ITHACA, N.Y. — Thirteen-year- old Micaela Corazon picked up the phone and, for the first time, dialed the Ithaca Help line. More than 40 years later, she’s the Coordinator for Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service’s Crisisline, and currently training the next round of volunteers.

“I’d like to think I’m paying forward,” she says.

Currently, twelve volunteers have filled the fall semester training session spanning from Sept.26 to Oct. 26. Though no new applicants are being accepted presently, the 47-hour training course will be open again next spring.

“When people get on the Crisisline, we want to make sure they have a lot of training under their belt and they also have apprenticeship with counselors who’ve been doing it for longer,” she adds. “It takes a lot of energy and time and training.”

The Crisisline is available to help those in need of mental health services by providing a person for people to talk to 24-hour a day.

Training costs about $1,000 per person and volunteers must commit to at least one year of service. Once training is complete, 2 months of additional mentorship is required before volunteers take calls on their own.

Half of volunteers are college students, some aiming to pursue careers in social service such as Ithaca Alumni Katrina Vega.

“The experience has been on the most challenging but also meaningful things I feel like I’ve done,” she says. “It definitely changed me for the better. It helps you learn active and respectful listening and just knowing how to be with someone by not just figuring out how to fix the situation but by going through the pain with them.”

As a psychology major at Ithaca College, she was drawn to a flyer in Muller Chapel announcing the need for volunteers. Feeling ready to commit, she commenced training her senior year.

“It’s a difficult line of volunteering, but the support you get while you’re training and while you’re actually there is incredible. There’s always another crisis counselor or supervisor with you,” she says. According to Corazon, volunteers and supervisors alike aim to be compassionate, nonjudgmental, and emphatic towards callers.

“We talk to people who’ve been dumped, people who have humiliated by their boyfriends and girlfriends, people suffering from depression and anxiety, people grieving the loss of a loved one, people dealing with their sexuality, people calling about children dealing with substance abuses.…we talk to people who are just experiencing loss and sometimes they can’t talk to people close to them because they’re afraid of being judged,” Corazon said.

Volunteers also converse with callers so that they reach their own conclusions and refer them to other resources for further assistance.

The service began in 1969 by Chaplain Jack Lewis at Cornell Campus to respond to the suicides on campus and has since moved downtown to serve all of Ithaca. Now, Crisisline serves eleven different counties and is in the process of forming partnerships with hospitals and mental health facilities as well as a texting method of instant help.

“We are those friendly anonymous people on the phone,” Corzaon says. “And if after an interaction our caller feels more empowered or calmer or able to think better, if we can just do that, that’s success. That’s how we measure success.”

Featured photo courtesy of Flickr. 

If you or somebody you know needs help with mental health services, contact the Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service’s 24-hour Crisisline by calling 607-272-1616. For more information about the organization, visit their website here.