Here's a chance to feel like a superhero

I asked Jennifer Hart why she has volunteered at the Bluegrass Rape Crisis Center for three years, answering the phone after hours or occasionally sitting with a rape survivor at a hospital.

"Because," she said, sounding a bit incredulous that I would ask. "I think volunteering is something that is very important. I have always felt it is important to know there is more to the world than you want to see."

What Hart sees when pressed into service is a snapshot of a woman when she is extremely vulnerable, powerless and fragile. The picture is quite negative.

What the survivor sees in Hart and others like her, however, is a pillar of support, a very positive image in that very negative story line.

"As a rape crisis counselor, I see people who were recently raped," said Beth McRoberts, volunteer coordinator at BRCC and crisis counselor. The volunteer ... "may be (the victim's) first support in the healing process. They may be the only person to tell that person that they believe them and that it is not their fault.

"I am continually struck by how important that is in the healing process. It's a chance to really make a difference in someone's life."

McRoberts said BRCC, founded in 1974 by volunteers, has a need for male and female volunteers. Sexual violence knows no age limit, no economic level, no educational boundary or gender specification.

One in six women will experience sexual violence, she said, while one in 33 men will. "Both of these crimes are underreported," she said.

If one is available, a male volunteer is sent to the hospital to be with a male victim.

BRCC serves 17 counties of the Bluegrass Area Development District and has offices in Cynthiana, Danville, Frankfort, Georgetown, Nicholasville, Richmond, Winchester, as well as Lexington.

The volunteers, who are always needed, have to be thoroughly trained in dealing with a crisis from the human standpoint and concerning all the legal aspects.

The four-day training session takes place one Friday evening and then three consecutive Saturdays. The next one begins Sept. 11. Volunteers must attend all the sessions.

Once trained, the volunteers are asked to commit to four or five shifts a month. A shift can be 5 to 9 p.m. weekdays, or for four hours throughout the day over the weekend. Each evening, a 12-hour shift is required from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m.

That doesn't mean you will receive a call on your shift, or receive a call that would require sitting with a survivor or speaking with relatives at the hospital, which is usually the University of Kentucky Hospital, where trained nurses are based.

Sometimes a caller can be someone asking for information or someone whose memory of a past act has been triggered.

Just in case, there is always a staff member on call, McRoberts said.

"You go through periods when you don't get many phone calls or requests to go to the hospital," said Sarah Tedford, who has volunteered for 2½ years.

The BRCC phone lines are transferred to the volunteer's phone line, and the volunteer must be at home, Tedford said. When called to the hospital, "we sit with a patient, answer their questions, speak up on behalf of the patient and make that person as comfortable as possible.

"The thing that sticks out is when everyone is working together, the police, the nursing staff and I, and the patient is able to get everything she needs," she said. "When there is no sense of doubt (that the crime has occurred), that's when it jells."

Tedford and Hart agreed that the crisis volunteer usually sees the person only once and seldom if ever gets to know the outcome of the case.

"If I see them in a store, I wouldn't talk to them," Hart said. "I don't discuss it again."

Being a volunteer sounds at least depressing and at most intimidating to me. How can a person do that kind of work?

"There aren't many opportunities for us as normal people to feel like superheroes," Hart said. "Whenever I talk with someone and they feel better, I feel like a superhero. I contributed to someone else's life. I had the power to make a difference. How often do we get to feel that?"

Tedford agreed.

"I think that is a perfect way of phrasing it," she said. "We are helping someone who can't help themselves at that time. Being a victim takes everything from you, but you (the volunteer) are the voice for those who can't find theirs."

Call (859) 253-2615 for more information, or visit the Web site at