Townhall II seeks crisis volunteers

Tony Lange

County’s suicide rate increased for the first time in three years

Without trained volunteers to answer Townhall II’s round-the-clock helpline, lives in Portage County could turn tragic – even fatal for some, said Christa Veltri, training coordinator for the organization.

Townhall II will hold a spring crisis intervention training session for new volunteers tonight. The first meeting is at 5:00 p.m. at the organization’s Water Street location.

Trainees are required to meet at various times on Wednesday evenings and Sunday afternoons to complete 60 hours of helpline training, which is divided into 16 sections. Some topics include communication skills, depression, sexual assault, grief, addiction and domestic violence. Role-play phone calls centered on these topics are a part of each section’s training.

The helpline, (330) 678-HELP, provides callers with immediate attention and a link to services for individuals experiencing a crisis, such as rape, suicide and many others, Veltri said.

“Really, anything could be a crisis to somebody,” Veltri said. “If people didn’t have a place to turn, I think it would be pretty disastrous and probably fatal for some people.”

The county’s suicide rate increased in 2008 for the first time in more than three years, leaving Townhall II’s crisis interventionists working long hours to save lives, Veltri said. Crisis victims wouldn’t know where to go or what to do if the helpline team wasn’t answering their calls, she said.

“Oh, wow,” Veltri said. “That’s a scary thought. I really have a hard time imagining what that would look like because there is really no way to replace what we do.”

Trainees will learn to assess various situations they may encounter on the job.

“Our first concern with really any crisis call is going to be their immediate physical safety,” Veltri said. “We’re going to ask them: ‘Where are you now? Are you alone? Are you driving right now?'”

Participants must also spend 20 hours observing in the helpline phone room prior to being asked to volunteer 200 hours for the helpline over the next year.

“With that kind of commitment, we’re asking for people who are motivated,” Veltri said. “We want people to come in on a weekly basis.”

Volunteers can sign up for shifts and choose times that work best for them, she said.

“Ultimately, volunteers are going to work on developing immediate action plans for crisis victims,” Veltri said. “We’re going to deal with the immediate future. We’re not going to deal with long-term implications.”

Contact social services reporter Tony Lange at [email protected].