Written by our extraordinary Helpline volunteer, Amy
I grew up in the 1970s when many moms read Dr. Spock and didn’t spend a lot of time listening to their kids and empathizing with their struggles. My mom was different. She started volunteering on the helpline at Samaritans as Carol 44 when I was in junior high. She not only befriended callers but she also befriended me, my brothers, and all of our friends. She was a wonderful, active listener who wasn’t afraid to talk to us about anything, even suicide. Her parenting served as a foundation for how I conducted myself through my relationships with friends and my own family.
From a career in advertising to full-time motherhood to a MSW in Social Work at age 40, I aspired to be a good listener to my children, friends, and clients. When my kids finally flew the nest, I was looking to move from working with court-mandated clients in social work to a volunteer position. Samaritans offered me the flexibility I sought, as well as a way to honor myself and my mom, who passed away in 2002.
After an excellent training program, I felt both prepared and terrified to enter the phone room for my first learning shift. What if I said the wrong thing? What if someone could tell I hadn’t done this before? What if I had a very serious call and messed it up? A few deep breaths and a few phone calls later, I realized that what we were told in training was true – we are talking far less than we are listening. Most of the calls I took were people who just wanted to talk and be heard.
All the “firsts” soon followed – being alone on a call, my first intense call (take a deep breath, and then another, and keep befriending), and my first overnight shift (lots of caffeinated tea and candy). I learned that that there is no perfectly right or wrong thing to say. It matters more that I am there, listening, witnessing someone’s pain and loneliness.
Volunteering at Samaritans feels like a gift to me. I love the people and the caring atmosphere that permeates the office. I leave each shift feeling both satisfied and spent, walking a few blocks before and after each shift to ground myself as feet hit pavement. I especially enjoy mentoring new volunteers as I recall my own nervousness and can offer someone else the balm of support that breeds confidence. I think often of my mom and how her time here led me to this place in my life and this organization, and it reminds me that we will never know how the act of befriending will impact someone’s life.
We are so grateful to Amy for her dedication and service to people in need. If you’re interested in volunteering at Samaritans, visit our Volunteering page to learn more and complete the Volunteer Inquiry Form.