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Contact Community Services, Syracuse, NY
Contact Community Services

Volunteer FAQs Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need to have counseling experience to volunteer?
No experience necessary. We have an extensive, free 50-hour training program to prepare you to take calls.

What does your ideal volunteer candidate look like?
Volunteers should be naturally empathetic, dedicated, and able to work in a fast-paced environment. Basic computer skills are a must. Beyond that we are looking for a diverse range of volunteers from a variety of backgrounds.

How can I give advice to people when I am not an expert?
We do not give advice. We are not here to tell callers what we even think they should do. We are here to listen and to help them look at their own situations and make their own decisions. However, if the caller is ready to discuss solutions, we can facilitate that process. Not feeling responsible for solving the caller’s problems is vital to being a successful telephone counselor.

Are you currently accepting volunteer applications?
Yes, we accept applications year round.

Can I answer calls from home or off-site?
No, we take all of our calls on-site at our call center. The reasoning for this requirement is two-fold. First, we need to protect the confidentiality of our clients, so we require that no client information leaves our site. We also want you to feel supported as a volunteer, so we make sure you have supervisors whom you can consult with whenever you need assistance or just need to process a difficult call.

How can just listening to someone be helpful?
It might take a while to understand how powerful it can be for one person to listen to another without interrupting, judging, or giving advice. The basic training as well as Hotline experience teaches volunteers the value of the gift of listening.

Can I really be nonjudgmental with all callers?
We are not asking you to alter your value system, but we will train you to respond without judgment to a caller whose values conflict with your own. Not giving advice or passing judgment on a caller’s actions are key components to our listening model.

What if I get a call from someone thinking about committing suicide?
Most prospective Hotline volunteers feel anxious about handling a crisis call. We devote a substantial portion of our training weekend to teaching how to respond to suicide-related calls. It is important to remember that the person is calling and not acting. We can assume they have mixed feelings about ending their lives as a way of ending their pain.

Do callers use Contact on a regular basis?
Yes. About 20 to 25% of our daily calls come from individuals who have used our service for many years. They are calling for daily support and understanding. We have guidelines for these callers: they are permitted one ten-minute call in a 24-hour period.

Do you refer callers to community agencies?
Less than 10% of our calls end by giving a referral. Most callers are looking for a safe place to talk and are not necessarily ready for a "next step." "How" and "when" to give a referral are covered in the training.

How long do calls last?
A typical call lasts between 10 and 15 minutes, unless it is a crisis call or the issues are complex. A call that leads to problem-solving is usually longer than a "venting" call.

Will I work with another counselor or will I be alone?
Another person will be in the office answering calls on other lines. That person is available as a backup to the 24-hour counseling line if he/she is not taking calls on the other lines.

How many calls do you receive a day? Which shifts are busiest? Are holidays busy?
We receive about 65 calls a day. The calls are fairly evenly distributed over the five daily shifts. The daily volume typically remains the same on weekends and holidays.

What does the training look like?
The required 45 to 50-hour training teaches active listening skills, including reflection of feelings, empathy, use of questions, focusing, paraphrasing and summarization. Volunteers are also well prepared to handle suicide and crisis calls and to intervene in an emergency situation.

Training consists of three main components:

  1. Observation. During observation shifts, trainees observe an experienced trainer as he/she answers Hotline calls. They then discuss the listening skills the trainer used. We recommend that observation shifts be completed prior to the training weekend.

  2. Classes. Classroom time includes lecture, videos, small group activities, and role plays.

  3. Apprenticing. After several weeks of classes and observation, trainees begin apprenticing shifts. An experienced trainer coaches and supports them as they answer Hotline calls.

When is the training?
We typically offer three trainings per year. 2017 Hotline Basic Training dates are:

  • February 17, 18, and 19
  • June 2, 3, and 4
  • October 27, 28, and 29

Phone: 315-251-1400  
Fax: 315-251-2218

6311 Court Street Road
East Syracuse, NY 13057

Vehicle donation call 877-999-8322

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