In the past eight years, Barbara Dyson has logged more than 5,000 volunteer hours with the Rape Crisis Intervention Service of Carroll County.
As a volunteer, she has been paged during Mass and in the middle of dinner.
She has accompanied victims of sexual violence to the hospital, police station and court. Through it all, she has been a mainstay of support, empathy, patience and caring to those in need at a traumatic time in their lives.
Last month, Dyson was selected from 13 nominees as Carroll County's Most Beautiful People award winner. On Wednesday, she will travel to Annapolis for Gov. Parris N. Glendening's tribute to the state's winners in Maryland's Most Beautiful People volunteer awards program.
"I started volunteering when I was 12 in our church," Dyson said. "I think I inherited it from my mother and father -- they volunteered in the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion. It's inborn in me."
This wasn't Dyson's first award for her work with Rape Crisis. She received the eighth annual Governor's Victim Assistance Award in 1993, and the Women Helping Women Award from the Soroptimist International of Westminster in 1996.
Although she has been involved in clubs, church and veterans' organizations, the type of work Rape Crisis does was new to Dyson.
"I saw an ad in the paper, called for an interview and took the 20-hour training," she recalled. "I hate role playing, so it took me from November 1991 to April 1992, working with a therapist, to learn how to be a counselor."
Volunteer counselors at Rape Crisis take hot line calls, assist victims, arrange for additional volunteers to help family members, help with fund raising, attend meetings and training, and perform office duties.
"This is not a lightweight volunteer job," said Jo Ann Hare, Rape Crisis executive director. "This is emotionally demanding, dealing with victims of sexual violence in a painful situation."
Many Rape Crisis volunteers last only two or three years, partly because something else comes along -- they have a baby, get a job -- and don't have the time to volunteer, Hare said.
"But Barbara has stuck with it," Hare said. "She's the first one I think of when we get a tough situation and I don't have a staff member available. She is a mild, infinitely patient, kind person who cares deeply about people who are victims of a crime."
Shari Keach, Rape Crisis clinical and volunteer coordinator who nominated Dyson for the award, agreed, adding, "Everybody should have a volunteer like Barb."
Dyson works full time in customer relations at Lowe's in Westminster and is a paid staff member at Rape Crisis three evenings a week, in addition to being a volunteer crisis counselor.
Having seen so much sexual violence these past eight years, she realizes how common it is and wishes people would do more to deal with it.
"It's an everyday occurrence here in Carroll County," she insisted. "There's so much here and people don't want to admit it. I wish the community wouldn't sweep it under the rug."
What is more frightening, Dyson said, is that "it's not the stranger [who does it]. It's a family member or a neighbor you've known for 30 years. We have acquaintance rape, especially with high school kids and college students."
The victim is not the only one affected when sexual violence occurs.
"Sometimes the actual impact of it can be worse on the significant other -- whether a spouse, parent, sibling or just a good friend," she said.
"We in Carroll County are fortunate to have the staff at Carroll County General Hospital, especially since they've got the Safe Program to work with these victims of sexual and domestic violence," she said.
The counselors, too, are affected by the cases.
"You get emotionally involved," Dyson said. "I have cases from when I first started that I think about."
The counselors have their own support -- each other and the Rape Crisis therapist. Dyson described dealing with such situations as being "like a grief process."
"The clients are confidential, so I can't talk to my family about cases," she said.
Dyson lives in Eldersburg with her husband, David. They have three grown children, two granddaughters and another grandchild on the way. The family hobby is NASCAR racing.
"You really have an obligation to volunteer, to help your fellow man," Dyson said. "If nothing else, you feel better for doing something."