The special Board on Board blog series featuring National Runaway Safeline’s board members continues with youth representative, Lily Stein. A senior in high school, Lily started as a volunteer at NRS, taking calls and connections within NRS’ crisis services center. Since then, she has been instrumental in raising awareness around NRS’ services as well as participated in fundraising activities on its’ behalf.
She now shares her thoughts and feelings on why NRS is important to her and how it has improved her life.
Why the National Runaway Safeline is so Important to Me
By Lily Stein
“Yes, ma’am.” The caller sounded hopeless.
Thinking about my unfinished homework, his voice snapped me back to reality.
In my day-to-day life, I follow authority, worry about grades and boys, and enjoy my teenage existence. In my Safeline life, I am the authority. Each call forces me out of my blissful bubble and throws me into uncharted territory.
“My father won’t accept that I’m gay. I left home, but have nowhere to go.”
“I can arrange a bus ride home,” I improvised, though I knew his situation was more complicated than a free ticket. Gathering more details from him, I mentally prepared for the uncomfortable call I might have to make to his father.
It felt as if his life depended on how well I could think on my feet.
Growing up, I avoided this kind of pressure. I was outgoing, but was also a perfectionist and hid my mistakes. I vividly remember sweating and heaving after freezing up while reciting a memorized Shel Silverstein poem in 3rd-grade. From then on, I over-prepared, creating scripts as security blankets. Public speaking without hours of rehearsal was a no-go. While other 7th-graders winged history presentations, I rehearsed until I could deliver mine through muscle memory. Even ordering pizza required practice. I was a better writer than improviser and hid behind carefully crafted words, living a life governed by 3-by-5 note-cards.
High school was more complicated and it became clear that the energy I spent preparing was a tremendous burden. The tools I had created to get through challenges kept me from facing them directly. I wanted to live beyond scripted words and knew I had to throw myself headfirst into something I couldn’t write my way out of.
My first day of training was daunting. I tried to seem prepared, though I had no credentials and was half the age of everyone else. When the instructor asked for a role-play volunteer, my hand shot up. Panicking, I feigned confidence.
I immediately regretted my decision.
I was asked to improvise a call about a girl being sexually abused by her stepfather. Searching for profound words, there was a painful silence while I struggled, and the instructor rescued me. I sat down, defeated. Reluctantly, I dragged myself back to the next class. And the next. Over 40 hours of training, I learned to spot child abuse, reason with suicidal people, report missing children and explain runaway laws. I had survived the grueling classes, yet still worried that I would freeze during a real call.
On my first day as a frontline team member aka ‘liner’, I was petrified. But as soon as I answered a call, something clicked. Talking to a real person was nothing like role-playing. With no audience judging my performance, I could trust my instincts, empathize, and speak freely. All of the energy I had spent searching for perfect words was futile. They didn’t exist.
“I am calling from the National Runaway Safeline. I just spoke to your son.” I trembled as I held the phone. “He’s living on the street and I want to talk to you about his options.”
“He can come home, but not if he’s gay.”
His words cut through me. Burying my opinions, I put father and son on the line together. After an hour, I helped them find a compromise. The son was going home. I ended the call with mixed feelings of satisfaction, relief, and heartache.
In my years at NRS, I have learned that life is a beautifully unscripted mess, full of paradoxes and inconsistencies. I’ve come to appreciate uncertainty. Every call teaches me that being human doesn’t come with a set of instructions and can’t be restricted to neat scripts. I now embrace the fragments, the missteps, the sweaty hands, the awkward silences, the confusing, unpredictable allure of a life unscripted.