As a member of the staff at NRS, I am expected to complete the crisis services training that is required for each volunteer before they begin taking calls in our crisis services center. Training includes classroom and experiential components in our crisis intervention model, covering topics from arguments with parents to suicide prevention and forms of abuse. This is for several reasons: to better understand our mission and the individuals we serve, to gain a larger respect for our staff and volunteers, and to be able to better communicate empathy for those in need that contact us. During my time in training, I learned how we assist those in need, but I also became aware of other aspects of our organization.
Our volunteers come from all walks of life. My class was populated with a diverse collection of genders, ages, colors, and backgrounds. Next to me was a successful businessman who asked really good questions about the percentages of youth that were living on the street. Across the aisle from me, was an African-American high school student who gave personal anecdotes about his friends’ troubles and desire to escape their reality. In the seat in front of me was a recent college graduate who worked with nonprofit organizations while in school, and was interested in continuing to give back.
All of these people are completely different. The one quality that they all share is their empathy for those in need. Our crisis hotline volunteers want to help an especially vulnerable section of society: homeless and at-risk youth who have escaped violence, or been thrown out or abandoned, and have no place else to go, or who just need someone to talk to as they feel overwhelmed with their lives and don’t know where to turn. They do not see differences, either amongst each other or in the youth we serve. They just want to help. I admire their enthusiasm, concern, and commitment.
Youth who choose to seek help are brave. As we went through the different scenarios where a youth may use a teenage crisis hotline, I realized how difficult it is to simply admit that there is a problem. Reaching out for help has always been a problem for me. I try to take care of everything myself, and sometimes to my own detriment. I will sometimes see asking for help as a form of weakness, a character flaw. Pride is a factor.
I, however, have been lucky enough to have had a stable home life as a youth. There are youth whose pride can prevent them, in much more serious circumstances, from seeking help.
Other factors can prevent youth from seeking help: fear, mistrust, and loyalty to friends on the street can keep youth from reaching out. They may be fearful of retribution for speaking out against their guardians. They may mistrust authority figures and organizations. They may not want to leave their friends behind on the streets by seeking help. Youth may also not have resources nearby that can help, or have access to a phone or computer to access services.
So, when a youth decides to contact us, or a crisis service like ours, it is a very brave first step towards securing their safety and getting themselves off the street. The act shows that the youth is willing to trust themselves and begin to trust the organization to direct them to the help that they need. They have the courage to reach out, despite the risks involved in sharing details of abuses they have suffered. That is a lot for a 14-year-old to express. So the youth we serve are truly brave.
The training is valuable beyond our organization. As I learned about our crisis intervention model, and our nondirective, nonjudgmental approach, I realized how valuable these lessons are in other pursuits. Through active listening, and by asking questions that allow the youth to consider their situation more closely, our “liners” are able to work with the youth to create a plan of action that will keep them safe. When I am working with my team, I can use that same skill set to find solutions to situations that arise for us.
Communication is a real challenge for any kind of work environment. The exercises and techniques we worked on in class reminded me of how others in any context prefer to be treated: with respect and honesty. For our volunteers, who come from all types of workplaces, they can improve their communications skills with internal employees or external customers. They can use nondirective questioning to assess the needs of others, and work to find a solution that suits.
Volunteers can also put their training on their resumes. This shows a commitment to skill improvement, as well as a genuine desire to serve. Volunteering is also a great networking tool, as you meet others in a different setting, working together on a common interest. The experience you get from volunteering can not only serve your desire to give but also create new opportunities.
The need for our services will continue to increase. Unfortunately, the issue of homelessness amongst youth and runaway youth is not going away any time soon. In fact, we are seeing an increase in the number of connections made through our website. From our Crisis Connection Trend report:
“Many more youth who are contemplating running away are connecting to NRS now than in the past – a 20 percent increase over the past year and a 54 percent increase over the past three years.”
“There has been a consistent increase in crisis connections from youth who are contemplating running away from home over the past year (20 percent), three years (54 percent), and decade (57 percent).” (Benoit-Bryan, 2015)
We are continuing to hear from youth that are dealing with broken homes, abuse and neglect. However, we are also now dealing with victims of human trafficking, the sex slave and work slave trade, and LGBTQ youth issues. Our services are evolving to better serve the changing population. As the population grows, so will the need to provide help.
I learned some unexpected lessons from my time in crisis services training. I plan on letting my work benefit from the knowledge gained. If you are interested in volunteering, learn more today!