It’s been awhile since Heavan Papendick became a sexual assault survivor. She found a way to use her experiences to help others when she started volunteering for the Alachua County Victim Services and Rape Crisis Center in 2016.
“It felt really good to know that I was able to take something so horrible that happened to me and turn it into something so good for somebody else,” Papendick said.
The Alachua County Victim Services and Rape Crisis Center is seeking volunteers to answer calls on the center’s 24-hour helpline and assist with outreach events, said Ashley Flattery, a victim advocate counselor.
A volunteer’s responsibilities can range from just listening to sexual assault survivors to referring them to community resources, Flattery said.
Volunteers take calls from the helpline when the office is closed. This includes weekends and holidays, said Jessie Lazarchik, the sexual assault program manager. These calls are taken on a county cell phone which is given to the volunteers, according to their website.
“I think the most important thing for our folks on the helpline, more important than any kind of educational background or certification … is that the person is kind, compassionate, wants to be supportive of survivors in our community and is up for that kind of task,” Lazarchik said.
The center is looking for volunteers of all backgrounds but is especially encouraging bilingual, Spanish speakers to join, Flattery said.
To start training at the center, an online application should be turned in by June 22, Lazarchik said. Applicants will then attend a one-on-one meeting before the training, which begins June 27.
The training includes 30 to 40 hours of online coursework through the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence and in-person training where volunteers practice answering calls on the helpline through role-play and presentations, Flattery said. Volunteers also learn about community resources they can refer callers to.
The center requires volunteers to commit at least nine months to the helpline. Volunteers also have a monthly requirement to either work a weekend shift, where they are on call from 5 p.m. Friday to 8:30 a.m. Monday, or four weekday shifts from 5 p.m. to 8:30 a.m., Flattery said.
“The really cool thing about our helpline is a lot of times people get worried that they’re going to be pressured to report or that we won’t help them if they’re not into the idea of talking to police, but we offer services whether a person wants to report or not,” Flattery said.
The helpline is not a high-volume hotline, Flattery said. All volunteers will have a backup staff member from the center on duty to serve as a consultant and relief for volunteers.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, people feel passionate about wanting to help sexual violence victims but may not know how, Flattery said.
“This is an outlet where if you want to help, if it’s something that you’re passionate about, this is a concrete, actionable thing that you can do to help survivors in our community,” Flattery said.
To apply to be a volunteer or for more information, visit alachuacounty.us/depts/css/victimservices/pages/volunteerinfo.aspx. The phone number for the 24-hour sexual assault helpline is 352-264-6760.