Volunteering With Rape Crisis Center

Shannon Miller | Vegas Seven

Rape Crisis Center executive director Daniele Dreitzer and development coordinator Briana Ryan answer questions for anyone interested in becoming a volunteer. The Rape Crisis Center operates a 24/7 crisis hotline and hospital response for sexual assault victims and provides counseling, advocacy and support to help victims begin the healing process and navigate the legal system. Committed to raising awareness of sexual assault and engaging in prevention efforts, the RCC provides educational programs and community outreach, particularly to youth.

Briana, before you joined the Rape Crisis Center staff, you were a volunteer. Did that experience influence your decision to come onto the team full time?

Briana: Absolutely. My experience as a volunteer was really positive. From an administrative point of view, everything was clearly communicated; scheduling was always clear and flexible. And the experience triggered something in me about my passion for this line of work and influenced my decision to come on full-time.

What did you get from your experience as a volunteer?

Briana: It teaches you to truly empathize with someone in a situation that you yourself may never encounter. To see that person’s point of view and to be somewhat there for them, to help them and guide them—it gives you the sense of truly helping somebody. I think with a lot of volunteer opportunities, you might be doing clerical work; you might be helping out at a special event, which we are in need of, too. But the direct client services that you get from being a volunteer with RCC makes it unlike other opportunities, because you are working with people in a crisis situation who so desperately need guidance and resources and referrals in that moment. So you really get to be that light for them, and that’s impactful.

Was it difficult to be so close to the trauma that these victims experience?

Briana: The nature of what we’re doing can be difficult. And of course there are certain situations and people that might be more difficult. But one thing RCC encourages is self-care.Throughout volunteer training, we’re encouraged to take time for ourselves, whether it’s taking a bath or making it to a yoga class, spending time with loved ones or reaching out to the center to talk about a particularly difficult case you encounter. Self-care is one thing that RCC encourages, and that helped me. When I was on the hotline, I always felt comfortable coming to our volunteer coordinator and expressing myself if something had been especially difficult.

Daniele: That’s one of the questions we ask in the [volunteer] interview: What are some things you will do for yourself to keep from burning out? Because obviously, it’s a huge concern with the topic that we deal with. It can be difficult for people. We are very clear with volunteers that we always want the best for our clients and for our volunteers. So if you get in that position and you don’t feel like it’s the right fit for you, we never get upset. Sometimes you don’t know that until you’re actually in it, which isn’t until the very end of training, unfortunately.

Do you do scenarios in training to give volunteers a better idea of what an emergency response would be like?

Daniele: Yes, they go to the hospital, they take a tour, they talk with the same nurse. We do scenarios, role plays both on the phone as well as in person. We talk about mandated reporter situations they may encounter. We talk about what trauma does to people. We talk about angry and delusional callers. We try to prepare people for every possible scenario that we encounter. There are new and different situations every day. Again, sometimes you think you’re going to be OK, and you get face-to-face with clients and people find it really overwhelming. Or sometimes people will come on who just want to help at outreach events and things, and then they maybe take a turn at the hotline and try shadowing somebody and find that it’s a really great fit for them. So it definitely goes both ways.

Are volunteers involved with formal counseling?

Daniele: Volunteers do not do counseling. When clients call, we try to make the distinction that they’re speaking with an advocate as opposed to a counselor. On the hotline, we’re trying to provide resources and guidance. If it is somebody who is looking for counseling resources, we certainly let them know about our support groups, our individual counseling and what’s available through the center or other resources in the community. But it’s not actual counseling on the phone—that’s something we leave to our professional therapeutic staff.

For the volunteer application process, there’s an interview after you submit the application and before the training. How does that interview influence your selection of volunteers?

Daniele: The interview isn’t terribly long—15 to 30 minutes, on average. Typically, the interviews are conducted by our volunteer manager along with one of our other advocates. It’s just to get a sense of what somebody’s motivation is for coming in—to make sure that they have appropriate expectations for training, how intensive it is, what the work is like. There are some applicants who don’t end up getting accepted into the training, based on the interview. We take our responsibility very seriously and, ultimately, our volunteers are working exactly as staff does when they’re responding on the hotline and in the hospital. So we need to have 1,000 percent confidence that the person will be the right fit.

I will say, too, that doesn’t mean people have to have any sort of professional or educational background. A lot of it really is attitude and perspective. We have people from all ranges of experiences. We have women and men, retirees, the whole spectrum.

The Rape Crisis Center volunteer applications are due January 11 for winter training. RCC winter volunteer training sessions total 50 hours over five weeks, with the first session on January 17.  If you would like to get involved with an invaluable nonprofit and help victims of sexual abuse and assault, you can find the application and more information at rcclv.org/volunteer.