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VOLUNTEERS: Small Tasks Make World of Difference at Highland Lakes Family Crisis Center

Gene Schaffner helps keep things moving at Highland Lakes Family Crisis Center’s Good Neighbor Thrift Shop. A friend from church asked if she’d be interested in volunteering at the shop, where 100 percent of the proceeds support the crisis center. Schaffner said ‘yes,’ and that was 14 years ago. She finds volunteering rewarding because she knows what she does — even folding a sheet — helps domestic violence victims get back on their feet. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

MARBLE FALLS — For the past 14 years, Gene Schaffner has put in full-time hours as a volunteer at Highland Lakes Family Crisis Center’s Good Neighbor Thrift Shop. She handles a number of tasks, takes on more when needed, and helps create a nice shopping experience for the customers.

It’s not glamorous, but, whenever Schaffner designs a display or folds a sheet, her efforts help change a person’s life.

“I’m aware of the devastating effects domestic violence has, not only on the person but the entire family, even extended family,” Schaffner said. “Knowing what I do here supports the effort to get (victims) back on their feet is very rewarding.”

The Highland Lakes Family Crisis Center offers support — immediate and longterm — to victims of domestic violence and their families. Its services are free.

Kim Kankel, the center's volunteer coordinator and development manager, can’t say enough about Schaffner and other volunteers, such as Kathy Lindenmuth. Their time and dedication allow the center's staff to focus on the clients, many of whom arrive at the center with little more than their children, the clothes on their backs, and a small bag of possessions.

Volunteers are key to getting people free from domestic abuse situations, though few actually work directly with clients or even handle crisis situations. Lindenmuth, who does handle the crisis line when staff is in a meeting, started volunteering at the center about five years ago after moving to the Highland Lakes. Even when she lived in Austin, she knew she wanted to volunteer in a women’s shelter.

Lindenmuth is at the crisis center once a week, usually Wednesdays, but also spends many hours volunteering in the thrift store. When she’s working in the center or answering the hotline, Lindenmuth sees and hears the terrible effects of domestic abuse on the victims and their children.

However, she doesn’t always see the ending: when the client gets back on their feet, finds a safe place for their family, and shakes free of the abuse.

Yet, Lindenmuth knows she’s making a difference.

“Kathy is amazing,” Kankel said. “She’lll be there and sometimes is one of the first persons (a victim) sees when they come in. She helps in the (crisis center) when there is a crisis and can assist with the immediate need. Kathy is phenomenal.

“You do make a difference,” Kankel said to Lindenmuth. “Both of them do. All out volunteers, without them, it would be so hard for the staff to take care of the clients and help them.

Neither women, however, volunteers for the accolades. They just want to make a difference in their community.

It’s the heart of volunteering. Highland Lakes Family Crisis Center and many other charitable nonprofits across the Highland Lakes rely on volunteer support to make things run smoothly.

Schaffner started volunteering at the crisis center 14 years ago after a friend at her church, the Church of Horseshoe Bay, asked if she’d be interested in helping. Schaffner decided to give it a try, and now, more than a decade later, she’s still at the center's Good Neighbor Thrift Shop. She also served two terms on the center's board.

“When I came here several years ago, I turned to Gene a lot because she knows so much about the center and the community,” Kankel said.

By volunteer standards, Schaffner is quite the over-achiever. When Kankel went over the books marking volunteer hours, she noticed that the least amount of time Schaffner had worked in a one-month period was 156 hours.

Schaffner describes herself as a full-time volunteer.

“Yeah, it keeps me busy,” she added with a grin.

Lindenmuth puts in a quite a few hours a week as well.

However, crisis center volunteers don’t need to commit to that many hours a week. One thing both women love about the center is the flexibility for volunteers. Kankel works with volunteers and their schedules. A person can volunteer for a few hours a week or, like Schaffner, 40 hours or more. And it doesn’t always mean working at the thrift store or center. When people drop off donated items, some of them might need fixing or mending, which some volunteers will do at home.

“One of the things I love about (the crisis center) is you can work where you want or enjoy,” Lindenmuth.

Schaffner agreed. Her 14 years at the center have been spent in the thrift store. Though she’s worked in many facets at the store, she can often focus on those she enjoys.

That’s a big part of the Highland Lakes Family Crisis Center volunteer experience.

“All our volunteers, they all seem to find their niche,” Kankel said. “That’s what we want our volunteers to know. We’re not going to pigeonhole you here into something you may not be comfortable with or like just because we need something done. We’re going to visit with you and find where your strengths and interests lie.”

Even if you don’t think you fit in as a crisis center volunteer, don’t be so quick to dismiss it. There are plenty of ways to make a difference. If you’re interested in learning more about volunteering with Highland Lakes Crisis Center, contact Kankel at hlfcc@nctiv.com or message the center through its Facebook page.

“It’s a wonderful place to volunteer,” Lindenmuth said.

“On another level, it’s like having another family,” Schaffner added. “We support each other. When one of us has a crisis or problem, everyone is there to help.”

The volunteers keep the crisis center rolling in many ways, especially with the thrift shop, where 100 percent of the proceeds go to the center to help support its clients. Good Neighbor Thrift Shop is located at 502 RR 1431. It’s open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday to shoppers. Donations are accepted 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday and 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday.

“These are the true heroes. These individuals who are giving of their time and their talents,” Kankel said. “We could not fulfill our mission without these unsung and silent heroes — our volunteers.”

Go to hlfcc.org for more information on Highland Lakes Family Crisis Center and volunteer opportunities. Also, check out the Highland Lakes Volunteer Guide to discover more ways to make a difference in the Highland Lakes.

If you are in need of the services at Highland Lakes Family Crisis Center, call its local hotline at (830) 693-5600.

daniel@thepicayune.com

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