A volunteer finds her niche at Domestic Violence Services

EVERETT — In 32 years of teaching elementary school, Susan Ellington-Reith was drawn to certain students.

“I was always really sensitive to the kids I thought were having a hard time,” she said.

When she retired, Ellington-Reith continued to feel the need to help people facing difficult situations.

She found a new avenue seven years ago when she spotted a blurb in the newspaper seeking volunteers to help at Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County.

Ellington-Reith signed up, took a class and began giving her time in the office where she worked for the non-profit agency’s volunteer coordinator. She later helped out at the organization’s New and Again Thrift Shoppe in downtown Everett. These days, she’s on the front lines, helping at the crisis center and leading support groups.

Some people Ellington-Reith nurtured as children in her classroom she now is aiding as adults in support groups. Often, they are grateful to see a familiar face in such times of personal turmoil.

“I don’t think they will recognize me, but they do,” she said. “It’s hard to come to group that first time and they were happy to see me. That made me feel good.”

Ellington-Reith understands that many people are reticent about volunteering for an organization that deals with victims of violence. Yet there are many ways, both directly and indirectly, for prospective volunteers to help, she said.

“I would tell them to try everything and be where you would like it best,” she said. “I never thought I would want to be in the crisis center.”

Ellington-Reith is one of the 160 volunteers Domestic Violence Services now uses. The need for extra help grew when the organization opened a 13-room, 52-bed emergency shelter in 2013. It houses more than triple the number of women and children it once served and is the largest shelter in the state.

“We can always use more volunteers, especially at the shelter right now,” said Stephanie Civey, volunteer coordinator for Domestic Violence Services.

The importance of people willing to pitch in can’t be overstated, leaders of the organization said.

“We would not be able to do the work that we do without volunteers,” said Vicci Hilty, executive director of Domestic Violence Services. “We simply couldn’t. We don’t have the money to run a 24-hour shelter yet we know that’s what we must do.”

It is a busy operation. Last year, Domestic Violence Services provided 12,642 bed nights at the emergency center for women and children. That includes lodging, food, clothing, crisis counseling, legal advocacy and other support.

It also gave adults and children a transitional place to stay. The longer-term housing equated to more than 18,800 bed nights in 35 apartments scattered across the county.

Between the emergency and transitional housing, it provided a safe haven for 241 children and 147 adults last year. Although it doesn’t have a shelter for men, Domestic Violence Services does provide legal advocacy and crisis line access to both genders.

Its 24-hour crisis hotline took 5,814 calls from victims and people concerned for them. In any given week, there are 10 support groups serving 224 people. There also are education and prevention programs.

All told, the 160 volunteers gave more than 9,450 hours of their time in a variety of ways, including working at the thrift store, shelter and crisis center. They helped with special events, with children’s groups and support groups and in getting word out about the services to the larger community.

“Volunteers are critical to a lot of organizations’ success,” said Rex Caldwell, the soon-to-be-retired Mukilteo police chief who serves on the Domestic Violence Services board. “You don’t just get free labor, you get enthusiasm, energy and new ideas.”

The organization has a long history of relying on volunteers.

It was founded in 1976 by a small group of women providing crisis help and other support out of their homes. Its name has changed a few times over the years, but the need for volunteers has not.

“We are always in need for more,” Civey said.

To learn more about Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County, call 425-259-2827 or go to www.dvs-snoco.org.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, stevick@heraldnet.com.

Volunteer training

Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County will host a six-week, 21-hour volunteer training class from Oct. 19 to Nov. 16.

The free sessions are aimed at volunteers willing to commit to 10 hours of work for the nonprofit agency within a six-month period. The classes will be from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. on those Mondays and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 7.

For more info, call Stephanie Civey at 425-259-2827, Ext. 1013, or email stephanie@dvs-snoco.org.

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