From Survivor to Service: WCA Volunteer Retires after 21 Years
“My life started over at 60,” says Joan Caldwell, mother of two, retired teacher and WCA volunteer for more than 20 years. In 1997, Joan left her abusive marriage of 36 years and turned to the WCA for help. After she received our services, she began volunteering for the WCA and has just retired from her volunteer duties at the age of 83. This is her story.
Joan was raised in Connecticut and moved to Boise with her husband, son, and daughter for a teaching job. When Joan met her first husband, he showed subtle signs of domestic abuse but she never imagined he would become physically abusive. Soon, he was jealous, possessive and drank heavily.
In the 1970s, it was very difficult for a woman in an abusive marriage to seek help. “You should have been more careful,” the police often told Joan. During all the times she called the police on her husband, she was told to “sit down and be quiet”. In 1994, she ended up in the hospital after an extreme incident of abuse. When the hospital offered to call law enforcement, Joan told them, “Don’t bother, they won’t help me.”
After years of suffering in her marriage, Joan found her hero in Officer Tom Dixon who finally told her the words she had always wanted to hear: “Nothing you did deserves this. We are going to arrest your husband.” Officer Dixon referred her the WCA and her life was forever changed.
Joan began counselling and joined the WCA’s RAP group for survivors of domestic violence.
“If I had stayed with my husband, I don’t think I would be alive right now,” she said. “I put up with him for so long. He would go out and drink, come back and keep me up all night and I would go to teach on 1 hour of sleep a night. I told him I wished I would die because I didn’t want to keep living like this.”
In 1997 after her healing at the WCA, she began volunteering with the organization’s rape crisis line. When she met her second husband and got married that year, she began volunteering with the Court Advocacy program. This program helps survivors navigate through the court system with the help of WCA staff and dedicated volunteers. Over the years, Joan has been a beacon of hope for hundreds of individuals during her volunteering in court and through presentations to police departments, United Way, church groups, and community organizations. According to Joan, telling her story and volunteering at the WCA is a therapeutic way for her to connect with others.
Joan has been married to her second husband for 21 years and together they enjoy golf and Boise State sporting events.
“It’s amazing how much you enjoy life in the right situation,” she said.
Through her time at the WCA as a client and volunteer, Joan has learned many things. She recommends counseling for any children involved in a domestic abuse situation so they can begin healing at an early age. Joining group therapy sessions, like the RAP group, she says, can help a survivor know they are not alone. Joan has seen the WCA grow immensely over the years in services and presence in the community. She has also noticed the positive change in attitudes of law enforcement over the years in regards to protecting those who experience domestic violence. Most of all, Joan wants survivors to know that no one deserves to be abused and to reach out for help at the WCA.
“The emotional scars are the hardest part of domestic abuse,” she said. “After the bruises and scars go away, the emotional wounds are still there. You need the help from others to see through the pain.”
Our sincerest thanks to Joan for her years of service as a WCA volunteer and for sharing her story. If you are interested in becoming a Court Advocate volunteer, please email [email protected] or call (208) 343-3688 ext. 0241.
If you or someone you love needs help, please call our 24-hour hotline at (208) 343-7025.
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