You can make a difference

A crisis counselor talks with someone on the crisis hotline at Foundation 2 Crisis Center in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
A crisis counselor talks with someone on the crisis hotline at Foundation 2 Crisis Center in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

When I initially opted to volunteer at the Crisis Center of Johnson County as a crisis intervention specialist, I was looking for a volunteer opportunity that allowed me to contribute locally in a direct-service, peer-centered way. I wanted a chance to give back to a community that I love.

What I got was a healthy dose of perspective, an experience as rewarding as it is occasionally perplexing, and as valuable as it is complicated.

I volunteer for one three-hour shift per week at the Crisis Center, during which I take calls via the 24-hour crisis line. More than 100 volunteers cover more than 70 shifts per week. This operation exists right here in Johnson County and it is incredible.

You can apply to volunteer at the Crisis Center in the food bank or, like me, in the crisis intervention program, until Sept. 20 on their website, jccrisiscenter.org.

Crisis intervention training is lengthy. And necessary. And amazing. I trained from February to May as part of a training class of folks with similar volunteer goals.

The breadth of information received was extensive. I felt overwhelmed at the time, but, when faced with a tough call, I’m so grateful for all of the information.

Training schedules are structured to accommodate even the craziest schedules, which is a big plus. Let’s face it — I’m a busy working mom with a husband in graduate school, so the option to make my own schedule was a necessity.

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The support I experienced in training didn’t end when I began volunteering. I spend every shift with a call room manager who oversees every call I take. The manager has provided me with near-constant support and feedback, and acted as a much-needed sounding board.

I’ve taken so many calls the last few months, and I’ve learned so many things. I’ve learned, in being patient with others, to be more patient with myself. I’ve learned, more often than not, people just need to feel heard. I’ve learned a crisis is a very personal, relative thing, and it’s not our job to judge what constitutes one. But, we get to assist people in addressing crises head-on by helping them recognize their own strengths.

During one of my first shifts, I took a call from a young woman who recently had a baby and was concerned about all of the complexity, confusion and emotional upheaval that came with the experience. She was emotionally wrecked and without support. She needed someone to hear her and remind her that she is a good mom to her older children and a good person in general — that she is doing the best she can.

I think about that call often. I think about how different the woman sounded at the end of the call than at the beginning, about how I worked through the call with the near-constant support of my call room manager, and about the empathy I felt for someone I didn’t even know.

The Crisis Center always is looking for volunteers and, as noted, their fall volunteer application deadline is Sept. 20. If you’re interested, visit the website to view the training schedule and apply.

The Crisis Center runs on volunteer power, so please consider being a part of this amazing organization.

• Leah Gehlsen Morlan lives in Iowa City

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