Volunteer learns through advocacyIt isn’t often a person’s essence is captured in a single phrase. For Liz Schmidt, a dozen words from a familiar hymn may well do it: Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.
By: By Judith Liebaert/For the Superior Telegram, Superior Telegram
It isn’t often a person’s essence is captured in a single phrase. For Liz Schmidt, a dozen words from a familiar hymn may well do it: Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.
Schmidt celebrated her 90th birthday; a long-time Superior resident, she and husband Joe raised their six children here. She was a teacher and she worked part-time as an RN. The word compassion frequently finds its way into conversations about Schmidt, especially when talking about her years of volunteer work at the Center Against Sexual and Domestic Abuse.
“Part of what’s great about Liz is that she is always thinking about others. She doesn’t think about what she can get out of it at all,” said Valerie Coit, former volunteer coordinator, now a CASDA board member. “I think that’s true of a lot of that greatest generation, but with Liz you can really see it. She puts such an emphasis on family and relationships, and how important that is.”
Schmidt started volunteering at CASDA nearly 25 years ago, before the organization had its own shelter facility. She opened her home and heart to women and children fleeing domestic abuse.
“My husband died in 1986,” Schmidt said. “A year or two after that I heard CASDA was looking for safe homes for their people, and I thought I could help them out.”
Offering a safe place for victims was only part of her advocacy.
“It wasn’t every single night, just as they needed it, and then only for a night or two,” she said. “But we did other things as well.”
CASDA was not staffed overnight, as it is now, and even during working hours, the paid staff was limited.
“We took turns being on call and carrying a beeper a few days every month,” Schmidt said. She recalled answering the crisis line at late hours. “I think the people thought we were sitting behind a desk somewhere, but many times I was sound asleep when the line rang.”
Though many would say her volunteer work with CASDA was a brave undertaking for a woman living alone, Schmidt never thought of it that way. She said it was difficult at times; she learned a lot about the cycle of abuse through her volunteer efforts.
“I knew nothing about it, nothing, when I started,” she said. “But they gave me the training I needed,” Schmidt said. “A lot of people asked me if I was frightened, but I wasn’t really. I’m glad for that, because I think if I had been scared, it would have communicated to the women.”
Those who work with Schmidt agree that her level of concern and caring for others is a constant they can count on.
CASDA Assistant Director Erika Leif said just having Schmidt in the building makes everybody feel better.
“She makes you smile. You walk into a room when Liz is there and your heart just feels warm,” Leif said.
This is true for the staff and other volunteers at CASDA, but also for people they serve, Leif said.
“Seeing a friendly face to greet them can really help brighten someone’s day especially when they are facing some of life’s challenges, like abuse or violence,” she said.
Coit agrees: “It makes a difference to the population we serve when they see there are people who care enough about these issues ...”
As part of her volunteer advocacy, Schmidt made hospital visits to victims who had suffered physical violence. She recalled one incident she often shares in CASDA settings because she believes it is indicative of the psychology of domestic abuse.
“I asked her if she wanted to tell me what happened,” Schmidt said.
With her jaw wired shut, the woman could barely speak, but answered Schmidt’s question: “I shouldn’t have said what I did.”
“That knocked me for a loop,” Schmidt said. “It was heart breaking.”
Schmidt admits it wasn’t easy to know victims often return to their abusers.
“You have to learn to accept that,” she said, adding that it doesn’t mean giving up hope for the victim. “If I did a good job explaining all their options, they’d come to CASDA again. Maybe the next time they’d be ready to say I’m through.”
Coit said people feel able to open up to Schmidt: “Liz worked in the welcome center when I was at CASDA. She is sweet and kind, sort of a mother figure, but she is a solid presence too. She has spunk. I think she is just amazing,” Coit said.
Schmidt is active in her church and volunteers with Grandmother’s for Peace.
“She could have chosen something less heavy, more fun, to add to her volunteer work,” Coit said. “That says something about her.”
Schmidt said she chose to help at CASDA because of the work they do for peace by providing safe shelter and services for women and children fleeing violence.
“People talk a lot about promoting peace, but by teaching these women and getting them out of their violent situations CASDA is really advocating for peace,” Schmidt said. “It’s for the peace, and for the children in these terrible situations.”
She believes CASDA’s greatest impact on Superior and Douglas County communities has been increasing general awareness of domestic violence and making sure those who need it most know about available services.
“Women used to be absolutely alone and didn’t know where to turn. If they didn’t have a family they could go to for help, they were just desperate. Now, it’s on everybody’s lips,” She said. “Everybody is pretty well aware that CASDA is there to help.”
These days Schmidt doesn’t have as much direct contact with the clients CASDA serves. She works one morning a week answering phones and helping out with general office tasks. She still talks with people who come in for services, and sometimes engages children in activities while parents are busy with an advocate. When asked what she receives from her continued work with CASDA, Schmidt again becomes modest.
“It gives me a sense of doing something worthwhile, even in the limited amount I do,” she said. “It reminds me to think of other peoples’ situations and not just worry about myself or my own family.”