Women’s Services offers training


Photos by Joseph Tingley

Nancy Sheridan and Doris Foster founded Women’s Services Inc. as an independent organization in 1977 in order to address women’s needs. They work to educate people on domestic and sexual violence and they operate prevention programs and victim counseling.

Women’s Services Inc. in Meadville hosted the first session of its 19-session volunteer training course on Tuesday, Sept. 22. The session had 19 registered participants, including several Allegheny College students.

“It’s open to the community and a lot of Allegheny students have shown interest,” said Vicki Wood, director of special projects at Women’s Services.  

Women’s Services Inc. was established in the late 1970s in Meadville to meet the needs of women in Crawford County. The organization was initially part of the Crawford County Drug and Alcohol Commission, but in 1977 it became its own independent organization.

Today, Women’s Services aims to prevent domestic and sexual violence through education and prevention programs while also working to counsel victims.

“We have a vision, and it’s a community free of violence,” Wood said.  

Upon completing the 19-session training course, which consists of two classes a week, the participants will be able to serve as counselor advocates with women’s services. Wood said this means their volunteers can work directly with victims while enjoying the legal privilege of confidentiality.

“By law those communications are confidential,” said Bruce Harlan, executive director of Women’s Services.

Harlan said volunteers are vital to the organization’s efforts financially. Each year volunteers donate five to six thousand hours of service. He said they are also important in ensuring that the organization’s message is spread throughout the community.

“If we can train up a corps of volunteers who can take this work out into the community and onto campus. It’s great,” Harlan said.

Once a volunteer has completed their on-the-job training at Women’s Services, they have the opportunity to fill a variety of positions. Some work directly with victims while others work the phones of the crisis hotline, which women needing assistance or counseling may call. Volunteers also work to organize education programs on domestic and sexual violence for schools in the area.

According to Harlan the most important thing they look for in a potential volunteer is compassion.  

“Compassion, that’s the one thing we can’t teach,” he said. “If they didn’t come with compassion, they are not in the right place.”

21500850900_56feb93409_zEmily Rigotti, ’16, began volunteering at Women’s Services during the first semester of her junior year as part of her clinical psychology class. She said the experiences she has had with the organization have helped to shape her senior composition and her post-graduation plans.

“I loved the stuff I was doing and the people I met there,” she said.

Rigotti said once she had volunteered for a semester, she decided to get certified through the training course. This semester with the certification she is doing more work with the organization.

“This semester I’m just launching into it because there is nothing stopping me,” she said.

Over the past summer Rigotti worked part time in a crisis center in her hometown. She said the experience solidified her desire to continue in the line of work when she graduates.

While she said she is excited about the work she intends to do, she acknowledged that it is often emotionally difficult. She said it is important to be able to compartmentalize your emotions.

“You are going to have to deal with some heavy, negative stuff in your job sometimes and you can’t bring that home with you,” she said.

Despite the difficult aspects of the work, Rigotti said it is satisfying seeing the success stories and the positive attitudes of some of the women.

“I saw a lot of women get out of some really rough situations,” she said.

Wood said that though the registration period for the volunteer training has passed, students and community members are welcome to apply for next year’s training. According to Wood,  depending on the level of expressed interest they may host a spring training.

Anyone interested in applying should contact Bryna Bowden of Women’s Services at [email protected] or by calling 814-724-4637.