Women & Children First's 54-bed emergency shelter is the center point of our programming. Victims who are fleeing a domestic violence situation can seek safe shelter and a chance to re-start their lives during our 45-day program. Although there are many components to their time in the shelter, the work the Shelter Advocates do is central to their time in the program.
WCF has two full-time shelter advocates, Virginia and Michael. The Shelter Advocates walk alongside the guests to help them achieve their personal goals. They do everything from helping enroll the children in LRSD schools, to transporting the guests to Wal-Mart, the courthouse, mental health and doctors' appointments, to helping the guests learn new life skills, to mediating and resolving disputes between guests. In addition to the work with the guests, the advocates also help keep food and clothing donations organized, conduct room checks, and help keep the shelter running. It's a busy job, but one that both of our advocates enjoy.
"I love seeing the guests achieve their personal goals - finding employment, finding housing, learning to communicate with their children," Virginia said. "I also love to see them smile and their self-esteem grow while they are in the shelter." Michael also has a unique position as a male advocate. "One thing that I love is giving the guests an example of what a positive male role model looks like," he said.
As much as the advocates love their work, the job does not come without challenges. "A daily challenge we face is empowering the guests to achieve their
personal goals," shared Virginia. "We have to remember that the guests are the experts on what they need in their particular situation, and they are
in charge." Just as Michael loves being a positive male role model, it presents its own challenge. "It's challenging to find ways for the guests to
feel comfortable around me," he said. "I know that most guests are coming out of an abusive situation with a man and they may have a negative outlook
on all men, so that is a tough mindset to help them overcome."
Even with the challenges, Virginia and Michael are able to see success stories and changes in the lives of the guests. Virginia remembers one guest, a mom of 4, who maintained a managerial position at work and also secured hosing for her and her children during her time at the shelter. "On a daily basis, she would write poetry and motivational messages on the board outside the advocate's office. She maintained a positive attitude and persevered whenever she was faced with challenges and unfortunate circumstances. In spite of her busy schedule she would always make time to stop by the advocate's office to say, "Hello. How are you? Have a good day". Seeing her persevere through her situation makes my job worth it", Virginia shared.
Michael also shared about a current guest who has left an impression on him. "There is a mom who has a young baby, and when they first arrived, the baby girl would cry every time she saw me. But, after a few days, I won her over and now her face lights up every time she sees me, and she even will let me hold her. I know that once her mom graduates our program, I am going to miss her - but winning over her trust is something I will never forget."
Last year, WCF welcomed 744 guests through the doors of our shelter. Our Shelter Advocates work each day to make a lasting impact on their lives, as we offer safety, strength, and hope for all victims of family violence.
If you or someone you know is in a domestic violence situation, call our 24-Hour Crisis Hotline at 1-88-332-4443.