Friday, August 17, 2007

Tomorrow... my last day working at the hotline, but I bid adieu to many of my co-workers today, since most of them don't work on Saturday. What can I say? It's been awesome. The best part of the hotline, hands down, was getting to know the other volunteers and crisis workers. They restored my faith in humanity at a time when I was feeling a little jaded about it. I don't know that I can ever thank them enough for that.

The second best part was the reason I signed up--helping people. I like helping people. It feels good. Altruism is the ultimate self-indulgence. Even after I started earning some extra money there to help pay down my debt and earn some spending cash for Korea (converted to won, of course), it was never about the money. Like when I was teaching, I often put in extra hours here and there (and not just the forced task of paperwork).

I was telling the director, Tim, that I believe I've learned more about social services and mental health in the last six months of volunteering and part-timing it at the crisis center than I would have learned if I had gone to school for social work. Now, of course, this is entirely hypothetical since I have never gone to school for social work, but really what could they teach you there that can't be learned in one phone call with the schizophrenic homeless guy just released from jail who can't get in the shelter because he's been in jail for 15 years and has no ID card proving residency in the county? Or the struggling young mother of five (via four or so baby daddies) who wants to go back to college, but can't afford daycare and just estranged the last relative who was still trying to help her by defending her boyfriend because they're (really) in love? Or the woman sexually abused by her parents for many years now trying to get into a drug rehab program and turn her life around, but can't find one that will take her health insurance, so she wonders if it wouldn't be better just to quit her job so she can get state care? Or the soldier leaving for Iraq in a few weeks who can't bear to tell his wife how afraid he is to go?

These are fictionalized accounts--amalgamations and distillations of many calls I've had. (I'm bound by confidentiality). Trust me, the real calls are often much more heartbreaking, disturbing, grotesque, comical, bizarre, frightening...

People are pretty amazing. They also can be pretty horrible.

I must say, working at the hotline, really has made me appreciate the goodness in people. I'm still rather accepting and loving of people as a whole, but I am a lot more intolerant of cruelty, selfishness, and apathy in my personal life than I was six months ago. And even of their deadly, oft-ignored cousin, complacency.

If you live in DC (more specifically, PG county) and are looking to volunteer at a crisis hotline, or you are looking for a well-run, resourceful non-profit to donate money to that you can have my personal guarantee will NOT go to waste because this center is AWESOME at the services they provide, visit CCSi's website and do something good for the community. Or you could find a center more local to you... either way.


  1. Though I know you are/were bound by confidentiality, I was hoping you'd post about your work at the hotline.

    Good stuff, Diana. A job you'll never forget. The social service which is so deep-rooted in me has often entertained the thought of volunteering my time at such a place.

    Thanks for this information and your thoughtful post on the matter.

    All the best to you. Safe travels and keep in touch!

  2. Yeah, it's hard not to post about the rough days sometimes. I process it in my offline journals if I need to, but most of the time just talking it out with other volunteers/staff is enough.

    I love volunteering here, but depending on what you're into, there are a bunch of places. I found this one by looking around online specifically for suicide hotlines (call it penance) in my area. But there are also hotlines for rape victims, drug addicts and their families, homeless services, and other things in this area that are great. Chuck county doesn't have great call centers (that I know of), but it does have some homeless/family services that seem decent as volunteer opportunities. And I love Single Volunteers of DC; they're good people (but I don't think Jim would like you doing that one!).



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