By Amy Highness, Community Education Coordinator
While out speaking to community groups, I often get the question, “Are men allowed to come help out at the shelter?” I love this question because it gives me the opportunity to talk about what men can do to help end gender-based violence.
The answer? YES, men are allowed to come into the shelter as volunteers! After completing our interview process (which all volunteers do), men can fulfill a number of positions, including serving meals, helping with facility and maintenance projects, and providing childcare. Some guys do this on their own while others participate as part of a group – through a work or church project, for example.
Many of the families staying at the shelter are recovering from violence inflicted by a male partner. A common tactic of a male abuser is to enforce extremely rigid gender roles in order to ensure his female partner has little choice or freedom in the relationship. He may act like “king of the castle”, treating her like a servant, demanding she keep food on the table, the kids quiet, and the house cleaned…with little or no help from him. When she cannot meet these impossibly high standards, he uses that as justification to berate and punish her. And if she does manage to meet all these expectations, he may attack her – verbally or physically – for neglecting him. There is no way to win.
That’s why we value men’s involvement so much. Seeing guys take on domestic tasks – like cooking and watching children – and actually placing themselves in a role of serving women, can be very eye-opening. It shows that when respect is about both giving and receiving, everyone benefits. And the value of modeling this to the kids staying here – totally priceless.
I wanted to get the perspective of one of our male volunteers, so I posed some questions to one of our regulars. Steve has been volunteering at Alexandra House for almost two years, first in the donations area and more recently in the kitchen. His responses were refreshingly straightforward. No doubts, no politics, just a desire to help. Take a cue from Steve if you have any lingering hesitancy about getting involved.
How did you hear about Alexandra House and why did you decide to volunteer here?
Because of publicity about the 5K race [the annual Walk for Hope], I was generally aware that Alexandra House was around here somewhere. I picked Alexandra House to volunteer for because their purpose is to help people.
This is a pretty female-centric environment. How did you see yourself fitting in as a male volunteer at a battered women’s shelter?
Like any new situation, I didn’t know if I’d be a good fit, but figured I’d just get in there and give it a go. I’ve enjoyed the people I work with and things seem to be going pretty well.
Do you think it’s important for men to get involved in ending domestic and sexual violence?
I think it’s important for everyone to oppose violence.
Has anything challenged or surprised you volunteering here?
Not really. My small role is fairly straight forward.
What have you enjoyed most about your volunteer time at Alexandra House?
I enjoy serving the meals – especially on tater tot days! I found helping a client move into a new apartment to be rewarding. Hard work – but very rewarding.
If you are a guy – or a gal! – interested in volunteering, check out the various opportunities or give us a call to learn more. There is a lot to do, both inside and outside the shelter, for groups and individuals, long and short term.