Q & A with Barbara Blackburn
“Safety, healing, and freedom from domestic abuse and sexual assault. That’s the mission of the WCA, and what an important and BIG mission it is! In addition to our dedicated staff, the WCA relies heavily on the work of its volunteers. I like to call these amazing individuals ‘unpaid servants.’ These are people who love our organization so much and believe in what we do so deeply that they choose to give freely of their time and talents to help us live out our mission. One of these unpaid servants is Barbara Blackburn, an Administrative volunteer at the WCA. I had a chance to ask Barb a few questions about her service here, and as always, I felt an overwhelming sense of GRATITUDE when I read her responses. Thank you, Barb, we could not do what we do without you,” said Nichole Warner, WCA HR/Admin Manager.
Taking Flight: What do you do in your volunteer role at the WCA?
Barb: Mostly, I work at the front desk in the admin area. I sometimes think of our little group as the “first responders”. We consist of two full-time WCA staff, and often a volunteer so that the desk, phones and front door are always covered. The WCA staffers are extremely proficient in their jobs and a total joy to work with. They have a great deal of compassion and empathy for the clients, along with a truly gracious and cheerful attitude toward donors large and small. No one leaves that office feeling unworthy or unappreciated. My “job” as a volunteer includes helping to answer the phones, as well as dealing with potential clients who just “show up” for help. The calls range from women in severe crisis, to matters such as people asking about our various programs; and organizations that want to hold drives or otherwise contribute. Just when I think I have heard everything, I will get a caller with a question no one has ever heard before, and we all work together to come up with a means to find them appropriate help or referrals.
TF: How long have you been a volunteer?
Barb: I really have no idea how long I have been volunteering at the WCA. The time flies by quickly because it is usually so fast-paced and interesting. I think it’s probably been about three years. I usually manage to volunteer every Tuesday, when Staff and Board meetings occur, and then try to devote some time to special events such as the Christmas Giving Tree, and the Christmas Family Sponsors (which literally take months of work and hundreds of volunteer and staff hours to accomplish). As the presents come in, we wrap and label them, and as the piles grow higher and higher, we look through the door and marvel at the generosity of our community. We “tear-up” a lot. We have additional events going on all year round, such as Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October.
TF: What do you find most rewarding about your work at the WCA?
Barb: In between daily projects, I always have a magazine open, usually Oprah or National Geographic. I am not reading articles, but searching for words and pictures that might provide a scared woman or child a means of communicating his or her individual story: their fears, their worries, hopes for the future, and finally the realization that they have the power to get there. The pictures of the animals in National Geographic often depict some very obvious human emotions, such as anger (even rage), comfort from a parent or sibling, the power to fight back, and the joy and celebration of conquering what scares them. I think it is easier for the clients, especially the kids, to demonstrate these stark and brutal emotions using the cover of an animal instead of a person. I try not to be too limiting in what I choose to cut out, because a picture of an ice cream cone can be as joyful to some as the loving arms of a mother can be to others. One of the counselors, Pamela Anderson, counsels a lot of the children, and she takes a special interest in having her clients tell their stories through a collage using these words and pictures. Many of these clients are so thrilled with what they have created and discovered about themselves, and how far they have come, that they ask Pamela to show me the finished portrait of their journey. I absolutely love this. It always makes me smile, and sometimes cry.
TF: How have you changed or grown as a person through your work here?
Barb: I used to think that the “client” was the true recipient here. They receive donations of food, clothing, shelter, counseling and other resources they need to enable them to physically start a new life. They receive multi-faceted training to prepare themselves financially and emotionally to make sure they don’t fall back into that cycle of abuse. But as I have participated and watched people over the years, I see things like a young woman with no disposable income who shopped at 3 a.m. on Black Friday to be able to afford to donate a blender, or the little boy who was grinning from ear to ear as he told me that “a little boy exactly like me will LOVE this toy!” They were just so happy to be giving, and you could tell they were the real winners, and that this experience will likely make them want to keep on giving for the rest of their lives.
We are part of all that, and it makes me feel really proud.
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