Each year, people dash into the Atlantic Ocean at Gooch’s Beach to help raise money for Caring Unlimited, York County’s Domestic Violence Resource Center. Now, CU staff are asking for more volunteers to take the plunge, and sign up for training to become Helpline Volunteers. Calls to the agency are up since the pandemic, at the same time there are fewer advocates to take calls. Derek Davis photo/Press Herald

Calls to the Helpline for Caring Unlimited, York County’s resource center that helps victims of domestic violence, are up considerably since the pandemic began — at a time when volunteers to staff the 24-hour Helpline are at an all-time low.

The agency, which began providing services in 1977, serves about 2,000 people experiencing domestic violence each year. They are looking for more volunteers to staff the Helpline.

Betsy Fleurent, Caring Unlimited’s Helpline and volunteer coordinator, said the agency receives about 300 Helpline calls a month, up from 200 to 250 monthly calls pre-pandemic.

“There’s an increase in volume and in severity,” she said in a recent telephone interview. “There’s more physical violence.”

Typically, the agency has 20 to 25 volunteers staffing the Helpline, said Fleurant. At the moment, there are only 10 volunteers. When volunteers are not available, staff members cover the Helpline, adding 16 to 32 hours a month to their workload, she said.

“Caring Unlimited is experiencing a critical need for helpline volunteers,” said Fleurant. “Without their support, our capacity to provide much needed round-the-clock services to those affected by domestic violence is stretched to the point of those important services being in peril.”


Helpline volunteers typically take calls a couple of times a month.

Caring Unlimited is starting Helpline volunteer training on Monday, Aug. 22. Caring Unlimited staff say all Helpline advocates must complete the training, which is mandated by the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence. The training includes practice calls and opportunities to shadow experienced staff advocates before volunteers’ first shifts. Technology allows Helpline advocates to take calls in their homes. To apply online, visit www.caring-unlimited.org.

The Helpline serves as the initial point of contact for many who reach out to Caring Unlimited for information, guidance, support, and safety planning.

“The Helpline ensures that anyone in need of services is able to speak directly to an advocate anytime, free of charge,” said Fleurant. “For individuals experiencing domestic violence, the ability to access the Helpline 24 hours a day is essential: survivors often have limited options for when they can safely make a phone call and speak freely with an advocate. ”

According to the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, one in four women and one in 10 men have experienced contact sexual violence, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner and reported the impact (being fearful, concerned for safety, needed medical care, needed help from law enforcement, missed work or school, etc.) during their lifetime.

Advocates from the coalition network, of which Caring Unlimited is a member, worked with 12,516 people statewide in 2020. Of the total served, 612 people found safety in a domestic violence resource center sheltering program, which represents fewer than 5 percent of the total number of people served in 2020, the coalition noted.

As well as the 24-hour Helpline, Caring Unlimited provides emergency shelter, transitional housing, individual and group advocacy and support, and legal assistance to those who experiencing domestic violence. The agency provides community education, training, and consultation to youth and adults.

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