By Gina Channell Wilcox
Training 'empowers' volunteers to helpUploaded: Jul 5, 2022
"It could be a domestic violence issue. It could be a sexual assault issue. Sometimes it's a life-functioning issue. Sometimes it's someone feeling suicidal. It could be about anything," said Kristie Wang of the Tri-Valley Haven crisis line calls.
Wang has volunteered for 12 years as a domestic violence and sexual assault counselor at Tri-Valley Haven, a domestic violence shelter, rape crisis center and homeless shelter offering counseling and crises intervention. Wang's work is primarily answering calls made to the crisis line, which is answered by a trained counselor 24/7.
The 70-hour training prepared her to work with survivors of domestic violence or sexual assault.
Before the training, Wang said she "was probably at the low end of the scale of being good at talking to people in a stressful, difficult situation."
"I'm really grateful for the 70-hour training," Wang said. "I always thought of myself as someone who never knows what to say to someone who's going through a hard time. I'd clam up. Things like domestic violence and sexual assault seemed scary to me."
Tri-Valley Haven is offering the 70-hour volunteer training course that emboldened Wang beginning July 12, with classes held 6:30-10:15 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday over Zoom.
Approved by the state of California, Tri-Valley Haven's "Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Training" is considered a premier course of instruction in the field of counseling.
Candidates must be at least 18 years old, participate in a pre-training interview and pay a $140 training fee, with $100 refunded post volunteer term -- one shift per month for a year.
Wang said with the training, she "felt ready to take (the duties) on."
After 12 years, she is very comfortable with her overnight crisis line shifts. However, she said, "When I first started working on the crisis line, every call, my heart would start jumping because I thought it was going to be a woman in crisis and I'm going to have to jump to the rescue.
"And then, after a while, I started to realize a majority of the calls are pretty mundane," she continued. "Someone wanting to talk through something. It could be something that happened 20 years ago. Occasionally there is an actual crisis when someone needs help that moment."
Wang said she has about 10 (unpaid) "day jobs," including as a Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District board trustee, and considers herself a "professional do-gooder."
"I grew up with parents who were just helper people," she explained. "They were always helping people. We always had people living in our home as a child that my parents brought in because they were down on their luck. They didn't have somewhere to live."
"Once, it was a family where the mother was being abused," she continued. "I saw how my parents handled the situation and they tried to intervene. That really left an impression on me."
When Wang moved to the Bay Area looking for a public policy job, she landed at a national domestic violence policy organization, "partly because I had this childhood experience that made me want to help," she said.
"It was at the policy making level, and I always felt I wanted to get involved in the direct service part of it to just be able to help in a different way," she said. "So when I took a break from working to be home with my kids, I thought 'OK, this is the time'."
Wang knew about Tri-Valley Haven from her policy work, and "I knew they did really good work, so I signed up to be trained to be a volunteer."
She said going from a person who was uncomfortable to talk with someone in crisis to "someone who after 70 hours of training feels confident and ready to talk to people who are in distress. That really says a lot about what the training does. Because I did feel ready to take it on at that point. I felt like I could go to a hospital and help someone in need who'd just been assaulted."
"I left (the training) feeling so empowered," Wang said. "If I were in a bad situation, I know there are professionally trained people who can help make things better. I didn't expect to leave feeling empowered in my own life."
Applications for the training are available at www.trivalleyhaven.org/volunteer. For questions, contact Samantha at [email protected]
Editor's note: Gina Channell Wilcox has been the president and publisher of Embarcadero Media Group's East Bay Division since 2006. Her "Around the Valley" column runs the first and third Fridays of the month.