Volunteering to work at a domestic violence or homeless shelter would be beneficial to you and the residents that you will serve. It is an opportunity that allows you to make a big difference in the life of someone else. Before you make a commitment keep these things in mind.
Privacy – Don’t ask them why they are there. Suffice it to say something bad happened to them or their children. Serving them does not give you the right to get into their personal business. Sometimes they may be led to share their story with you which should remain in strict confidence. That confidence should only be broken if there is a possibility of a threat to them or them looking to harm someone else out of revenge. In that case it should be reported to the proper authorities or administrator.
Dignity – Treat them as you would want to be treated. They want to be respected and shown dignity. Put yourself in their shoes.
Attitude – It’s easy for a person to tell if you care by your actions. Don’t feel like you are doing them a favor. Leave your “hoity-toity-ness” outside the door. If you’re not being genuine in your treatment of them you have wasted your time and theirs too.
Sensitivity – Be kind, caring and compassionate with people who are in this situation. They have gone through a horrible experience. They may also have feelings of little self-worth, a negative self-image and a low self-esteem. Validating them as a person with value lets them know that they are special.
Rules – Follow the rules that have been established by the facility that you are volunteering at. They are put there for your protection and safety as well as for the residents.
Staff – Don’t talk negatively about the staff to the residents. Bad-mouthing them is not a good way to develop and maintain a positive relationship with them. While they are usually glad to welcome your volunteer efforts they also are there to make sure that things run smoothly and in an orderly fashion.
Parking – Park in the designated spaces allotted for visitors and volunteers. Don’t use handicapped parking if you are not handicapped. They are there for a purpose.
Volunteering at a homeless or domestic violence shelter will give you better insight of different situations that people are confronted with on a daily basis. Your experience in serving others will probably make you more sensitive for the plight of those in unfortunate circumstances. You do make a difference.
Personal experience and suggestions