‘Domestic violence knows no boundaries’Published 9:14am Monday, October 5, 2009
No stranger to domestic violence candlelight vigils like the wet rally moved into Pokagon United Methodist Church Thursday night, Fourth District Judge Stacey Rentfrow found herself promoted from volunteer to keynote speaker.
She had attended many such events as a spectator in Cass and St. Joseph counties.
She also read victims’ names, but until Oct. 1 “never presented. I certainly find that to be a challenge, based on the many vigils I have attended and the very impressive speakers that I have heard in the past.
“While I can’t say that I have an inspiring story, nor am I an expert as to this issue, what I can tell you about is what I have learned from the experience as a volunteer with Domestic and Sexual Abuse Services (DASAS).
She “caught the volunteer ‘bug’ when I was working at the Legal Aid Bureau of Southwestern Michigan here in Cass County, which helps low-income individuals,” Rentfrow said. “Much of the work that I was involved with were divorces, custody and parenting time disputes and many of those cases involved abusive relationships. Over 10 years ago, I decided I needed/wanted to learn more about domestic violence, as well as be helpful, so I decided to volunteer my time and become a board member.”
“What I learned first and foremost through that job, as well as being a board member,” she said, “was that domestic violence knows no boundaries. As I represented individuals over the years and served on the board, I came to learn that domestic violence is not limited to a certain race, income level, where a person lives or type of job a person has.
“What I also learned was that it was easy to be blind to this issue in your little family and social network and believe that domestic violence does not occur in your neighborhood,” the judge said.
“I would encourage you if you are not already on the mailing list for Domestic and Sexual Abuse Services, to get on the mailing list and receive their annual report, which not only tells you how the organization spends its resources, but the annual report also tells you how many clients it serves. I always read the section of the annual report which tells where the clients are from.
“For example, in a recent annual report it states that three clients from Jones were served, here in Pokagon eight clients, Dowagiac had 46 clients served, just to name a few communities in Cass County. That means that persons in your neighborhood, maybe even persons on your street, could be involved in an abusive relationship.”
An empty place at the table
“The theme of tonight is to remember the lives that were lost to domestic violence and we have certainly come here tonight to remember those who leave an empty place at the table due to domestic violence. But we are also here to move forward for those still living, and I would encourage each and every one here to move forward for those still living and I would encourage each and every one here that there is something you can do to help survivors, those currently in an abusive situation and future victims – by volunteering.”
Rentfrow continued, “I chose to become a board member. I enjoyed that experience as I could apply my legal background and assist the organization. Others on the board have specialties in financing, education, social work or banking. Others are just hard workers and good planners for fundraising events. The board always needs committed and energetic persons, as there is much to do.
“Emergency response persons are needed. Those are volunteers who accept calls in the middle of th night to meet the victim immediately following the arrest of the perpetrator, to provide transportation to the shelter if needed, to provide transportation to a medical facility if needed and to provide information about support services available.
“Child care providers are needed to watch the children while their parent is in their support group meetings.
“Of course,” she said, “donations are needed as funding from grants is always threatened. Individual donations or group donations can be non-specific or even specific. For example, the shelter is always in need of appliances or furniture. Understand that the shelter is a home with multiple families. Just as your kitchen stove, dishwasher, refrigerator or washer/dryer is used just for your family, imagine four or five families using your appliances day in and day out. If your organization wanted a specific goal, the shelter coordinator would be able to tell you what was in need.
“Food can always be used at the shelter. If there are any hunters out there who have a full freezer, but still wish to hunt, the shelter takes processed meat.
“The shelter has an updated wish list of items needed, which include children’s items such as formula and hygiene items.
“The shelter can always use a handyman. If there is someone with some time to do small repairs, that would be very helpful because, again, the shelter has multiple families and is full almost year around, so it is a well-used home that is always in need of repairs.
“Those are some examples of how you can donate your time or money,” Rentfrow said, “and those examples showed some of the ways you can volunteer, whether big or small. I know I enjoyed the 10 years I committed to Domestic and Sexual Abuse Services and it was also a great example for my children.”
“I want to leave you with the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson,” she said:
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
“So, I would encourage you to volunteer in one of these ways to remember those who are survivors and to keep the organization healthy and functioning for those in the future who may need Domestic and Sexual Abuse Services,” Rentfrow said.