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PEACE for Families provides island of calm for domestic violence, sexual assault survivors

By: Anne Papineau, Journal Staff Writer
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Editor’s note: This is the seventh in a series of 12 stories on volunteers in our community. The stories will be published as a countdown to the holiday, in honor of the 12 days of Christmas. Michelle Higginbotham of Colfax has been helping for about a year at PEACE for Families in Auburn. PEACE stands for Placer Extends a Caring Environment for Families. She works in outreach and is an advocate with (SART), the Sexual Assault Response Team. When on call, she accompanies sexual assault survivors, providing support as they go through a three- to five-hour forensic exam. What does your organization do? PEACE for Families provides services for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. They have a safe house in Placer County where women who are fleeing from abusive environments can go with their children and concentrate on healing. The children are often shell-shocked. The children get help, the moms get help. It’s not just the mental side of things. The women come with dependency issues, like alcohol or drugs. A lot of these women are coming from abusive relationships where they could do nothing. They don’t know how to write a check, or go shopping at a grocery store. We’re dealing with severe abuse here. We provide referrals to the Salvation Army and other programs. We have a resource book that is huge. Why do you volunteer? I used to do crisis intervention volunteer work when I lived in San Diego and I stopped that when my daughter came into my life. It’s kind of stressful. I stopped, and my daughter is now 3 1/2 years old, so she can visit with my mother-in-law. I told my husband I felt I needed to get back into volunteering. It’s purely selfish on my part. I’m a people person, and if I can help somebody, it makes me feel good. What are your highlights or challenges in volunteering? One of the biggest challenges is seeing the children hurt. And knowing the environment they come from. And it’s difficult to understand as a mom how another mom could allow her children in that environment. Most of these women don’t come from healthy homes anyway, it’s part of the cycle. If there’s a sexual assault, the local police departments will notify PEACE for Families. I sit with the individual, hold their hand, listen, joke, give a hug, whatever it takes to get through this exam, which is very invasive. During my training, there was a woman who spoke of the abusive relationship with her husband. PEACE helped her get away, to find a home, court accompaniment, and she was in school to be a pharmacist. That was really exciting, a success story. What do you do when you’re not volunteering? I’m a mom. I volunteer with SART and work part-time as a contract employee for PEACE doing outreach. I go to high schools in Placer County to discuss teen violence. I belong to a parent coop at Sierra Preschool in Auburn. I try and volunteer with school as much as I can. How can people volunteer their time or money? PEACE for Families will train volunteers in January. They’re very much needed on many levels. E-mail help@peaceforfamilies.org or call (530) 823-6224. To contribute by check, make it payable to PEACE for Families and mail to: PEACE for Families P.O. Box 5462 Auburn, CA 95604 ~ Anne Papineau