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When there's no one else to talk to

Tammy Scheepbouwer
January 22, 2014 - 4:07 PM

VERNON - A local agency devoted to helping others is looking for some community support.

The Vernon People in Need Crisis Line, which has been operating for 37 years, has just 21 full time volunteers, and that’s not enough to answer every call.

Volunteer coordinator Tammy Scheepbouwer says the service connects people who need to talk with someone who will listen. The line is open around the clock, and volunteers receive some 600 calls a month. Some callers are contemplating suicide. Others feel alone. Overwhelmed. Confused.

“You never know what’s going to happen when you pick up the phone,” Scheepbouwer says.

Sometimes, all they hear is silence on the other end. It may take a few minutes before the caller works up the courage to speak. The volunteers never hang up.

“For some people, this is the first time they’ve ever reached out to talk to somebody,” Scheepbouwer says.

The calls can last anywhere from a few minutes to 20, sometimes longer. Every case is different. Scheepbouwer remembers the first time she answered the phone as an anonymous volunteer for the crisis line. The caller needed emotional support.

“I didn’t realize how many people are out there that are not in touch with their communities, their families, just how isolated a person can be,” Scheepbouwer  says. “So, it felt really good at the end of the call when the person said thank you so much for listening.”

Volunteers don’t give opinions or even advice. They don’t tell people what to do. Their role is to listen, connect callers with community agencies, and help them find their own solutions.

“We believe people are experts in their own lives but sometimes in crisis we forget we have those coping skills. We’re here to remind them they have those skills,” Scheepbouwer says.

Individuals from all walks of life are on both sides of the telephone. Anyone can volunteer, anyone can call.

Ideally, there would be double the amount of volunteers, Scheepbouwer says. If not for a network of crisis lines throughout the Interior, many calls would go unanswered. Fortunately, if the Vernon lines are busy, the caller is re-routed to another centre.

All the networks could use more volunteers, and that’s putting a lot of pressure on existing ones. It can be exhausting, emotional work, and you don’t want volunteers to burn out, Scheepbouwer says.

The Crisis Line holds four training sessions a year, and the next is scheduled for February 15, 16, 22 and 23. There will be another sometime in May.

One anonymous crisis line worker says the training and experience changed her life.

“The skills you learn are not just skills you would use in a crisis situation, they are skills that are valuable to everyday communication: with your children, your parents, your co-workers and with your friends.”

Scheepbouwer says the number of calls continues to increase each year, and she urges anyone interested in becoming a crisis line worker to contact People in Need for more information. It’s tough but rewarding work.

“Some callers will call back and thank us. That’s not why we’re here, but it’s an awesome feeling to know you’ve made a difference in one person’s life, even if it was just for a minute,” Scheepbouwer says.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at chelston@infotelnews.ca, call (250)309-5230 or tweet @charhelston.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2014
InfoTel News Ltd

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