Friday, Feb. 28, 2014
Women honored for volunteer work against domestic violence
By ROXIE HAMMILL
Special to The Star
There weren’t a lot of options for women suffering from spousal abuse in the 1960s. Back then, “you kept all the black eyes to yourself, covered them up and went about what you did,” said Helen LaValley of Shawnee.
LaValley often ended up at the library, searching for books on how to cope. But she told no one back in her rural South Dakota community until she eventually divorced. She later remarried and moved to Kansas City.
So when she heard Safehome was looking for volunteers, she gladly signed on. That was 14 years ago.
Now LaValley, 80, has been named volunteer of the year by the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence. Another Safehome worker, therapist Shirley Collins of Overland Park, was named outstanding advocate.
LaValley estimates she spends about 16 hours per week helping people who contact Safehome, which provides support for people in abusive situations. She’s done just about every type of job there, from the hotline to the front desk, and often goes out to hospitals and courtrooms to help in those stressful situations.
In courtrooms, she sometimes has to bolster a survivor’s confidence because the accused abuser may try to intimidate by staring or mouthing threats, said Kelly Willoughby, Safehome’s development director. LaValley has been known to place herself in the sight line to keep that from happening.
“Helen just doesn’t back down,” Willoughby said. “Her first priority is to make sure the victim she’s working with feels safe and not alone. She’s always willing to stand with the victims.”
“She is just one of those totally incredible people who see the need,” she said.
LaValley got interested in volunteering while recovering from back surgery in 2000. She said she feared she wouldn’t be able to continue her job at a Tuesday Morning store in Mission.
Her decision to make a difference was reinforced after she learned she had breast cancer three years later. “I can’t let a day go by in my life without doing something good for somebody,” she said.
LaValley, who has five grown children, seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, also volunteers in other venues, including the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and the Quality Hill Playhouse.
At Safehome, she doesn’t usually mention her own experience unless the situation calls for it. But it’s been rewarding to see the people she meets in the hospital or courtroom come back to Safehome to get further help, she said. “That’s exhilarating to me, that they are receiving help. It warms my heart to see that happen.”
Collins, a former clinical director at Safehome and now a part-time therapist, received the Juliene Maska Advocate of the Year award. She has been at the organization the past 15 years. While clinical director, she was responsible for forming the agency’s clinical program.
She also served as executive director for an inner city program in Kansas City for abuse survivors for eight years before coming to Safehome.
“Her work continues to reverberate,” said Willoughby. “People will have the benefit of her incredible experience and wisdom for years to come. She’s touched so many lives.”