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Response Hotline Seeking Volunteer Counselors

Local nonprofit organization will soon hold a training session for potential volunteers.

Each year fields about 20,000 calls for help on its various hotlines, which include a national suicide lifeline, a 24/7 crisis hotline, a bilingual line and an online call system on weeknights.

All of those crisis intervention services are staffed by trained volunteers – about 60 people per week. But Hurricane Sandy interfered with the organization's ability to retain its volunteers, and so the organization has recently issued a call for more volunteers.

"Right after we were done with the training we had the hurricane, so a number of people couldn’t give the commitment to the hotline," said Meryl Cassidy, executive director of Response of Suffolk County, Inc. "Usually we do a fall training and a spring training and that is enough to keep up. We find ourselves a little bit in a pinch right now."

She said volunteers don't need to have any special skills to get involved – they'll learn all they need to learn during the training.

"You just need to be compassionate and caring and want to help people in crisis," Cassidy said.

The next training session starts March 8. It's a four-day process that takes place over the course of two weekends: March 8-9 and March 15-16. Cassidy described the training as classroom-style sessions with skill-building and role-playing sessions, with special attention paid to the topics of crisis theory, suicide awareness, bereavement and loss, and sexual orientation issues.

"When you learn how to really listen to somebody without judging them, without trying to fix it, without trying to give advice, you open the door for communication in a way that really lets the person who’s experiencing the problem figure things out," Cassidy said.

Volunteers who complete the training session are asked to run one four-hour volunteer session per week for a minimum of six months.

"We really would love it if people would come to the training," Cassidy said. "We appreciate the community’s support. If people want to get involved in anything, whether it’s coming to the training, helping out in any other way or even spreading the word that we exist, it is helpful."

Those who are unable to volunteer their time can still help: Response is also accepting donations through its website to help offset its approximately $400,000 in operating costs per year, most of which comes through county funding that has been shrinking in recent years.

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