Volunteer earns honors for efforts

"For 18 years, Gwen Lazzarini never called it abuse.Not even to herself.When they were first dating, Lazzarini interpreted her soon-to-be husband's jealousy and scrutiny of her activities as affection. But after they married in 1965, his need for control intensified and gradually dissolved the joy with which she had begun the marriage. He never struck her physically. Instead, he lashed out with words, flinging words like slut and whore with a venom that sliced away her self-esteem. She believed that her husband, who was 17 years older, knew best and worried she was as bad as he made her feel.After she left the marriage and sought counseling, her therapist said her husband's behavior amounted to abuse. She looked at the therapist in disbelief.My response was, 'But he's never hit me.' Lazzarini said. ... I honest to God didn't think it was abuse. I thought it was he's got a temper.It's been 17 years since Lazzarini ended her marriage by packing her clothes, a sewing machine and a few other belongings into a U-Haul trailer and leaving while her husband was at work.Since then, she has come to accept the initially unacceptable fact that she was an abused wife. And those painful years led her to start volunteering, a major part of her life that continues to satisfy her need to help others, including domestic violence victims.Just as she was once comforted, she now comforts others through the Federal Way Department of Public Safety's Victim Assistance Program.On Oct. 24, the 59-year-old Federal Way woman received the award for 2000 RSVP Volunteer of the Year for her efforts with the police department and Federal Way Fire Department. RSVP, which stands for Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, recognizes that volunteers age 55 and older are the backbone of many volunteer efforts, donating numerous hours to a variety of causes.Lazzarini, who was nominated by four police representatives, says she was honored to receive the award and will continue volunteering as long as it's rewarding for her to do so. Right now, the work provides the pat on the back validation she used to receive through work as a secretary. She's not employed, and doesn't know when, or if, she'll return to the working world.The people who nominated her for the award say they greatly value her volunteer work with the police department. Police Cmdr. Chris Norman calls her an unbelievable producer who approaches small and big jobs with the same determination. She recently convinced two officers from neighboring cities to offer a crime prevention through environmental design class here for free that would have otherwise cost the department money.She'd go to the ends of the earth for anyone, Norman said. There's not enough good things to say about her.She puts her secretarial skills to good use for the fire department and for a portion of her work at the police department. For the fire department, she's researching why seniors fall. For the police's Crime Prevention/Public Information/Background Investigation Unit, she recruits for programs, assists with pre-employment background checks and helps with more mundane, but important, tasks like reorganizing the storage room.Lazzarini also provides comfort to people through the police department's Victim Assistance Program. Victim assistants respond to the scenes of crimes, including suicides, murders, natural deaths and domestic abuse, if called in by officers. She comforts everyone from grieving parents to domestic abuse victims.I had the time (to volunteer), Lazzarini said. It seemed like a waste not to give. If there was a poor family and you had $100 in your pocket, you'd give them something. It's sharing.Lazzarini grew up in a home in which inhabitants shared silence. Her creative father, who would fill their suburban backyard with water during the winter so his eldest daughter could ice skate, possessed a stubborn streak. Her mother, a nurse who was well-loved in social circles, kept to herself at home. Lazzarini learned to keep her feelings inside.It was a very quiet house, she said. No one outwardly argued. ... I learned to stay quiet. I learned how not to communicate, how to suppress feeling, how to detach, how to hold anger.The quiet didn't prepare her for the later chaos of life with the man who would become her husband. And it taught her to keep silent, instead of expressing herself, when she was troubled.In the upper middle class suburb of Milwaukee where she grew up, girls were expected to attend college, find a man and get married. But midway through her studies at college, she dropped out so she could work as a secretary full-time in Chicago. She shared a three-bedroom apartment with two other working girls and delighted in the excitement of the city.Four years later, she met her future husband, an accountant, while working at a CPA firm. They married in 1965. Lazzarini found his mature confidence attractive - He seemed to have it all together.They moved to the suburbs, where she soon got pregnant and stayed home with