Roberta Ferdschneider found Crisis Text Line at a turning point in her life. Within a short period of time, she had seen her daughter off to college and lost her father. Having survived what she called “dead-end jobs and dead-end romances,” Roberta was now a retiree yearning for something to fill her time and provide meaning, and Crisis Text Line felt like the right opportunity.
Crisis Text Line, the first 24/7, free, nationwide texting service for people in crisis, was developed around the idea of meeting people where they were already communicating. Text messaging is more accessible and comfortable to use for many, especially younger people. Nearly four years after launch, the service now processes over 60,000 conversations each month from every area code in the United States.
The service is powered by volunteer Crisis Counselors who work from their home with a computer and secure Internet connection. Crisis Counselors answer texts from people in crisis, bringing them from a hot moment to a cool calm through active listening, collaborative problem solving, and safety planning.
While Crisis Text Line’s users skew younger – (75% of texters are 25 or younger, and the median age of a texter in crisis is 18) – the volunteer community ranges in age from 18 to 79. In fact, over 200 trained Crisis Counselors are 50 or older.
When we spoke with three of these Crisis Counselors about their experiences and how they’ve benefitted from their work with Crisis Text Line, a few key themes arose. Namely, the organization gives these volunteers: a renewed sense of purpose, an opportunity to give back, and skills for strengthening their relationships.
Sense of Purpose
Roberta Ferdschneider told us, “I discovered that I really enjoyed my time [volunteering], and although I was usually at least twice as old as the texters and those working with me (including the professional supervisors!), I loved helping texters and I was pretty good at it.”
Roberta had an epiphany: she had a knack for supporting people and decades of life left in her. After much research, she began her next chapter. She proudly told me, “This August, at the age of 69, I will be a first-year MSW student. I am confident that there will be meaningful work for me beginning when I graduate at age 71.“
Rainy Roth has lived with anxiety for much of her life. From a young age, the symptoms were debilitating, and it wasn’t until her 30s that she met a doctor who understood and wanted to help.
“Being a volunteer Crisis Counselor allows me to make a difference in young people’s lives,” Rainy said. For many of the texters Rainy interacts with, she’s the first person to truly listen to them, meeting them where they are and seeking understanding. This is her way of “paying forward” the kindness shown to her by that doctor decades ago.
When asked whether she felt older Americans could relate to the issues faced by the (usually) younger users of Crisis Text Line, Rainy’s answer was a resounding “yes.” “You are more apt to relate to the texter due to prior life experiences,” she said. “There have been very few instances where I could not relate to a texter’s issue in some way.“
Skills to Strengthen Relationships
GraceAnn Graumann knew that Crisis Text Line would be, in her words, “a powerful venue to use all the empathy for others that was about to burst out of my 55-year-old-plus seams!” What she didn’t know was that the skills she gained in the training would make her a more effective communicator and even better listener. “As you get older, one hopes to get wiser,” she said. “Crisis Text Line gave me the tools to communicate more effectively with calm resolve in my own circumstances of life.” She said that these tools don’t apply only to texting, but also to “old school” means of communication.
The work has also helped her to stay in touch with the way young people talk and think. Using a piece of slang she learned from a young texter, she told me, “My experience as a Crisis Counselor has been lit.”
Crisis Text Line is thrilled to see volunteers of all ages bringing their diverse experiences to the Crisis Counselor community. To learn more about becoming a Crisis Counselor, visit www.crisistextline.org/volunteer.