Gina's Story: THE VOLUNTEER COMMUNITY AT NATIONAL RUNAWAY SAFELINE
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It helps us relate to others, connect and form productive bonds. Often, empathy brings out the best in people and drives them to offer support.
Naturally, empathy and volunteering are linked. When we are sensitive to another’s feelings and situations, we may be inspired to take action. At the National Runaway Safeline (NRS), volunteers put themselves in a young person’s shoes when responding to youth in crisis, making a meaningful difference in the lives of those they connect with.
For NRS volunteer “Gina,” serving in the Crisis Center offered a lesson in empathy.
Gina works in an administrative role for a nonprofit organization. She committed to volunteering with NRS as a way to complement her career and to directly help others in need. During her first shift after completing her volunteer training and supervision, Gina experienced a memorable conversation with a youth who was facing a particularly difficult challenge at home; the conversation left an impression that was hard to shake. She had to pause and reflect on the experience.
“Is volunteering going to be like this all the time?” she asked a colleague. She connected with the youth in need, but was left feeling distressed. The interaction helped her realize being empathetic is not easy. It requires vulnerability and the willingness to try to feel what the other person is feeling.
The young person Gina spoke with was just beginning to deal with his crisis. He was processing a range of emotions and exploring a path to healing. The steps ahead were going to be hard. Gina recognized this, but it was difficult for her to absorb the situation and not be able to offer a clear resolution to that youth.
Gina debriefed with her supervisor about the interaction, and his words struck a chord: “Some days volunteering can be a challenge, but your willingness to connect so passionately is exactly how you know you’re making a real difference.” He congratulated Gina and told her she was doing well.
Other volunteers, some with years of experience at NRS, offered support and encouragement to Gina, highlighting the strength it takes to empathize so deeply with the youth we serve at NRS, and reminding her that just as many interactions will leave her feeling inspired and invigorated.
Volunteers do not offer their time at NRS because the work is easy; instead, they do so to make a meaningful difference in the lives of the young people with whom they connect. This Volunteer Appreciation Week, we thank Gina and so many of her peers for their dedication to the mission of NRS and to building connections with young people who need them. Volunteering truly is empathy in action. It’s a beautiful thing to be part of the NRS community.