation strengthening the Domestic Abuse Act and later became a state representative, remembers that time. She was impressed by the community’s response and moved by the volunteers who wanted to get involved; “when it came to the crisis line, there was a lot of people who volunteered to take calls; we did get people to help as people learned more about the situation they thought, ‘hey, this shouldn’t go on’… I felt like Anoka County really stepped up.” For Sharon being a part of the Task Force helped demystify the experience of domestic violence and bring it out into the open.
“Everyone that joined, I think we had that same mission in mind that we wanted to learn more. It really took it out of the closet for me. I never dreamt that people were stuck in situations like that where they couldn’t get out.”
As Alexandra House expanded to provide hospital-based advocacy for survivors at Unity Hospital and then Mercy Hospital in the late 1980s and early 1990s, this program was staffed almost entirely by volunteers. While this program has changed and expanded over time to serve more clients and now includes a full-time staff coordination, the majority of hospital advocacy shifts continue to be staffed by volunteers and who serve the nearly 300 clients we each year. For several years, Alexandra House advocates were stationed in the hospitals, providing a visible presence and meeting with clients who needed support. Craig Malm, Director of Community Engagement at Allina Health Systems and former board member recalls that time, “we started out with just volunteers. Then we tried a model where we had advocates onsite.” As the hospitals expanded and Alexandra House programs grew, the hospital advocacy program evolved, eventually becoming what it is today. Now, volunteer On-Call Hospital Advocates respond automatically to the Allina Hospitals and Clinics in Anoka County directly from home and are an integral part of the healthcare of domestic and sexual violence survivors.
Clients are sometimes surprised to learn that community members are interested in volunteering their time to help survivors. When former client Daneysha stayed at the Alexandra House shelter in 2009, she remembers saying to herself “wow, people actually come and volunteer to do stuff and they’re not paid?” One particular volunteer stuck out to Daneysha; “I could feel how much she cared. I didn’t know anything about her, just her energy, just the way that she would smile at you I thought ‘that is really cool that she would do that.’” The care and support that this volunteer provided helped Daneysha to regain her confidence as a person and begin to heal. She remembers “with everyone here, I never felt like a number… I felt like a human being.” When Daneysha competed in this year’s Miss Minnesota pageant she used the platform to amplify her voice, telling her story and shedding light on domestic and sexual violence.
If you would like to join the long line of volunteers, take a look at our volunteer program on our website: https://www.alexandrahouse.org/get-involved/volunteerintern/. The next 50-hour advocate training session will be held in September 2017. If you want more information about volunteering or if you want to be on the interest list for the fall training, please contact the Community Education Coordinator Jess Cheney (email@example.com