MAKING AN IMPACT: Woman volunteers at domestic violence shelter in honor of mother

Published: Jan. 11, 2023 at 3:53 AM CST
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ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) – Domestic violence takes place in the United States every minute each day and occurs about every 15 seconds.

Many people don’t realize just how real this abuse is and how many lives are affected by it.

That’s where staff and volunteers at a Rochester nonprofit come in. They’re making an impact every day to create better futures for survivors.

When you walk inside the Rochester Women’s Shelter and Support Center, it feels like home.

That’s because it is for local women, children, and families experiencing domestic violence.

“It’s just trying to make everyone be comfortable, happy, fed, loved, taken care of.”

Sandi Schoenwetter, Volunteer, Rochester Women's Shelter and Support Center

Sandi Schoenwetter has become a vital part of that home. She’s been volunteering with the nonprofit since 2014 after she retired.

“Sometimes I feel like I get more back than I give,” Schoenwetter said.

She’s kept herself busy for nearly ten years with the organization.

“Cleaning rooms, I’ve helped decorate the shelter for Halloween and Christmas,” Schoenwetter said. “I’ve transported women to jobs, to the library, children to the library. I’ve done whatever they needed me to do.”

Her goal is to help make life a little easier for abused women, individuals, and families.

Schoenwetter added, “We’ve played board games, we’ve done crafts, we’ve done sing-a-longs, and I can’t sing but we still the sing-a-longs, and the kids love it.”

Schoenwetter chooses to spend her free time this way, intentionally.

“I do it to honor my mother. Back in the 1950′s and 1960′s, there was no help for anyone, women or children, so it’s near and dear to my heart.”

“Sandi’s dedication and commitment is unmatched.”

Artyce Thomas, Executive Director, Rochester Women's Shelter and Support Center

Artyce Thomas has been Executive Director at the Women’s Shelter and Support Center for nearly four years. She said without people like Schoenwetter, they couldn’t continue their mission.

“We are a lifeline for many people,” Thomas said. “If it weren’t for our services being free of charge and confidential, they wouldn’t have anywhere to go. Volunteers have kept us afloat.”

Each year, the organization serves more than 3,800 survivors and houses 400-500 women and children annually.

Thomas added, “In 2021, we provided nearly 5,500 nights of shelter services.”

“You’re not a victim here. There are no victims.”

Sandi Schoenwetter, Volunteer, Rochester Women's Shelter and Support Center

It’s the only shelter for those experiencing abuse within ten counties across southeast Minnesota.

“Domestic violence includes physical abuse, mental, emotional, verbal, financial, there’s an array of tactics perpetrators use against their victims. Intimidation, threats,” Thomas said.

It provides temporary housing, community outreach, resources, support groups, and more.

Thomas added, “We’re there to support them every step of the way to get to the point where they’re able to live violence-free.”

As for Schoenwetter, there’s a lot more work to be done to save lives, restore hope, and change futures.

“This is the right place for me. It’s a wonderful experience.”

Outside of volunteers, community members play an important role in furthering the shelter’s mission.

It’s currently in need of donations for clients. Monetary donations are also accepted and make a difference.

If you or anyone you know is experiencing domestic violence, or just need some questions answered, please call the local crisis lifeline at 507-285-1010. It’s available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

For more information about the Women’s Shelter and Support Center, click here. You can also get involved with the organization.

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