Roughly a decade ago on the Fourth of July, Dee Hall was enjoying her day, watching fireworks with her family.
Then she received a phone call: A sexual assault had taken place and somebody needed to meet the victim at the Mount Nittany Medical Center. Hall’s normal day quickly changed.
She remembered thinking: “Oh my god, the whole day you’re having parties and you’re with friends and you’re having this picnic and it’s fun, and then you walk in and it just crashes down on you — that holy crap, there’s a human here who doesn’t have any of that.”
The director of volunteer programs at the Centre County Women’s Resource Center, Hall, at the time, was a volunteer herself. Now she leads a group of 55 volunteers who take calls to help people in Centre County and, sometimes, all over the country deal with issues ranging from domestic violence to sexual assault.
Spending nearly eight hours with the July 4th victim, Hall never left her side.
Hall said while she is not usually a person who gives hugs, in this instance she had an “overwhelming urge” to offer her hand of support, specifically during the pelvic exam when the victim was placed in stirrups.
“She held my hand the entire time they were doing this pelvic exam, and I just thought, ‘If nobody were here, who’s holding your hand?’” Hall said.
The CCWRC, located at 140 W. Nittany Ave., opened its doors in 1975. Besides the 24-hour hotline service that is available to women, men and children, the center maintains an emergency shelter that can house up to 14 women.
The local hotline number is 234-5050, and the toll-free number is 877-234-5050.
Hall said in a month’s time, the center receives roughly 15 sexual assault-related calls and 180 domestic violence calls.
The hotline, with one or two people answering the phone in an office, was established in 1978. Center volunteers now get their calls on their cellphones wherever they are, whether it’s State College, New York or California.
“We had somebody in Las Vegas for a while,” Hall said, with a laugh. “It’s great they want to continue that connection.”
While movements like #TimesUp have impacted the number of women internationally coming out and sharing their stories, Hall said it is more common for those movements to inspire more volunteers.
She said when news broke relating to Jerry Sandusky sexually abusing young children, they didn’t receive more phone calls — instead, there was an influx of people wanting to help the community.
“I think that’s really amazing, and the capacity for giving here is pretty awesome,” Hall said.
Becoming a volunteer with the hotline is not simple, however.
Over the span of 23 classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 80 hours of training goes into preparing each volunteer to handle calls as simple as requests for information.
Roughly 45 percent of volunteers are university students, while 55 percent are permanent residents of the community.
In classes, volunteers learn basic listening skills and how to recognize domestic and sexual assault, violence and trauma. They also learn how to handle communication barriers that affect non-English speakers.
Christy Shaw, of State College, began classes to become a volunteer advocate in September 2016.
“I just knew it was something I wanted to do,” Shaw said. “I’m fortunate in my life to have people around me that have always been there for me anytime I needed them, so this is a way to be there for people when they need you.”
A mother of two, Shaw typically volunteers once a week from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. — setting her phone loud to make sure she never misses a call.
Shaw said while most of the calls are domestic and sexual violence related, that’s not always the case.
One call she received was from a woman who didn’t want to walk to her car alone. Shaw stayed on the line with her.
She once received a call from California, from a translator on behalf of a woman who did not speak English.
“The abuse and fear she was experiencing was so bad that she was willing to pack up her children, and drive from California to here to seek shelter,” Shaw said. “Oftentimes, we don’t even always know what happens, that one was a hard one to work through.”
Hall said that while it is rare to receive calls from outside of Centre County, it occurs occasionally because of the way results pop up on internet searches.
She said it’s important volunteers recognize stress in themselves and ways to handle that stress.
During the training class on suicide, Hall said she passed out adult coloring pages to the volunteers.
She said while dealing with a heavy topic like suicide, the volunteer can focus creative energy into art while staying engaged.
It’s important for volunteers to realize their value is not just when they volunteer, Hall said, adding that her office door is open “98 percent of the time” for volunteers to come in and talk when they need to.
“We’re humans, and if you’re doing this work, you’re the kind of human that cares a whole lot,” Hall said.
Tina Locurto is a Penn State journalism student.