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Carol Starbuck named 2021 Silver Citizen for work with Trauma Intervention Program

“This is how I was put together, to do this work”

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
Updated: November 25, 2021, 5:15pm
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Twenty-five years ago, Carol Starbuck made a brave decision.

A chaplain who occasionally filled in at her church — Manor Church in Battle Ground — inspired her with stories about his experiences volunteering with first responders. He supported families and loved ones in the hours following a traumatic event.

“His stories just touched my heart,” Starbuck said. “I always thought about what an incredible thing that was to do for people, because I was old enough at that time to have been through a lot and knew what it meant to have someone sometimes. And I had also been in situations where I was that someone.”

But the idea of doing such a thing seemed remote and unattainable to Starbuck, a self-described introvert. She wasn’t a chaplain or a minister or a pastor. She didn’t do things by herself very often. And she was busy, both as a wife and mother, and as the secretary to the building manager at The Columbian.

She didn’t know where to start.

That changed when she saw an article in The Columbian about the Trauma Intervention Program Northwest, a program that sends specially trained citizen volunteers to scenes of tragedy, where they provide emotional aid and support to victims of traumatic events.

According to the article, the program was expanding into Vancouver.

“I thought to myself, ‘That sounds like what the chaplains do, and maybe I don’t have to be a chaplain to do it,’ ” Starbuck said. “So I signed up, and it was the first thing I ever did all by myself. I didn’t know anybody. I stepped out of my comfort zone. And so it was a brave thing, but it was one of the best things I ever did.”

You can help

Trauma Intervention Program Northwest: www.tipnw.org; 503-940-7997; tipstaff@tipnw.org

Now, at 77, Starbuck has responded to over 241 scenes of tragedy and served 902 clients in Clark County. She’s devoted hundreds of hours to the program. Despite being around so much tragedy, she persists, because she believes in the program’s mission: supporting victims of traumatic events in their most vulnerable and painful moments.

“This is how I was put together, to do this work,” Starbuck said. “Because it’s what’s in my heart and what I believe in, I’m able to walk away. I pray for these people a lot afterwards, but I can’t explain it. You just remember to remind yourself: It’s not about me, it’s not about me. You just trust that you made a positive difference in the world. It’s very humbling.”

For her work, Starbuck was awarded the Clark County Commission on Aging’s 2021 Silver Citizen Award on Nov. 17, which recognizes older adults for their service to the community.

“(Starbuck) is such a great, quiet helper with a servant’s heart,” said TIP Executive Director June Vining, who nominated Starbuck for the award. “What’s truly amazing about her is her consistent ability to be available. She can get up any time day or night and go and walk into a stranger’s life and just be there for them.”

TIP volunteer work

TIP volunteers go through intensive training, and their education continues through mandatory monthly meetings. Volunteers are placed on call three times a month for 12-hour shifts.

First responders request TIP volunteers when they are needed at the scene to support distraught family members, friends, witnesses — whoever is there that needs assistance.

“If they call, we go,” Starbuck said.

Calls vary widely. They usually involve a death, but not always.

Starbuck has supported families who lost an elderly family member to a natural death, parents who lost an infant unexpectedly, friends of suicide victims, witnesses to fatal car accidents and more.

“We don’t come riding in on a white horse to rescue anyone, we don’t come swooping in with a cape to save the day,” Starbuck said. “We come quietly and respectfully at the request of the first responders, and we are there to help and serve and to just be.”

Sometimes, that means sitting and listening. Other times, it means having a conversation. Always, it means taking care of the victims.

“After a traumatic event, your brain is running at 90 mph in every direction,” Starbuck said. “And you have a lot of decisions to make, especially following a death in your family. There are things that have to happen and have to be done. And it’s hard to get your head focused. So we are there as a voice of reason. We can think and process and explain and help them go through that.”

Volunteers typically stay for one to four hours, depending on the situation.

Initially, Starbuck volunteered on weekends. As one of the first Vancouver volunteers, she often responded to calls alone. Now, in her retirement, Starbuck can devote more time to the program, and, with more Vancouver volunteers, she is joined by a partner on all calls.

At times, she wonders if she’s reaching the end of her TIP career. But then she takes another call.

“After I get out there and I sit with that person, I think to myself, this person needs to be heard,” Starbuck said. “I just can’t let people be alone in these situations. It’s just too hard. And I think, if I can just help one more person by making it a little easier in those first few hours, if I can be some comfort and resource and support, then I have to keep going.”

Life outside of TIP

Starbuck likes to spend her time volunteering at a variety of organizations. She sees volunteering as an opportunity to experience things she wouldn’t otherwise. She encourages her husband, Bruce, to join her as well.

Recently, they volunteered together at the Wine and Seafood Festival, at a synchronized ice-skating competition in Portland, and at the international indoor track and field championships in Portland. They also participate in Walk & Knock in Vancouver.

Starbuck also devotes significant time to Manor Church in Battle Ground, where that chaplain first inspired her years ago. She runs its communications and is also its financial secretary.

“I like to stay busy,” Starbuck said.

Starbuck is looking forward to the holidays. Her granddaughter recently left Washougal for California Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo, where she is studying aerospace engineering. Starbuck is excited to see her and to listen to her stories.

Starbuck also has some day trips planned for Christmastime, which she’s particularly excited about because they’re the first trips she’s been able to plan since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Advice

Starbuck encourages anyone who is looking for a meaningful volunteer opportunity to consider joining TIP. The time investment is a lot up front, she admits, but the payback is incredible.

The work can appear daunting, but the TIP training prepares volunteers and assists them when situations get tough.

“Always trust your training,” Starbuck said.

Plus, the work gets easier with time, she said. After so many calls, Starbuck has learned that it’s important to go in without any expectations, because every call is different.

“Just go in with an open heart and be willing to listen,” she said.

Starbuck had this advice to share for someone suffering from a traumatic event: Find someone you trust, someone nonjudgmental, and tell them how you feel.

“I know it’s hard to reach out, but hopefully you have somebody that you could reach out to,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to get some support. Because keeping it in isn’t going to work. It’ll come out. Unexpressed grief doesn’t go away. It might be managed, but it will erupt and come out at the most inopportune and unexpected moment. You can’t deny yourself that, the need to grieve. Trust me, I’ve been there.”

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