what they need me to be.

Libby has interned for Sanctuary for Families this summer. 

The mission statement of the nonprofit that I intern for, Sanctuary for Families, says: “Sanctuary for Families is dedicated to the safety, healing and self-determination of victims of domestic violence and related forms of gender violence. Through comprehensive services for our clients and their children, and through outreach, education and advocacy, we strive to create a world in which freedom from gender violence is a basic human right.” Sanctuary uses “help” and “partnership” to foster the safety, health, and self-determination of domestic violence victims and related forms of violence. They don’t just help people by giving them housing or helping them get orders of protection from their batters, they want to cultivate a better world with better systems for their clients.

Part of helping effectively and serving effectively includes listening to people- Listening to those in need about who they are and where they have come from, what their state of life is, what they are missing that they need, what they have that they would like to change, what they have done already to try to better their situation, and what they would like others to do to help them. It is so easy to assume you know how you can help someone, but until you have asked these questions, your actions in “helping” them might not actually be helping them at all.

At Sanctuary for Families, the voices of clients have to be heard in order to produce effective outcomes for those clients. Sanctuary has transformed over the 26 years it has been around because Sanctuary leaders were able to understand from the people they were serving and understand that they needed to provide a holistic set of services to accomplish their goal of helping domestic abuse victims.

Feedback from clients constantly helps the staff of Sanctuary know how they are impacting them in the long term. Listening to the voices of those they are trying to help helps Sanctuary know how to attack domestic violence at the root of the problem, working to prevent it from happening and educating law enforcement how to recognize and handle domestic violence situations and also by helping clients build themselves back up to a place where they can have successful, functioning lives again.

My notion of what it means to help someone has been and will continue to be evolving. Coming into this summer, the ideas of community service and partnership were to me part of the umbrella of service. Service is helping but helping does not always mean serving– they are not completely interchangeable.

When I think of community service, I think of volunteering. I think of going to soup kitchens to serve food and wash dishes, picking up trash on highways, keeping the elderly company in nursing homes, visiting patients in the hospital to cheer them up, etc. Growing up, I thought it meant something that people committed to doing because they were nice people and wanted to give back to the community. In my mind there was no deeply linked passion behind helping others achieve something when it came to community services. Volunteering is the same in my mind, but it could also be linked to engaging in a passion to help others in a certain predicament based on personal preference as to what causes one cares about.

Partnership digs even deeper. Partnership means people working together. It is a relationship of give and take and of working together. I think it is so important for helpers to be in a partnership with their “helpees.” A partnership implies communication and with communication comes mutual knowledge of what is and what is not needed. My perception of these terms will definitely influence where I go and what I do in the future. When it comes to service I will be both humble and aware of who I am working with to try to serve them. I will listen to what they really need and I will do all I can to understand where they are coming from, so I can truly be what they need me to be.

1 thought on “what they need me to be.

  1. Your post was very thorough and very clear. It seems to me that you are advocating the need to see “service” as a process in which empowerment is the ultimate goal. I appreciate the emphasis on listening and partnering as tools essential in every service relationship in order to avoid patronizing and objectifying the individuals you are offering to support. Your post reminded me of a discussion I was having with a friend about the appropriateness of the model of “provider/expert and client” in service relationships. Based on your experience working for Sanctuary for Families this summer, do you think there are any other possible models on which to base a relationship with the individuals and families that you encountered and served?

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