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The Women's Crisis Center: It's Not For Libbers Only

The Women's Crisis Center: It's Not For Libbers Only image
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761 - WISE. One of those easy-to remember acronymic phone numbers intended to facilítate a cali for help at I times when your mind may not be in a state to recall some meaningless combination of digits. On the other end of this particular phone number is the Women's Crisis Center, which relies on the trained wisdom of ordinary women to provide assistance to other women who have a problem. Any problem - big or small, critical or chronic, practical or emotional. Located in a single, small room at the back of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church at 306 N. Division, and equipped with a typewriter, an extensive referral file and three special phones, the Women's Crisis Center is staffed entirely by trained, volunteer counselors. Fifty active counselors, working in pairs, put in an average of one four-hour shift at the Center each week. There are counselors on duty from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. seven days a week. Careful records kept by the center indicate that the counselors have responded to more than 1,000 calls for help since it opened last April. Representatives of the center cite three basic objectives: (1) To reduce anxiety for women in crisis situations by providing counseling, information and practical assistance; '(2) to prevent potential mental health problems through educational means; and (3) to encourage "self-help" and personal growth by giving women the opportunity to work as counselors or in cliënt groups, helping women with similar problems. "We felt that there were a number of problems which patricularly affect women which were not being met by other community or mental health agencies," says Donna Waldman, a center volunteer. . "We also believed that in our society there are a lot of women who can be oí help to other women." In spite of the feit need and good ïntentions, the plans for a volunteer operated center got off to a rocky start. A center opened at the Student Activities Building on the University of Michigan campus in the fall of 1971 with little advance preparation and was, Ms. Waldman candidly admits, "a fiasco." "We didn't know what we were doing or how to organize it. We were giving out ridiculous referrals. It flopped right away." After the original effort feil apart, a core group of about 20 women sat down to figure out a better way. "We felt if we were going to open something like this, we had a responsibility to the potential clients to do it right and be dependable," Ms. Waldman says. "For several months we did a lot of thinking about exactly what was needed and planning how to accomplish it." One of the big breakthroughs was a professional training program for the counselors. Through the 18-hour weekend program, the counselors develop the skill of "empathie understanding" - by which they can help another person to understand her feelings and the realans for them. Each counselor also takes a series of three-hour training sessions on suicide jrevention, rape, problem pregnancy ounseling and referral information. Prospective counselors are screened Defore being accepted for the training Drogram and are also evaluated by the ;rainers at the end of the session. The ;rainers reserve the right to require adiitional training or recommend that a )erson not be accepted as a counselor. ."Actually, in most cases the trainer md the trainee are in agreement about ;heir ability to proceed," says Ms. Waldnan. "But we do feel we have a serious responsibility on this. We are offering a service to people who have problems. iVe don't want someone who's going to reak out in a crisis." Developing a referral system in which ;hey could have confidence took much ;ime and was another important step in )ringing the center into operation. Re'erral information, contained in a fat ïotebook and two circular card indexes, s updated and added to constantly. "Our referral information is now coniidered the best of any agency in town," ays Ms. Waldman. "It has referrals for ust about everything people would want ;o know about - legal assistance, theraDy, dealing with handicaps, job discrimilation, health, birth control, educational ipportunities, recreational activities." The system will be replaced, probably }y the end of the month, when a new :omputerized referral system goes into Dperation. Worked out in cooperation ivith Drug Help," Inc., and Ozone House ander a $500 grant from the Association Eor Information Sciences, the program will replace the bulky manual operation ivith computer printout sheets, which wïïL be updated every two weeks. Center volunteers measure the success ai the agency in terms of a steadily increasing number of calis over the nine months that it has been in operation. Over the first three months, the center logged 176 calis, for an average of 15 a week. Over the last three months the number had risen to 548, or 42 a week. Calis about problem pregnancies (for which special counselors, who will talk to the woman or couple personally, are available 24 hours a day) have consistently accounted for 18 to 20 per cent of calis to the center. Statistics for the three-month period between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, 1972, indícate that about 38 per cent of the calis are for general information about the center or the women's movement; seven per cent are about interpersonal problems such as dating, marriage or divorce; six per cent are related to psychological problems such as depression or loneliness; 16 per cent are requests for emergency housing, transportation or assistance with other practical problems. The remainder of the calis were related to contraception, rape, drug and medical problems. Somewhat to their surprise, the center found that between five and 10 per cent of their cails were coming from men. "Some said they called here because they thought we'd be more understanding," says Jan BenDor, one of the izers. "We also have gotten quite a few calis from teenage boys who wanted to ñnd out about girls but didn't know who to ask." The . counseling operation is by no means the only aspect of the center's activities. Educational efforts are aimed at preveriting crisis problems and helping women find opportunities for personal growth." The center organkes small "consciousness raising" and "sharing" groups for women who are interested in the women' s movement or for women who share a similar situation (having been raped, having recently gone through a divorce or being a working mother). It has sponsored conferences on "Women and the Law," "Female Sexuality" and "Employment Opportunities for Women." A group of welfare mothers involved with the center is preparing a booklet to help women on welfare know their rights. A rape education project is in the planning stages, and a speaker's bureau is being organized to provide speakers on various topics to church groups, schools, Girl Scouts and other women's organizations. The center was decidedly feminist in its origins and probably about half of the 100 people who particípate in the effort are students. But a real effort has been made to diversify participation, according to Ms. Waldman. One of the counselors is a grandmother and many are young married women with children. "You don't have to be a women's libber to be a part of it," she says. "Just a woman who has feelings for helping other women." "It's fascinating for me to work in this kind of situation. I have very strong political feelings myself, but I've worked with and gotten to like and respect all kinds of women. Getting it together in a non-political spectrum has been just neat." Also, she says, the center receives many calis from older women, and it would help if they had more older women to act as counselors. "And there's just nothing greater than to see an older weman on that phone," she says. Policy at the center is to avoid any kind of advocacy in counseling. "The abortion issue is an example," says Ms. Waldman. "We don't push our personal views - and we do have people with strong views both for and against it. "We can help a woman gek an abortion out of state if that's what she wants. But we also have linkages with adoption agencies, and in some cases we've been able to find financial assistance for women who wanted to have and keep their babies." Twelve hundred dollars acquired through bucket drives and donations from churches, individuals and interested organizations has kept the center afloat this past year, but they are now seeking funding from several sources, including the United Fund. Among the priority needs that such funding could provide are a part-time coördinator to handle the administrative and bookkeeping tasks of the center and a new location more amenable to "dropin" types of services. "We'd originally thought of it as a place where women could come to get away from it all, to talk, or work out their problems before they reach crisis proportions," says Ms. Waldman. As soon as possible, the center would like to institute 24-hour a day operation, but more volunteer counselors are needed. The next weekend training session for counselors will be held Jan. 26 through 28. Women who are interested in doing such counseling can cali the center. "There are a lot of women out there who just don't know we exist - women who might need help or women who might find a tremendous opportunity for personal growth in serving as counselors," says Ms. Waldman.