Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The voice on the other end

Crisis Hotline director gets on the line

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Express Staff Writer

Alex Taylor awaits the next call to her Hailey-based crisis-intervention service. Photo by Willy Cook

Crisis Hotline, a confidential, 24-hour, seven-days-a-week crisis intervention and referral service, will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2007.

"When it started it was the only game in town," Executive Director Alex Taylor said. Things have changed in that regard, but the work and goals of the organization have not.

Raised in New York City, Taylor first came to the Wood River Valley in 1990 to visit her cousin, Sara Shafer. "I had a break in my career as a fashion publicist. I decided to take six months and learn to ski."

After two years, she went back to New York, though she returned frequently, and in 1994 moved back for good.

Taylor had a friend who was then volunteering for Crisis Hotline. It sounded good, so she began volunteering, too.

"She told me a little bit about it. I wanted to give back to the community, and it was the first thing I was exposed to. Plus, it was a great group of people," Taylor said.

In those days, volunteers shared beepers. Now they have cell phones. As with now, the beeper had to be handed off to whoever was the next volunteer on call. In September 1997, Taylor went to Sun Valley Lodge to deliver it to a fellow volunteer she'd never met. He was volunteer firefighter Ron Taylor. Some months later, they were in a training session together and then ran into each other at the annual Fireman's Ball.

Still a Crisis Hotline volunteer, Ron Taylor is now a full-time paramedic firefighter with Wood River Fire & Rescue. And two years ago, she became the executive director of the Crisis Hotline. She moved the office to Hailey, where she and most of the board members live. Married in September 1998, Alex and Ron Taylor are among several dual-public-service couples in the area.

"When you're both on call, and he always is, you're more understanding. If I was married to someone who wasn't ..." she said, trailing off. "Ron is a trained volunteer also, so he can take the calls if I'm not available. I'll wake up in the middle of the night sometimes and he's not there. I know what he's doing.

"The first party I gave to introduce his friends to my friends, they weren't even there because they were out on a call. You always know it's a possibility."

Alex Taylor has roped a few of those friends into the Crisis Hotline fold, too. It's not a hard task, and it does bring a sense of satisfaction. Currently there are 18 active volunteers and some others who are active only at certain times of the year. After undergoing a 20-hour training over the course of eight weeks, a volunteer will keep the cell phone with them at all times over a 24-hour period, or over several days.

"With the phone, you're always relieved when it doesn't ring," she said. "At the same time, when you read in the paper about people in crisis you wish they would have called.

"When the phone rings, I still go like this," she laughed, her face revealing a mix of distress and excitement. Her hands held up by her face as though frozen in the moment. "You don't know what's there on the other side."

Taylor coordinates the volunteer schedule so that Hailey volunteers exchange with each other, and Ketchum volunteers do the same. Taylor often drives the phone back and forth between the towns.

"I am so grateful to have volunteers. I want to make it as easy as possible," she said. "It's hard to get people to commit to the long training schedule, and we're looking to change it to a weekend perhaps. But we do need more volunteers. A lot of new people are looking for some way to give back. They get a sense that they're doing something, which is true of any kind of volunteerism. Everyone deals with stress, so whenever you can step outside of your own issues, it helps.

"When I'm frazzled, I love to go out to the Animal Shelter and spend time with the cats. To give them some love helps me to shift my attitude."

Crisis Hotline is also about attitude. Unable to offer services themselves, the organization helps people either cope with a situation or refers them to those who can help more concretely.

"We've had calls for things like getting a cat out of tree. The most serious are definitely the suicides. You can't measure someone's crisis though. People may be really distraught and down and just need someone to talk to. When they call, it's really the start of that opening up and asking for help."

But organizations need help to continue their work. The Crisis Hotline has two main fund-raisers. One is a fireworks booth over the Fourth of July holiday. The other is a benefit dinner, to be held this Friday, Oct. 27, at the Ketchum Grill, where it's been held for 14 years.

Executive directors have other responsibilities besides coordinating benefits and volunteers. Among them, they apply for grants. In the recent past, Crisis Hotline has received grants from the Idaho Community Foundation, the Deer Creek Fund and the Idaho Council on Domestic Violence & Victims Assistance.

There are a lot more games in town, but it's fortunate that people like the Taylors continue to show up to play them.

Second in a series

There are numerous nonprofit organizations in the Wood River Valley. Of course, each has a reason for being, and each has supporters who work tirelessly to raise funds and make people aware of their causes while helping those in need.

Few people work harder than the directors of these organizations. Often, they are underpaid and answer to a board of many. It's a challenge but not without its fulfillment.

Here is the second in a series of articles profiling people who run nonprofit organizations in the Wood River Valley.

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