YORK COUNTY, Maine — It's a call that could make a difference between life and death for people trying to leave an abusive relationship. But Maine's domestic violence resource centers are losing volunteers they rely on to answer those calls.
This is a critical shortage at a time when centers are seeing the biggest demand for help since before the pandemic. Advocates are hopeful more people will step up to meet a critical need in their communities.
Nine years ago, Rebekah Lowell needed to get herself and her kids out of an abusive environment. She took that first step by calling the 24-hour helpline at Caring Unlimited.
"Just to be able to call someone anonymously and say, 'I am in this situation, and I am not prepared to step out yet, what do I do?'" Lowell said.
Caring Unlimited is the domestic violence resource center serving York County. Lowell and her children got out safely and into transitional housing. But the center is having a hard time keeping up with those very calls for help.
Currently, there are only 10 active volunteers to field about 300 calls on average every month. Betsy Fleurent is the helpline services and volunteer program coordinator.
"We have seen a trend in the level of abuse that is happening is more intense, so it's critical at any given moment people can reach out," Fleurent explained.
Caring Unlimited officials say they need at least 25 volunteers to cover calls, especially on weekends and overnights, two shifts a month. Right now, full-time staff members are answering calls but it's not known how long that can continue.
The lack of volunteers is a state-wide problem as Maine's domestic violence resource centers saw a 13 percent spike in calls in 2021 on top of a 24 percent increase the year before.
Regina Rooney is the education and communications director for the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence. She can't pinpoint a reason behind the drop but says people can volunteer from the comfort of their homes.
"There is a great amount of support for training before they go online and afterward," Rooney added.
For Lowell, making that call was a lifeline to freedom and a new life that has come full circle. She helps other survivors as a board member for Caring Unlimited.
If you or someone you know needs help getting out of an abusive relationship, call Maine's Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-866-834-HELP.
If you would like to volunteer at a domestic violence center in your community, click here.