The help at the end of the phone

Pat, whose last name I’m not using to guarantee privacy, is another one of the people who can tell how the economy is doing, even if she closes here eyes. Her ears tell the story.

She’s a volunteer crisis counselor for Crisis Connection, which has experienced a noticeable increase in calls since the economy tanked. She’s trying to help, one caller at a time.

During a typical four-hour shift each week, she told me yesterday, anywhere between 8 and 20 people will call looking for help. Most are people “at the end of their rope” these days, she says. And most seem to be women. “It’s just the culture we’re raised in,” she says.

People tell their problems to Pat, and she puts them in touch with resources, whether it’s a place to get food or shelter. “A lot of them are 15, 16, 17 year old girls who’ve lost their boyfriend.”

She became a crisis counselor two years ago as a grad student in psychology at Bethel University. “It’s wonderful,” she said. “It’s fascinating and frustrating at the same time.” Fascinating because of the “things that people get themselves into.” Frustrating because many times people don’t listen to the solutions she offers. That’s when she uses the psychology. She asks the callers what they think they should do. Then they listen up.

Though she says she leaves the job behind when she leaves, she acknowledges that she occasionally thinks about particular callers — the woman with too many kids at too young an age, for example. She says she’s gotten burned out a couple of times, but says she can’t walk away. “They’re my tribe,” she says of her fellow counselors, a few of whom work the phones 8 hours a day 5 days a week.

Occasionally, some people helped by the Crisis Connection volunteers call back to report success, but not too often. “I like to think I’ve helped someone,” she says.

Here’s Crisis Connection’s profiles of some of the counselors.

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