their son, her first and only child. For a time, she was happy. Her husband was a good father and provider. But by 1983, her self-esteem had been shredded and her 17-year-old son had become a younger version of her abusive husband - He had learned well.It just continued. No happiness. No joy, she said. You can't believe what the person says. What's the purpose? I decided I needed to rescue myself.She left her husband and son and stayed at a shelter for abused women for six weeks. There, she started to call her husband's actions abuse for the first time, though it wasn't easy.I had my own job, I had my own car, I had all my own teeth, she said. I'd think someone could come in and say, 'Why are you here?' Instead, she found acceptance and understanding from women who had been battered.I realized I hadn't been hit but they were hit and verbally abused, she said. Their bruises go away, their bones mend but they remember as much as I did how much the words hurt.She moved to Wichita, Kan., and later to Federal Way to put distance between herself and her ex-husband, whom she had divorced in 1985 after 20 years of marriage. In Kansas, she volunteered at a crisis center for two years. It was a way to meet people and help women who also had been abused. She gave speeches before churches and other groups to let them know abuse wasn't a problem of the poor; middle-class women also suffered abuse.She moved to Federal Way in 1987 and volunteered with Tough Love, a program for parents with troubled kids, and the DAWN crisis line for abuse victims. Finally, it became too much. She offered each woman who called her sympathy and information about how to get out of the abusive relationship. She told them she, too, had been abused but had escaped. But she wondered how many listened. Some wept about calling the police and worried more about being left alone than about being struck again.Then, in October, 1999, she signed up for the Victim Assistance Program. It's easier emotionally because she helps a range of people, not just domestic violence victims. Recently, while she was call, a man who had suffered a longtime illness died at home. She and another volunteer helped the man's family and friends by calling the mortuary to pick him up and stripping the sheets off the bed and throwing them away.They would have got it done, she said of those tasks. But we were able to be there and take some of the anxiety away. It's self-rewarding. It makes you feel good.As she did when she helped at the shelters, she's also able to offer an understanding ear to the domestic violence victims.Victim Assistance Manager Bonnie Lindstrom praises Lazzarini for her reliability and flexibility and says she possesses a real heart for the job. In general, people who are attracted to this type of work who have been victimized in the past feel they can be more empathetic, Lindstrom said. It gives them a certain perspective that those of us who have not been victimized don't have.Lazzarini remembers once reaching out for a victim's hand and explaining that she understood the woman's conflicted emotions.It was nice for me to say, 'I've gone through it,' she said.-----------------Is it emotional abuse?Ask yourself how many of the following things your partner has done to you:* Ignored your feelings.* Ridiculed or insulted your most valued beliefs, your religion, race, gender, heritage or class.* Withheld approval, appreciation or affection as punishment.* Continually criticized you, called you names, shouted at you.* Humiliated you in private or public.* Refused to socialize with you.* Kept you from working, controlled your money, made all decisions.* Refused to work or share money.* Took car keys or money away from you.* Regularly threatened to leave you or told you to leave.* Threatened to hurt you or your family.* Abused, tortured, killed pets to hurt you.* Harassed you about the affairs your partner imagined you were having.* Manipulated you with lies and contradictions.* Destroyed furniture, punched holes in walls, broke appliances.* Wielded a gun in a threatening way.Many people do some of these things when in a bad mood. To figure out if the behavior is abuse, ask yourself the following:* Do you doubt your judgment or wonder if you're crazy?* Are you afraid of your partner and do you express opinions less and less freely?* Do you spend a lot of your time watching for your partner's bad and not-so-bad moods, before bringing up a subject?* Do you ask your partner's permission to spend money, take classes or socialize with friends?* Have you lost confidence in your abilities, become increasingly depressed and feel trapped and powerless?If you answer yes to many of these questions, it is probable you have been abused and have changed as a result of being abused. Call the Domestic Abuse Women's Network in Kent at (425) 656-7867 to talk or the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-562-6025 for a referral 24 hours a day.Source: National Coalition Against Domestic Violence "

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