Three volunteers share what they have gained from their experience

Three listening volunteers from 50808, Niteline and Childline share their experience.
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Listening and texting support services have always been an important source of support in Ireland. Even more so throughout the COVID-19 crisis, a time when we experienced even more stress than usual, but also had reduced access to available mental health services. In this article, three listening volunteers from three different organisations discuss their experiences of volunteering, and what it has meant to them.  

Adam on his time with 50808

50808 is an anonymous, free, texting-based support service for people who need someone to reach out to.

For a texter, it can be incredibly difficult to tell someone, possibly for the first time, how they have been feeling or what they have been going through. It takes a tremendous amount of bravery and trust to open up to someone for help and to confide in them about things they may have never told anyone before. 

As a Crisis Volunteer, I feel a great sense of privilege that I can be the person that is there for someone at that moment. For what might be the first time in their life they can feel vulnerable, upset, worried, distressed, angry, whatever they may be feeling, and the other person simply listens to them, is there for them, acknowledges what a difficult time they’ve been through and reassures them in how they are feeling about it. 

I’ve been amazed at how different supporting people is from what I had expected when I first started volunteering. I can remember talking to my first texter and feeling like my job was to solve all their problems, it felt like a lot of pressure. But the more experience I gained the more I realised that supporting someone was less about me solving their problems and more about just being there for that person. In that moment, we explore how they’ve been feeling and I am there for them as they do so. When you express back to someone what they’ve been through and how it’s made them feel it’s amazing how much of a clearer perspective people have of themselves. It sounds too simple to be effective, but it really is. 

My biggest takeaway is that most people are very clever and know how to solve their own problems. What they don’t have is an outlet where they can talk to someone about how they’ve been feeling and have that person be there for them, listen to them, and support them. That’s where Crisis Volunteers play a very important role in Ireland today, to be that person for people who don’t have one. 

I also feel it’s quite empowering to know that being able to support people around you in everyday life isn’t as difficult as we may think it is. A lot of it is using everyday skills we already have and it starts with just taking the time to sit down and listen.

Sammy on his experiences with Niteline

Niteline is a voluntarily run listening service for the college institutions of Dublin city and its surrounding area. It is a student service run by students – for students. 

My personal experience working with Niteline has taught me the great importance such a service provides within a college institution, especially during perhaps one of the most demanding times of a person’s life. It has provided me with a deep sense of satisfaction and meaning in improving the lives of students during their studies. I think it is especially important from a student volunteer standpoint as it often takes a student’s perspective and shared understanding to be able to listen to another student’s struggles.

It has embedded with me a deep satisfaction that I am contributing and helping my fellow peers in a meaningful way and it highlights to me that it takes an overall group effort to get over the finish line of our studies, and college experience and to make a university the way it is.

In a strange way, it has also taught me that it doesn’t matter what kind of person you are whether it be highly academic, laid-back, introverted, extroverted, athletic, popular, awkward, cooperative, spontaneous or determined, we all have our own unique struggles both big and small. 

None of us have everything completely sorted out within our lives. Instead, we all are working with what we’ve got in front of us and trying to make the best of every situation and every day, and if anything that is quite comforting and makes me glad to be a part of such an important organisation.

Laura on her experience with Childline

Childline is a 24-hour national listening service for children under the age of 18. It offers young people a safe, confidential, and private space to get non-judgmental support with their thoughts and feelings, whatever they may be. 

I started volunteering with Childline during Lockdown, partly due to my own frustration and boredom from being stuck at home, and my desire to spend my time in a way that might benefit others in some way. As someone thinking about a career as a Clinical Psychologist, I also felt that being a listening volunteer would perhaps help me to see if I suited such a role. 

Throughout my time at Childline, I connected with young people from a range of backgrounds. The type of conversations was really mixed on a week-to-week basis. As a volunteer, I wouldn’t what to expect on a typical shift. Some young people would contact the service for a general chat, arising perhaps from feelings of loneliness and the all-so-universal human need for connection. 

Others would use the service to divulge their deepest struggles and experiences, the confidential, private nature of Childline perhaps granting them that all-so-important sense of freedom and security to open up without fear of judgment

My time with Childline also led me to build a much greater appreciation for the value of my role as a listening volunteer. The many positive interactions gave me growing confidence and belief in the power of Childline as a tool for empowering positive change and growth. 

More generally, I came to realise how “short in supply” the act of listening is in the real world; how often we skim the surface of other’s words and express feelings in spite of our best intentions; the tendency to conflate “helping” with the act of “fixing”, how often we essentially shut people down by redirecting the focus towards our own issues or make assumptions regarding how one “should” or “must” feel rather than fostering the space to empower the person to set the record on their own emotions. 

Despite being from three different organisations, the impact of the experience of volunteering is clear. The simple act of listening and having someone to talk to is a powerful thing. The excellent volunteer training provided by these different services and the passion of the volunteers shines through, and they continue to be a much-needed source of support for thousands of people every day in Ireland. 

Feeling overwhelmed and want to talk to someone?

If you are a customer of the 48 or An Post network or cannot get through using the ‘50808’ short code please text HELLO to 086 1800 280 (standard message rates may apply). Some smaller networks do not support short codes like ‘50808’.

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