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Debby S. is the February 2024 Volunteer of the Month

Debby Shen’s commitment to helping others shines brightly through her volunteer work at the National Runaway Safeline (NRS). Originally from Ohio and now residing in Chicago, Debby began volunteering in 2019, just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Luckily, Debby was able to complete training and spend around 6 months taking crisis contact. As mounting challenges with COVID-19 caused organizations around the world to move to a fully-remove model, NRS was forced to temporarily pause its volunteer program. As soon as the program returned, Debby was among the first volunteers to return!

Her decision to volunteer was initially spurred by her therapist, another former NRS volunteer, who suggested NRS as a platform to channel her aspirations toward social work.

Debby’s experience at NRS pushed her to go back to school, resulting  in a new career as a therapist specializing in adult and adolescent care. Through her work, she not only provides support but also witnesses the tangible impact of her efforts, something she felt was missing from her previous career in marketing.

Despite not considering herself a “kids” person, Debby found herself drawn to understanding the genuine struggles faced by young people today. One significant challenge Debby acknowledges is a parents or guardians ability restrict access to a young person’s smart phones or other internet-capable device. This issue is compounded when a young person is enrolled in homeschooling, as a young person in crisis is tremendously less likely to have an adult they trust without connections made through school.

In her role, Debby frequently makes referrals, recognizing the importance of connecting youth with appropriate local resources. This can be challenged when connecting with young people who live in rural areas with less resources, but through her training and volunteer experience, she has learned that creativity is key in finding solutions. One resource she often recommends is the National Safe Place Network, as their locations around the country offer open doors to support teens in crisis situations, creating a safety net for youth.

Central to Debby’s approach is her commitment to understanding the world through the eyes of the youth she serves. She refrains from imposing her perspective, prioritizing their unique experiences and viewpoints. Young individuals often reach out to NRS to discuss their impulses and dilemmas, and Debby finds that her role is to empower them to make informed decisions.

Outside of her volunteer work, Debby finds fulfillment in her passion for animals, and has volunteered at shelters like PAWS Chicago. She also has a best friend in her own dog, Stella, a 9-year-old Border Collie mix. Debbie finds that Stella’s energy levels are still as exciting as when she was a puppy, and as Stella has gotten older and smarter, her quirky personality brings lots of laughs!

For those contemplating a career change but hesitant about taking the leap, Debby offers practical advice: start by finding ways to apply your existing skills to the field of interest. The path to making a difference is diverse, and there are numerous avenues through which one can contribute positively to society.

In celebrating Debby Shen’s dedication and kindness, we are reminded of the profound impact that individuals can have when they choose empathy and compassion as guiding principles. As she continues to illuminate the lives of those she touches, Debby serves as an inspiration, urging others to embrace empathy and kindness in their own journeys of making a difference.

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