Being a Crisis Hotline volunteer is a bit like being in the CIA—volunteers use false names to answer the hotline's cell phone and cannot have their faces shown in the media, but provide a valuable service to those in need through the valley and even beyond.
Executive Director Sher Foster said the nonprofit organization is searching for more volunteers willing to provide counseling and emotional support for valley residents in crisis.
"A crisis can be different for each individual," she said of the types of situations that volunteers must be prepared to deal with. "We provide assistance with counseling, prescription medications, legal assistance and help for the homeless."
Volunteers go through an intensive five-week, 20-hour training program, learning how to deal with bullying, depression, suicide and self-harm, sexual assault, mental illness and drug abuse.
Foster said that while the training is comprehensive and no experience is necessary, many of the volunteers have struggled with these issues on a personal level.
"I would say it seems like almost everyone has been through some crisis in their lives," she said. "Through that learning experience, they are more able to help others going through a similar crisis."
Blaine County Commissioner and county Mental Health Task Force member Angenie McCleary said the hotline is crucial to the valley's mental health services.
"It's very needed," she said. "It's really important to be able to access services and have a number to call when you're in crisis."
McCleary said county law enforcement relies on the hotline to a degree, but the hotline also relies on other mental health services in the valley.
"They need to be able to refer people somewhere," she said.
Foster said the hotline's calls have been increasing dramatically since 2010. In December 2010, it received 10 calls for the entire month; in January 2012, volunteers received 66 calls.
"We are receiving many more suicidal calls than in our history, and the calls from people who are depressed have escalated," Foster said.
She said volunteers provide immediate emotional support, recommend therapy or other services and typically call the patient later to follow up with them.
"In almost all cases, they are [getting help] and their situation has improved," she said.
Training for Crisis Hotline volunteers begins at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 6, at the Calvary Bible Church, one mile north of Hailey.
The two-hour sessions continue each Tuesday and Thursday through April 3. Sessions are free, and attendees are not obligated to volunteer with the hotline or answer the phone after completing the program. Foster said the hotline also needs event planners and other support staff.
Of course, she added, the main goal of the program is to get as many new volunteers as possible.
"By donating two days a month [to carry the hotline's cell phone], volunteers really can make a difference," she said.
Katherine Wutz: email@example.com
Crisis Intervention Training
Training takes place from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday night from March 6 through April 3. Sessions are free of charge and held at the Calvary Bible Church north of Hailey. For more information, call Sher Foster at 788-0735.
Call the Crisis Hotline at 788-3596.