Cumbee Center is running a deficit of volunteers in county

When police need help, they call for back-up.

It's the same for paramedics and firefighters.

Jessica Pierce doesn't have that option.

Pierce is the rural service provider for Allendale and Barnwell counties for the Cumbee Center to Assist Abused Persons, Inc.

Pierce is the only paid employee for Cumbee Center for Allendale and Barnwell counties. Actually, she is the only representative for the center for the two counties.

In that sense, Pierce is on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week in case an incident of domestic violence or rape occurs in the area.

Her office was supposed to get a paid part-time assistant, but cutbacks in the 2009 budget eliminated that option, Pierce said.

In an effort to get more help for her office, the center will be holding a training session for potential volunteers Feb. 21 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Past pleas have garnered no volunteers, Pierce said.

"I've been here over two years and we've never had any volunteers. We haven't had any success in gathering any," she said.

The Cumbee Center provides free and confidential emergency services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. The center's headquarters is in Aiken and it has a satellite office that services Edgefield, McCormick and Saluda counties as well.

With the poor economy occurring now, Pierce said she may feel the need for more help more acutely. Societal trends have shown domestic violence tends to increase during bad financial times.

Pierce needs two types of volunteers: those helping in the office and on-call volunteers.

Office volunteers would help with clerical duties.

The volunteers Pierce needs would be asked to do more than serving in a soup kitchen or delivering meals to shut-ins.

On-call volunteers willing to face the issues Pierce often encounters would need to be mature, empathetic but detached, unbiased and non-prejudiced about the work they do, she said.

An on-call volunteer would carry a pager when on their shift. If the beeper sounds, the volunteer might have to give telephone counseling to an abused person or go to a hospital's emergency room or police station to assist the victim of a domestic violence or sexual assault situation.

"Our priority is to comfort the victim and let her know what her options are," Pierce said. "Our on-call people are needed to go to the hospital."

Prospective volunteers would have to undergo a criminal background check, complete an application and sign a statement of confidentiality. They would also have to be screened by Cumbee's volunteer coordinator, Paul Volz, and executive director Kay Mixon.

In 2008, the Barnwell office handled 99 new domestic violence clients and 30 new sexual assault victims. This doesn't reflect the client load from previous cases that the office is helping, according to data from the Cumbee Center.

Over its six-county service area, the Cumbee Center helped 2,000 clients in 2007, Pierce said.

Barnwell County is 13th in the state for having the highest level of sexual assaults. Also, South Carolina has the second highest incident rate of women killed by their partners, she said.

Giving comfort would be a crucial service to a rape victim, particularly since victims often relive the trauma of the sexual assault when medical staff have to gather organic evidence from the victim, Pierce said.

"Our main purpose is to console the victim," she said. "She is about to be retraumatized because there's going to be some evidence collected from her body," she said.

Ironically, Aiken County has a good reservoir of volunteers for its county, enough that some volunteers who serve on a monthly rotation are skipped some months, she said.

However, Aiken volunteers aren't considered for Barnwell County because if an incident occurred here, the response time would be too long for someone traveling from Aiken County, she said.

Pierce said she would be content with one reliable volunteer to step forward.

"If I had one volunteer to cover one weekend - if I needed to go out of town," she said.

To inquire about volunteering or for more information on the Cumbee Center, call Pierce at (803) 259-4451.