Susan Wright – helping change lives and offers hope, one phone call at a time
Staffs 24-hour domestic violence hotline as a volunteer
“Those connections, those words of compassion and hope, can be, will be, a lifeline to a victim of domestic violence.”
Susan Wright has been a volunteer with Sojourner Truth House for 15 years. In her time she has not only gained more experience with the organization, she has touched the lives of so many who are looking for a way out of a terrible situation by helping them to start a new chapter of their lives. After years of thinking about the issues of domestic violence, Susan has found an amazing way to be part of the solution: by giving people hope.
“Carmen Pitre, our Executive Director often reminds the staff that they are the hands and heart of Sojourner, and that applies to no one more than it does to Susan. Every time she comes in to volunteer, she warms up the room with her incredible patience, kindness, and professionalism. She is a role model to our staff and volunteers, and a trusted resource for our clients. We are all so grateful for her many years of friendship and service.”- Lily Grant, Volunteer Coordinator
What made you become a volunteer?
When my children were in 3rd grade and 5th grade, I felt that it was time in my life for me to decide to either go back to work or dive into a volunteer position. My choice to pursue training and volunteer opportunities at Sojourner Family Peace Center was inspired by a class I took as a senior at Marquette University called Christian Marriage. My parents had a wonderful relationship, and I was starting to see my friends with their boyfriends and they were not being treated how they should be and ultimately decided to write my term paper about the cycle of violence. I had called the domestic violence hotline and interviewed a couple of people and thought “how can someone who claims to love you hit you?” I was a business major and moved on to work at Merrill Lynch, but in the back of my mind I always had that question, and I thought if I could be part of that solution someday, that’s what I want to do. Once I had raised the kids and was able to get out of the house more often, I called Sojourner after seeing an advertisement and I immediately fell in love with the experience of volunteering on the hotline from the very first training session.
Describe Sojourner and the work they do.
Sojourner Family Peace Center is the largest domestic violence agency in Wisconsin. Our mission is to transform lives impacted by domestic violence. We have partnered with Children’s Hospital of WI to create the Family Peace Center – a new model in providing services to victims of family violence. The center is 72,000 square feet of shared space with our partners including MPD Sensitive Crimes Unit, Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office, MPS, Aurora Sexual Assault Treatment Center, Jewish Family Services, just to name a few. We have come together with our partners to provide assistance to families who have been impacted by domestic violence. Our goal is to help our clients heal from the devastating effects of abuse and provide opportunities for peace and change in their lives.
What do you do as a volunteer?
I volunteer on the 24-hour Domestic Violence Hotline which is at Sojourner Truth House, our 64 bed crisis shelter for women and their children. I answer calls from a variety of individuals – victims of domestic violence seeking shelter, victims requesting services, victims who simply want to talk, friends or family members of victims looking for advice, police officers who call the hotline on scene of a domestic violence incident, the Sheriff’s Office at County Jail who call the hotline to notify us of a pending jail release, and so on. The phones are always busy and it is our goal to let each caller know that they are not alone. We assess the caller’s situation and help guide them to a plan. We don’t want to make their decision but rather give them options and empower them to make the change. As a volunteer at Sojourner Truth House, I also interact with our shelter residents. We answer questions and provide referrals and guidance but most of all supply loads of encouragement and support as we help these brave women take steps toward healing.
How long have you been a volunteer?
What surprised you the most about volunteering?
How fast I was “hooked” and how strong the bond I have with the organization and client base has become.
What new things have you learned through this volunteer opportunity?
I’ve watched our leadership create our amazing Family Justice Center. I’ve learned about our partners in the center and ways in which their services blend with ours to provide clients with a comprehensive safety plan, that victims of domestic violence can put an end to their abusive relationships and have happy, healthy lives! I’ve learned that children who grow up witnessing domestic violence can break the cycle and have relationships of their own that are loving and respectful, and I’ve learned that Sojourner will do everything we can to make our community safer.
My view of the world and the community has been altered over the years. Although my life growing up would appear to be quiet, my experience volunteering at Sojourner Truth House has been a life experience that bridges the gap between some harsh realities and the hope we provide. Though it is not an easy job, my experience has brought to light the reality of the many who suffer and has made it even more evident the need for this service in our community. I’ve watched our community become more desperate over the years. I know that we need to pull together. There is so much we can offer with the service of our time and that is where I have such hope. We see how it makes a difference even years later. These are the critical moments where we can show up and be there for someone we have never met, and it is in that moment, in that safe place, we can impact others for the better.
Has volunteering helped you? Has it had benefits for you?
Volunteering has definitely helped me. I think it has made me a better person – a better wife and mother. I may have taken my life for granted. I am much more aware today of the struggles and pain some families endure in their homes. Today I am much more appreciative of the blessings in my life. I also feel like I have a second family in the team at Sojourner. Just as we provide encouragement and support to our clients, we take care of each other as well.
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of the connections that I have made over the years with shelter residents. To illustrate, a couple of months ago, I stopped at a restaurant in Wauwatosa to grab lunch. When I walked through the door, a woman smiled at me. I smiled back, placed my order at the counter and took a seat at a table for two. Within a short amount of time, the woman was standing at my table and asked me if I still worked at Sojourner Truth House, as she was a resident there in 2009. She wanted to thank me for all we had done for her and to let me know that she thinks about us every day. She said we gave her the courage to say “enough.”
More recently, a new resident came up to me in the shelter. I had spoken with her on the hotline on a Thursday and she was able to come into shelter that weekend. On Monday morning, she stopped me and asked if my name was Susan. She wanted me to know that my voice and words during our initial conversation made her believe that things were going to be okay. Those connections, those words of compassion and hope, can and will be a lifeline to a victim of domestic violence.
Would you recommend volunteering to others? If so, what would you tell them is the benefit they’d get from volunteering?
Yes, I would definitely recommend volunteering at Sojourner. We could not do what we do without the help of volunteers. There are a variety of opportunities including working with children, assisting with special events/projects, organizing donations, Holiday projects, and of course, volunteering on the crisis hotline and assisting shelter residents. I would tell them the work is humbling, emotional, challenging, and so meaningful. It is an almost indescribable feeling to speak with a battered woman on the phone, listen to her, help guide her to a plan, hear the panic in her voice begin to subside and then hear her whisper “thank you.”
How would you suggest someone begin if they want to volunteer at Sojourner?
The Nonprofit Center of Milwaukee is a membership association serving over 500 nonprofit and corporate members and the nonprofit sector at large. The Nonprofit Center of Milwaukee promotes the interests and effectiveness of the nonprofit sector through strengthening organizational capacity, expanding volunteerism and encouraging collaborations. Its programs include training and consulting, Volunteer Milwaukee, financial management, and Jobs that Serve. For more information visit www.npcmilwaukee.org.
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