#Palooza2016

A couple of weeks ago now I attended my first volunteer conference. The conference was referred to as Palooza and it felt as much like a festival as it did a conference. 2016 seems to be a year of volunteer firsts since the Invictus Games was my first volunteer vacation.

When I found out that Crisis Text Line was having a conference for their counselors I knew that I’d move mountains to be there and between starting a new job, financial challenges, and Formula 1, there were a few mountains. Mountains were moved, planes boarded, and a few hundred superheroes without capes converged on Austin, TX to spend a few days in amazement. *Signs Amazing*

Although it’s great that this is a digital experience and I can log in on my couch and feel connected to texters and counselors, it’s nice to hug these people. Putting your arms around people who know what it’s like, who’ve taught you, and been there with you, is the best kind of comfort.

I think my biggest takeaway was seeing how different this organization really is. I’ve been volunteering all my life (seriously, I remember as a kid I’d be stuffing donor drive envelopes for the Ballet while watching the Disney Channel). I have never seen anything like this. Many organizations appreciate their volunteers, many rely on their volunteers, but I have never seen any organization that puts its volunteers first. Appreciated is an understatement and they let us know and feel that at this conference. You might be thinking – of course most organizations don’t do that, the people or the cause they serve should come first. But what Crisis Text Line has figured out (through data and not being afraid to breakdown assumptions) is that putting the volunteers first makes it possible to serve the texters. Supporting volunteers is the key to what drives empathy to people in crisis. Volunteers give their time for so many reasons and I think a lot of us do it with or without a thank you but Crisis Text Line is starting a revolution with this idea. I’m a better volunteer because I’m supported, validated, and celebrated. My first shift back from the conference I felt like I could take over the world, I took more conversations and was more engaged than ever. I was a better counselor.

When I signed up, it was a 4 hour weekly commitment for a year. It sounded like a lot and some weeks the 4 hours feels like a lot sometimes but I’ve passed my 1 year commitment by a few months and have basically left it behind. I will be a Crisis Text Line counselor as long as they’ll have me. I’ve found something amazing. I’ve learned to be open to the fact that even if my assumptions are positive, I can be wrong. I’ve been inspired to be open and listen to the things that challenge my assumptions.

Another thing that stuck out to me during the conference was how diverse of a group we are. Crisis Text Line isn’t just a genius idea because people in crisis can use their phones to get help in a new and easy way, it’s a genius idea because people can volunteer in a way they wouldn’t normally be able to. Caring people are no longer limited by location, time, or disabilities. So if you aren’t able to get somewhere to volunteer, your only free time is in the middle of the night, or you have a physical disability that might keep you from doing typical volunteer work; at Crisis Text Line these aren’t limits. For example, there is a growing hard of hearing or deaf contingent. There are older volunteers who might not get the same reaction or connection face to face with younger people in crisis. There are volunteers in remote locations – all 50 states. The only requirements really are empathy and the internet.

A million people die by suicide every year worldwide. A million people. It sounds overwhelming but also motivating. I can make a dent. My kindness, my words, can help. I imagine one of those big neon signs that show the donations for a charity telethon, but going in the opposite direction. I’m screaming out in the world that you matter and the number goes down. I tell people that I go to therapy and the number goes down. I work a shift on Crisis Text Line and the number goes down.

The Crisis Text Line conference was amazing and I’m still feeling the effects. I learned so much and it brought me so much happiness. I feel very connected to this community.

If you’re interested in volunteering you can find more information here.  Feel free to ask me any questions you have in the comments.

 

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Crisis Text Line

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“Crisis Text Line is free, 24/7 support for those in crisis.”

Crisis Text Line (CTL) was founded by Nancy Lublin in 2013. You can watch her TED Talk. I first found out about it in a spring issues of Marie Claire Magazine. When I first read about it I was immediately excited. It was right around the time that news stories came out about people in domestic violence situations who couldn’t call for help ordering pizza and sending message covertly. There are so many times when it’s too difficult to call for help because someone might overhear or just because sometimes it’s mentally easier to not have to say your problems out loud. I know I’ve had moments when I couldn’t speak without sobbing and texting would have been a welcome alternative.

