Helpline volunteer, Nick, reflects on Samaritans’ steady mission

Written by our inspiring Helpline volunteer, Nick

Time flies! As of the time of writing this post, I’ve been a Samaritans volunteer for two years. More recently, I’ve been mentoring some learning shifts. It’s an experience that I treasure and I’m extremely proud to be part of such a special organization.

At the time I joined, I had recently returned to the Boston area after living overseas for several years. I was feeling more than a small amount of reverse culture shock and was looking for a volunteer opportunity to help reestablish a sense of community with my hometown.

I found Samaritans after reuniting with an old friend and learning that he’d been battling severe depression for over a decade. I was stunned, and when we had the opportunity to talk about it in person, I felt completely helpless. I didn’t know what to say and ended up making most of the classic mistakes that we learn about in our Samaritans training.

As I tried to research what I might have done differently, I came across a number of references to Samaritans. When I learned I could volunteer for the Helpline, I jumped at the chance. Having no relevant experience or specialized knowledge, I was a little nervous going into the training program, but I learned quickly that a willingness to help and a desire to learn were all that I needed.

I was so impressed by my classmates. We were an eclectic group and the diversity of perspectives added a great deal to my training experience. There were at least three high school students who, when they were not leaving me in awe of their maturity, were giving me some glimpse into how hard it must be for young people in today’s world. This was invaluable background information and something I’ve often thought back to when speaking with younger callers.

When it came time for my learning shifts, I was ready—but I could not escape the feeling that I was being terribly robotic in my transition from training to befriending. I learned that this is not an uncommon experience among new volunteers. The training provides all the tools one needs but it is a lot of material to digest in a few weeks. I tell all the new volunteers with whom I have the privilege of working that once they master the key concepts of befriending, their personality will emerge and they will find themselves having real conversations with callers, not scripted dialogues.

I really miss the office experience, especially the spontaneous chats with shiftmates and the occasions to share insights. I miss those moments when I would overhear a beautiful turn of phrase and I would pause to think about the amazing ways we’re able to connect with callers in their times of need.

But as much as I miss the office, I cannot say enough about how smooth the move to remote shifting has been and how supportive the full-time staff continues to be. At its core, the Samaritans experience is unchanged for me. Every shift is different, every call is different, but the mission is unchanged, whatever the setting.