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What I Learned From the BARCC Hotline

Lindsay, a former hotline volunteer, at a recent Champions for Change Gala & Auction
Lindsay, a former hotline volunteer, at a recent Champions for Change Gala & Auction

The following post was written by Lindsay Laguna, a former BARCC hotline volunteer.

A few months ago, I made the difficult decision to stop volunteering as a hotline counselor for the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center’s 24-7 hotline. Around the time of my two-year anniversary with BARCC, changes in my life had made it impossible to continue volunteering. I scheduled a phone call with my hotline coordinator to explain how I felt. She told me I could return if the timing was right again. Her understanding nature did not surprise me. After all, empathy and support are core values at BARCC, and they enable a culture of empowerment and self-care to exist.

All these values were evident when I interacted with BARCC staff and volunteers during my 40-hour rape crisis counselor training, volunteer shifts, and peer supervision meetings. During the 40-hour training, the staff told us that we could step out to take a break from a particularly heavy discussion topic if needed. They provided fidget toys and snacks to fuel us through each day and to keep us grounded (my fidget toy of choice was pipe cleaners). These consistent reminders of self-care allowed me to engage fully in each activity.

I asked many questions during training and while shadowing a hotline counselor. Still, I felt nervous at the beginning of my first shift. I remember reading and rereading key procedures in my BARCC Hotline Manual while waiting for the phone to ring. I can’t get into the details of my first call, but it was encouraging and helpful to debrief it with a backup hotline counselor. Seasoned volunteers make up the backup hotline team, which is available as a resource to hotline counselors throughout shifts. Whether I needed information to serve a caller, wanted to debrief a challenging call, or wanted to share news about a successful call, I felt confident from my first shift onward knowing that a backup counselor was a text or call away to support me as I supported callers.

The support did not end with shifts. Hotline counselors had peer supervision meetings, nicknamed “supe,” twice a month. The part of supe I found most useful was the small group discussions. That was when backup counselors facilitated discussions to review their group's most difficult calls. We shared stories, empathized with each other's challenges, and exchanged feedback for approaching similar situations in the future. Those conversations prepared me to manage a broader range of topics for my own calls. I felt more empowered to support callers in making informed decisions about their lives. In addition to our regular small group discussions, I appreciated when BARCC’s hotline coordinator led a large group discussion on current events.

During my two years with BARCC, the news was filled with stories related to sexual assault and other types of violence. When major events struck the nation, we utilized supe as a space to share our personal reactions to them and to cover the potential implications for our callers. How could we empower ourselves and callers when the culture of our country was looking bleak? How could we practice self-care for ourselves and encourage self-care for others both at BARCC and beyond BARCC?

When I reflect on my service with BARCC, I am proud to have been part of a community that values empathy, support, empowerment, and self-care for both its callers and volunteers. BARCC integrated those values into every aspect of volunteering, and it was easy for me to translate those values into practices. Those lessons have stayed with me in my life after BARCC. Since I became a hotline counselor, people in my life have been more open with me about sexual violence or other types of violence that they have experienced. My BARCC experience enabled me to develop the knowledge and discernment to determine how I could most effectively support my friends, colleagues, and the diverse communities of which I am a member. Whether it is with BARCC or not, I hope others can find a place that allows them to say the same thing.

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Boston Area Rape Crisis Center
The Boston Area Rape Crisis Center provides free, confidential support and services to survivors of sexual violence ages 12 and up and their families and friends. We work with survivors regardless of when the violence occurred, and our goal is to empower survivors to heal. We also work with a wide range of organizations and communities, including schools, colleges, and police, to advocate for change. We provide training in how to respond to survivors and create cultures that prevent sexual violence in the first place.

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