Center offers meaningful work

Durham Crisis Response Center volunteers assist victims of domestic and sexual violence

Staff WriterApril 6, 2006 

Allison Donnelly and her children shop at the center's Pennies for Change thrift store.


This group doesn't swing dance, rhapsodize about Shakespeare or partake in card games.

Instead, the people who volunteer with the Durham Crisis Response Center sacrifice free time to help victims of domestic and sexual violence. Volunteers such as Mary Ross say the experience is meaningful.

"It is really rewarding to be part of other people's healing and helping to provide some support and information to people about resources they might not know about," said Ross, who has volunteered at the center for more than six years.

For 20 years, the Durham center and its predecessor have provided shelter and support to those in the Durham area subjected to sexual abuse or domestic violence. The center provides counseling, legal advocacy, support groups and shelter to abuse survivors and their families. It also offers youth workshops and training to schools, as well as information sessions on domestic violence and sexual abuse for the general public and professional groups in the Triangle.

Volunteers are crucial to the center, said Dina Helderman, director of community outreach. Each year, they provide about 15,000 hours of volunteer labor that includes teaching others about sexual or domestic abuse and operating the center's thrift store, Pennies for Change.

Volunteers also serve alongside staff in answering calls to the center's 24-hour crisis hot line, which receives about 1,700 calls annually -- 1,400 about domestic violence and another 300 related to sexual assaults.

The hot line is the most time-intensive volunteer job at the center. Volunteers undergo 48 hours of hot line training and work three shifts a month that can extend overnight. The volunteers provide support, referrals and information over the phone, as well as visit area hospitals to be with victims who have come to the emergency room after being sexually or physically abused.

While callers are often traumatized and upset, volunteers say the work is gratifying.

"On the hot line, I am the first line of support for anyone who calls in," said Matt Wolf, a volunteer for six months. "Most of the time, the calls are not emotionally draining; they are encouraging. You feel like you're making a difference."

Staff writer Jennifer Brevorka can be reached at 836-4906 or

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