Avalon- A Place of Refuge and Empowerment

OCE Community Profile Series

by Laura Stephens

For sexual assault survivors, and for people in abusive situations, it can often feel like there is no where to turn. Without outside assistance, it can often be very challenging or dangerous financially, emotionally, and physically to remove oneself from a destructive situation. Often times, in such situations, one’s self-worth has been so eroded that it can be hard to see a way out. That is why Avalon is such a vital force in our community- by providing support for people in these situations, they not only provide physical safety, but a place to rebuild one’s sense of self.

Office of Community Engagement: Tell us about your role in the community.

Avalon:  Avalon: A Center for Women and Children provides shelter and support to those experiencing domestic violence and sexual assault in the Greater Williamsburg area. By offering tools for safety, self-sufficiency, and empowerment, we work to break the cycle of abuse and help create a positive future. We offer an emergency shelter, counseling and support groups, legal advocacy, and much more to survivors in our community. As the only emergency shelter in this community, we also serve those experiencing homelessness as space allows.

OCE: What role do William and Mary students play at Avalon?

A:  William and Mary students play an important role at Avalon. Many of our volunteers are students, and are able to take advantage of their flexible class schedules to help all throughout the day. They assist in all aspects of our work, from administrative and office help to childcare and working in the emergency shelter. We also work closely with student and staff advocates to bring information about domestic violence and sexual assault, as well as about Avalon’s programs and services to the campus. We work closely with The Haven to support survivors and the volunteers working with them, including providing training for the volunteers.

OCE: What benefits does your organization derive from working with William and Mary students, and how do you see the students benefiting from their work?

A:  The students who volunteer with us benefit in many ways. They are able to learn about working in a nonprofit and begin gaining leadership and work skills. They also gain new awareness of issues facing this community and experiences with people from all walks of life. We also offer our services, like counseling and support, to students, and have seen an increase in the number of students accessing these services.

OCE: How does your organization help educate the student volunteers about community needs?

A: Avalon works to keep all our volunteers, not just student volunteers, aware of our needs and ways people can help. We do our best to educate volunteers through their training and as they volunteer with us. We also engage with staff and faculty at William and Mary who will pass on information about Avalon and our needs to students who may be interested in giving a hand.

OCE: What does active citizenship mean to you?

A: For Avalon, active citizenship is what it sounds like – being an active participant in one’s life and community. It means finding one’s passion or mission or heart and actively working to make the community a better place. For those interested in social justice, women’s and children’s issues, or wanting to help people, Avalon is a great place to help.