For survivors of sexual assault in the Brazos Valley, help and support is always one call away. And for many of the people who answer that call, the opportunity to serve their community is all the compensation they need.
In line with its mission statement — “to end the cycle of violence in Brazos Valley through education, empowerment and advocacy” — the Sexual Assault Resource Center offers a variety of services, including a 24/7 crisis hotline that connects survivors with whatever they may need. Some seeking medical care may want someone to go with them for support — another service that SARC provides regardless of day or time. Executive director Lauren Carroll said advocates are also available to accompany survivors during court hearings, meetings with law enforcement and other occasions where their presence may be helpful.
With 11 full staff members, Carroll said SARC relies heavily on community members willing to dedicate their time to the center’s mission.
“The volunteers here are the backbone of the agency,” Carroll said. “And without them, we couldn’t be here for survivors in the way that we can.”
Fortunately, Carroll said, the Brazos Valley is home to plenty of people ready to get involved. The center currently has around 60 volunteer advocates — those who are trained to answer the hotline, offer crisis intervention services and go on accompaniments.
“I think it represents how special Brazos Valley is and how committed they are to helping others,” Carroll said. “I’ve lived in bigger cities where there’s the hustle and bustle of life, and I think here I’ve become much more aware of the sense of community — wanting to help others and keep people safe, and working together in order to do those things.”
The center is always looking for new volunteers as well, said volunteer coordinator Caroline Adams, and the next advocate training period is coming up from Sept. 30 to Oct. 12. Carroll said this 40-hour process includes sessions with law enforcement, medical personnel and representatives from the district attorney’s office, as well as a bit of homework, all helping volunteers understand the many dimensions of sexual violence they may encounter.
“We’re asking people for a serious commitment,” Carroll said. “But I think what we do here is so important in the community because sexual violence, it impacts everyone. It impacts school systems and hospitals and businesses and individuals and families. It filters through in all parts of society.”
Volunteer advocates are required to work two or three shifts a month, and Adams said she is consistently moved by their motivation.
“I think it’s very personal for each of them,” Adams said. “They may have a background of being a survivor or they might not, or they might know someone personally. Each one is definitely personally invested in volunteering with us and giving their time and dedicating that to survivors.”
Beyond the jobs that are unique to advocates, Carroll said there are plenty of other opportunities to help out at SARC. She said groups and individuals in the community have helped with stuffing envelopes and other administrative work. Adams said volunteers can also assist with SARC’s outreach goals, lending their hand at fundraising and educational events.
And even for those who have completed the advocate training process, Carroll said the staff can accommodate volunteers’ schedules or level of comfort with different tasks.
“If someone is apprehensive about doing an accompaniment in the middle of the night or they may want to start out in the office and just do office work during the day or that’s what their schedule allows, we are so grateful for their time,” Carroll said.
As survivors continue the healing process, they may seek counseling and other support services offered by SARC. Carroll said she and others and the center remain encouraged by the progress they see.
“I get to work with survivors every day,” Carroll said. “We get to empower them all the way through and be their fighter, their right-hand person. That’s what needs to be exemplified to volunteers or to people that may be interested — they get to see the bright side of it in a lot of ways and listen to people and be there for them and be a positive influence in their life at a dark time.”
For as much as SARC volunteers give, Carroll said the experience of making a difference in the Brazos Valley can be a powerful reward.
“We depend upon the community and we are grateful for any time that someone would want to provide,” Carroll said. “Hopefully, through the process of being involved with our agency, they would find a sense of purpose in volunteering and a sense of desire to fight for justice against sexual