The other thing that excited me about CTL is that it’s very data driven. I’m a bit of a nerd and think that gathering the data will only help us be better at helping in the future. They publish the data they collect here. You can see what issues come up when, where people are texting from, and even what time of day certain issues come up. If we want to end suicide, hate crimes, domestic and sexual abuse, etc, we need to know everything we can about it. By collecting and sharing the data CTL is helping more than those who text in.

Recently the cell phone carriers AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, & Verizon showed their support by waving all charges for texts to CTL and making it so that CTL will not show up on cell phone statements. Crisis Text Line also works to refer texters to wonderful organizations like TWLOHA, RAINN, & The Trevor Project.

So now that you know how amazing CTL is – what can you do to help?

  • Spread the Word 
    • Tell everyone to text 741741 when in crisis. Anywhere, anytime. You never know what someone might be going through or when someone might need it. It’s nice to know someone is there 24/7 to help when you need it. Post this flyer – CTLTexterFlyer
  • Donate

    • Along with volunteer counselors we have amazing supervisors, trainers, and techs. The backend of the platform is sophisticated and always improving and needs financial support to do that.
    • You can send your tax-deductible donations via Paypal (link here) or by sending a check to:
      Crisis Text Line
      Attn: Finance Dept.
      24 West 25th Street, 6th Fl
      New York, NY 10010
  •  Volunteer
    • Being a volunteer is as difficult as it is rewarding. After an extensive application process about a third of those that apply are chosen. There is a six week training process and time shadowing current volunteers followed by a final exam before you go live with texters. You need to commit to four hours a week for a year. The training is wonderful and full of support as is the volunteer experience week to week. That said it is a huge commitment. There are the four hours on the platform, you’ll have hundreds of challenging and not always rewarding conversations over the year. You’ll need time to debrief and you’ll become an expert and self-care in your own life. It’s challenging to say the least. Conversations can be difficult for so many reasons from tragic situations to people who aren’t ready to accept help to the sheer volume of those reaching out to crisis that may remind you of your own. But. But there are moments when you know you’ve helped someone at one of the lowest points of their life and you feel like a superhero. You can be a superhero!
    • More information about Volunteering can be found here.

 

I’m so excited to be a part of this organization. Please consider getting involved and don’t be afraid to ask any questions you have.

Weekly Check-In

I’m starting to feel that holiday chaos.

 

  • Traditional Volunteerism
    • 5 hours Great Los Angeles Personal Statement Weekend with 826LA. This is my second year doing this event and it’s fantastic. We get to sit one-on-one with a student working on their personal statements for college applications. I think the best part is that they get to sit for a long time with an adult and talk about their future. This year I had another superstar student who was just a pleasure to talk to.
    • 4 hour Crisis Text Line Shift

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  • Charitable Giving
    • I used the “Charity Miles” app. Still hard to remember to turn on and slightly inaccurate but I raised $2.30 on two runs I was going to do anyway. http://www.charitymiles.org/

 

  • Personal Kindnesses
    • A coworker of mine was having a difficult family situation. I did whatever I could to make it easy for them and to check on them once they got home to deal with it. Hopefully I made their day even a little easier.

 

  • Self Care
    • This has been hard this week. There were more opportunities to volunteer this past weekend (I could have done the 826 Personal Statement event on Sunday as well plus the SoCal Special Olympics fall games were going on at several locations in Orange County) but I chose to rest and work on being okay with only volunteering a little over 8 hours this week. It’s too easy to feel guilty when it comes to self-care. But it isn’t selfish – it’s necessary!
    • I’m continuing my running training and bought the fabric for my marathon costume. Lots of planning and daydreaming go into running a marathon. Just 50 days to go.

 

Please share in the comments how you’re doing this week!