This year, we’re continuing to celebrate the people who make #OurResilience possible and telling the stories of some of our incredible clients, staff, volunteers, and supporters. It is more important now than ever to embrace and celebrate what connects us: our resilience. This month, we’re proudly shining a spotlight on Kim Garvey, Advocacy Volunteer Coordinator at Resilience.
Continue to read our interview with Kim.
Tell me about your work as Advocacy Volunteer Coordinator.
I run the volunteer program here within the advocacy team. That involves recruitment, facilitating trainings, keeping volunteers updated on agency news, and keeping in touch with them about calls they’ve taken. That’s a lot of it right now, along with some standard advocacy things like going out to calls myself and third leveling and things.
Before beginning your role as Advocacy Volunteer Coordinator, you were a volunteer with Resilience. What was the transition from volunteer to employee like?
I was a volunteer for about five years with Resilience before joining staff. I started out doing first-level advocacy that most of our volunteers are doing and then as I grew with that. I did a little bit of mentoring new volunteers. I helped with new volunteer interviews. I was a third-level volunteer for a few years, helping out on the weekends and doing more supervision to help out there. I served on the volunteer committee for a little while. It was nice to be able to have a sense of the organization already. Then this past year with us suspending services and COVID and everything, a lot of our volunteer program slowed down. It was kind of like, I knew what I was getting into, but it was also a really fresh start since we’ve been trying to figure out how things can work in the world as it is now, how we can move forward, and what changes need to come to the program with that. One of my favorite things is that Mariá Balata, Director of Advocacy Services, was actually my volunteer coordinator when I started, and now she’s my boss and that’s been great to have someone who really knows the role, understands the program, and feels equally as passionate about it.
Resilience relies on volunteers in a really substantial way to make the impact that we do in hospitals. Can you tell me more about what our volunteer advocates do?
Volunteering starts with all prospective volunteers going to a one-night orientation where learn more about the program. They go through an interview with one of our established volunteers to make sure everyone is on the same page, that they understand our goals and values and the expectations that we have of them. Then from there, they’re accepted into our 60-hour training. It’s about five weeks of extra evening classes to learn all the laws and materials and how to work with survivors. Then they get to go into hospitals and put it all into action. They commit to doing two shifts a month for a year, so 24 shifts, or 288 on-call hours. Then they’re taking these 12 hour shifts where at any time in those 12 hours they can be sent out to the emergency room to support a survivor and that time in the emergency room can look like anything. It could be holding someone’s hand while they’re crying and listening to their story or just holding space and being an extra presence if they want them there. It might be listening to or talking to family members about what things might look like in the next days and weeks for a survivor and their emotional journey. It can be being a support person during an evidence collection exam or talking about what a police interview might look like.
What brought you to this work? What inspires you to keep working with survivors?
I originally was volunteering with a reproductive rights group and I was tabling at an event and took a break to stretch my legs. I was walking around to other nonprofit tables and came across Resilience. I started talking to someone there and thought, “Oh, I could do this.” I for some reason felt very brave about it. I just felt the pull to what was Rape Victim Advocates at the time, because I really liked their focus on community and that they really try to create spaces for volunteers to be able to connect, especially in this work that is so trauma-heavy and so lonely. You’re going out into the emergency room by yourself. It’s not coaching little league with your friend or packing food bags at a food pantry or something where you can do it with a group. You’re doing this on your own, so we really try to foster the community and I loved that. I feel like I have always had a healthy level of empathy. Sometimes when people ask me why I do this or say “oh, that sounds really hard and scary,” I’m just like, I’m comfortable with crying people. I tend to not get fazed or overwhelmed by that kind of emotional reaction. I’m pretty good at being able to bring that sense of calmness and positivity with me. There’s a really beautiful honor in being allowed into someone’s life in that really difficult and traumatic time and being able to help be a change and a part of that progress forward for them.
What have been some of the challenges of the pandemic impacting the work that medical advocates do, and how have you and your team been able to adapt to them?
One major challenge is that we found at the very beginning of the pandemic nobody wanted to go into the emergency room. Our volunteers didn’t want to go in and had concerns about it, but we also found that survivors weren’t coming into hospitals. That produced a lot of challenges. Back in March 2020, we suspended all services for about four months, and then we had reduced response to a couple of in-person hospitals. We had to suspend again in November when we started seeing covid numbers peak again. We’ve been able to, with vaccines and everything, start coming back and resuming our in-person advocacy services at all of our partner hospitals. That’s definitely been a challenge to deal with being in such an unknown space. For so long, hospitals felt like a very safe place to be, and then all of a sudden they were not. It was hard to figure out how to still provide services when we can’t go in and we’re not seeing people there. One cool thing that we were able to help out with was getting SB 577 passed. It allows us to also respond to anyone who reports a sexual assault at approved clinics, like Howard Brown, which is great because that provides a non-emergency room option for when people weren’t comfortable going into the emergency room. One other major challenge with that has been that we’ve lost a lot of our volunteer pool. We used to have upwards of over 100 people on the schedule consistently and now we’re down to closer to 40 to 50. It’s gotten a little better in the last month, but a lot of our old volunteers have moved or have just made life changes and are not able to continue volunteering with us, which we understand. It’s definitely been harder to recruit when we can’t go into colleges or out to events to table. We’ve had to cancel some training classes because of things so that puts us back as well. It’s been tough to revitalize the program and really get it going again but we still have a lot of really incredible volunteers. I’ve just graduated my second training class in late August and both of the new classes that I’ve worked with have been incredible. They’re so eager and excited to go out and help. They come and really show up for us. I don’t want it to sound too grim, or that we’re losing everyone and it’s awful, because our volunteers are really wonderful, but we’ve had to make a lot of adjustments.
What is something that you or the Advocacy team is looking forward to in the next year?
I’m hoping we can get back to in-person events soon! One of the best parts of volunteering is the social events we hold for them. It’s been tough to not have those, and zoom game nights aren’t the same. We’re still so limited in being able to meet in groups, but we’re always trying to find new ways that we connect with the people that keep us going.
What are your dreams for the future with Resilience? What are you looking forward to?
I’m always looking forward to continuing to build this volunteer program and to figure out new ways that we can do this and how we can keep people involved, even in these weird moments where things are still changing. I’m really looking forward to the days where we can get back to being in person and having trainings and events together, where we can meet up again. I think that we’ve really figured out in the pandemic how important seeing people is, not just us as an organization, but as a society. I would love to see things continue to grow and change and evolve as they’re able to. I’m looking forward to keeping things going and figuring out how we really function now in this day and age.
What do you want people to know that you haven’t been asked about?
We always need more volunteers! I think that this is such a great program and not just because it’s my program. I’ve volunteered for a lot of organizations and causes, but I stuck with Resilience for so long because you meet great people and get to do such impactful work. It can absolutely be difficult, but it is so rewarding.
Learn more about being a medical volunteer advocate here. The deadline to apply to our upcoming Fall 2021 training is September 22.