Every month, Sarah’s Inn nominates a volunteer to be our Volunteer of the Month. Jolene Fiscella was nominated as March’s Volunteer of the Month. Jolene joined the Sarah’s Inn team in February 2015. Our Volunteer and In-Kind Coordinator, Mariam, asked Jolene about her experiences as a volunteer.

  1. How long have you been volunteering with us, and how did you hear about Sarah’s Inn?

“I first heard about Sarah’s Inn in the 90’s when I was working at another domestic violence agency. I had experience both taking calls from Sarah’s Inn clients in need of shelter, and referring clients to Sarah’s Inn programs. In 2015, when I was a stay at home parent living in Berwyn, I was eager to get out of the house and use my skills. I knew that Sarah’s Inn was a good organization with a lot of opportunities for volunteering, and domestic violence is an issue I have been passionate about for years. So I reached out and soon began working at the front desk.”

  1. What have you enjoyed about volunteering with Sarah’s Inn?

“Sarah’s Inn is a very good organization and I am so happy to be a part of it. Also, I always feel valued and supported as a volunteer. Because of my experiences working in domestic violence agencies in the past, I know that it truly takes many people working together to end domestic violence (DV). DV agencies typically operate on tight budgets. Resources are often limited. For example, there are often wait lists for counseling. I know that the time I spend volunteering at the front desk or taking the crisis line from my home frees up Sarah’s Inn staff and interns so that they can focus on providing  more direct services to clients and the community. 

With DV work, change often happens one baby step at a time. A survivor calls the crisis line for information or comes into the office for their first appointment with a counselor, and a volunteer like myself may be the first person they ever talk to about the abuse. It is very rewarding to know that I have made a  small difference in even one person’s life by being a friendly face or supportive, non-judgemental voice on the crisis line. Over the course of a 20 minute phone call, I often hear the difference in a caller’s voice by the time we hang up.”

  1. Every month, you take on multiple crisis line shifts. How do you find ways to fit volunteering into your schedule?

”Sarah’s Inn has so many different volunteer opportunities that take place at different times and days of the week. There is a way for almost anybody to fit volunteering into their schedule. Some opportunities require the full 40 hour training, but there are also other opportunities that don’t require the training. When I first started volunteering at Sarah’s Inn, I volunteered during the day while my son was in school. Now I schedule crisis line shifts on evenings that are convenient for me. I typically have a book, Netflix, some chores, or a project I can easily set aside when I need to take a call.”

  1. What made you want to volunteer at a Domestic Violence Agency?

“DV is an issue that I am passionate about. When I was in college, I took a Women’s Studies class and that was when I started to become a feminist. I had a new framework through which to view the world. It was like a light bulb came on for me. I had language to talk about issues like sexism and domestic violence. I completed my 40 hour training in 1990 at a domestic violence agency in Urbana, IL, and began volunteering as a legal advocate. 

Domestic violence is incredibly pervasive. I’ve witnessed it in my own family, watched friends go through it, and today I see people disclosing abuse or seeking help for a friend in my facebook moms’ groups and community groups. Over the years I have seen positive changes. There is a lot more awareness, and people know that domestic violence affects not just women and children, but also teens, men, and LGBTQ+ people. I’m so glad to use my skills since there is still such a need.”

  1. Some people may find it difficult to balance working, volunteering, and their personal lives. Why do you think it is important for folks to find the time to volunteer?

“Volunteering can give people a sense of purpose. It can be beneficial to focus on other people and not just ourselves. It also allows us to connect to the world, to learn about people different from myself and build relationships. It’s a great way to meet other people who are passionate about the same issues.

As a parent, I want to be a good role model to my teenage son. I want him to learn about getting involved, giving back to the community, and being a positive force for change in the world. The world has so many problems, and there is so much negativity that as individuals we sometimes feel powerless to make a difference. It’s not unlike what we tell our clients, ‘you don’t have to go through this alone, there are others here to help you out.’ When you volunteer with other people or an organization like Sarah’s Inn, you can work together to accomplish so much!”

  1. Why should people volunteer at Sarah’s Inn?

“For people completely new to domestic violence work, they are going to get excellent training and support. They will be able to get as involved as they would like to be and of course, the work is very rewarding. Sarah’s Inn is a great organization that has served the Chicago area for decades. A few years ago, when many non-profits were struggling to stay open due to the state’s budget crisis, I was impressed by how hard Sarah’s Inn has worked and prepared to ensure they have funding to keep the doors open and serve the community. The extensive volunteer program at Sarah’s Inn is essential to helping staff the 24 hour crisis line and volunteers will always feel valued and supported by the staff.”

Thank you Jolene for volunteering with Sarah’s Inn. If you are interested in volunteering, the best way to get involved is by emailing volunteering@sarahsinn.org, where you will be able to learn more about volunteering opportunities that are available to you.