As we say at Safe Harbor, there’s nothing our staff does that our volunteers don’t also do. Natalie is an incredible woman who illustrates how important our volunteers are in helping us carry out our mission.
Over at Safe Harbor’s court advocacy office in the Henrico County Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court, Natalie assists our staff advocate Paz Ochs and contributes many hours each week to helping individuals navigate the legal system. Each day at court is different, and each survivor is struggling with a unique set of circumstances. Here’s what she had to say about her volunteering experience:
What motivated you to take Safe Harbor’s training and become a court advocate volunteer?
As a survivor of domestic violence and having dealt with it for a while, I thought it was only the right thing to do, starting Safe Harbor training. From the moment I started the training I was excited about what we were going to learn next. Safe Harbor has always made me feel I could do anything and I was a value to them. I immediately starting volunteering at the court under Karla in 2012 and continued with Paz. These two ladies are awesome and I learned all about advocacy and the court process from them. I volunteer at the court three times a week and look forward to meeting each new client and learning their story. I love working with them in this difficult time and helping them through the court process, whether it’s the protective order, criminal charges, filing for custody, petitioning for warrants, or shelter and grocery cards if needed.
When you’re volunteering, how do you feel your role serves and supports survivors?
I love working with the clients from start to finish. Everyone has a story – no matter how little or big it is, it’s your story. I empower each client through this difficult time: You have value and you are important. It may be hard right now but we will get through this together. When I wake up every day and I am excited about coming to court and knowing I can make a difference in someone’s life, that’s an awesome feeling. I truly believe if we weren’t there helping them that a lot of victims would go back to their abusers. A lot of our clients don’t really know what domestic violence is so we actually are teaching them the educational piece as well as strong safety planning.
I have learned to have patience and listen. That is so important and each case is different, nothing is black and white.
What advice would you give to someone who was interested in becoming a court advocate volunteer?
My advice would be to give your whole heart in this position. Don’t lose yourself in how a case may turn out in court, because our objective should always be about the safety and wellbeing of our clients, with or without a protective order. Also, don’t judge our clients. Each person is important.
How do you relax and maintain your emotional well-being after working with individuals who have experienced trauma?
My favorite forms of self-care are meditation, taking long walks and getting a massage.
I am totally grateful that Safe Harbor would allow me to come and volunteer for them at court. I absolutely love helping the clients and get a joy out of it. When clients are in a dark moment in their life and we get to a point where they can smile again, that’s a good day.