Meet Naomi, who first joined CSS as a volunteer on October 16, 1998 and 23 years later, still takes her weekly four hour shift from our offices where I was able to meet with her and learn a bit more about her time with the agency. When asked about what inspired her to sign up to volunteer on the crisis line, Naomi laughed and shared a story about how she came to volunteer at CSS. She told me that her friend had signed up to volunteer but was unable to complete her commitment due to a move, so Naomi stepped in to take her place. When reflecting back, she recalls being interested in psychology and reading books related to the field since she was 19. She also reflected on interactions with an acquaintance who later died by suicide and the feelings of helplessness Naomi felt in trying to support this person. Below are some of her thoughts about having spent near 5,000 hours on the CSS crisis line.
What was your first day like?
I was anxious, nervous, and unsure of myself. I then realized that the main thing is to be with someone and share their pain rather than say anything clever. All you have to do is open your heart. When I see other volunteers nervous, I tell them “Just listen with an open heart. You don’t have to fix anything.”
What has kept you going during your years as a volunteer?
I want to become a better person. I grew up in a judgmental environment and coming here every week is a practice in nonjudgement and empathy.
How do you maintain your own wellness while being in a helping role during the pandemic?
I’m a homebody and I have my family for support. I typed up love letters from my grandparents. And I tell my shiftmates my troubles. When I have something, I share it.
Have you made any lasting connections through your volunteering at CSS?
Yes, so many. Just yesterday I met with someone who used to work here and we went to lunch and read poetry together. I make friends easily.
Is there a call that stands out to you?
A year ago on Christmas Eve there was a caller who was walking the railroad tracks and I talked to him for an hour. I was glad there were no trains on Christmas Eve. We just talked and talked and he was able to see things differently. He even called back later and told another counselor to tell me he was ok. It was so meaningful.