With Distress Centre Durham (DCD), whose volunteers field more than 7,000 calls per year from people in crisis, help really is only a phone call away.
DCD, based in Whitby, has been offering emotional support to callers for more than 40 years via their 24-hour helpline. They have continued to grow, adding their Pride Line in 2011, which is the first of its kind in Durham Region. They have also added many support call-out programs and attribute a large part of their success to their more than 100 volunteers.
DCD’s Director of Programming, Nicole Bolotenko came to the centre eight years ago for a placement position while she attended the Social Service Worker program at Sir Sanford Fleming College. Following her placement she stayed with DCD, volunteering on the 24-hour line.
“I just loved it so much. The volunteer work that you get to do here is really direct. You get to speak directly with the clients that Distress Centre Durham is serving,” Bolotenko said on why she continued with DCD after her placement.
Volunteers are thoroughly trained through a several-step process, which prepares them to field all types of calls, which can range from relationship issues to crisis de-escalation calls. DCD runs four to six training sessions per year, with an average of 10 to 15 volunteers per session.
The DCD staff take special care in training their volunteers as they are the life-force. Training consists of two, eight-hour training days, a three-hour orientation for the volunteers to get to know the computer system and their role as a volunteer, and 16 hours of mentor shifts, where volunteers sit with a more senior volunteer for four-hour shifts. The mentor shifts allow the new volunteers to listen to calls as well as take their own calls and receive feedback.
This work might not be for everyone though. According to Bolotenko, of about 80 volunteers they take in per year, about 20 end up not making it to the helplines.
“My objective is certainly to get the most [amount of people through training], because I need them on those helplines,” Bolotenko said.
Placement students are common at DCD and like regular volunteers, are required to successfully complete the screening and training process.
“It gives you a lot of experience with the field of social services. We have many volunteers who are trying to be 911 dispatchers, or police services, or social service workers.”
While providing valuable work experience for placement students, DCD also provides a supportive atmosphere for volunteers. Through the training process they are able to get to know the volunteers on a more personal level. This allows DCD to place volunteers where they can be most effective. Volunteers also have the option of participating in one of DCD’s other programs.
DCD continues to rely on donations and volunteers to remain a non-profit organization. Volunteers contribute a great deal to make this happen and without them there would not be a distress centre.