WESTFIELD, NJ — Kristal Ras of Livingston, one of the newest volunteer listeners at the the Westfield-based crisis hotline and listening community Caring Contact, was recently among more than 100 volunteer listeners and other supporters celebrated at Caring Contact's 42nd Annual Volunteer Recognition Night, held last week at Ferraro's of Westfield.

Ras, a part-time hair stylist and college student studying forensic psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, has been on the phones since June and averages eight hours per month, with an eye toward more.

"Mental illness runs in my family," she said. "Any way I can help, to be there and listen to someone in a time of need is more meaningful than I can say. It's very rewarding. If I have a week I'm not actually on the lines, I miss it."

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In addition to thanking the listeners, Caring Contact also recognized four volunteers for milestones as well as non-listening volunteers, such as board members, fundraisers and marketers.

Caring Contact is an award-winning, volunteer-staffed caring and crisis hotline and listening community, providing active listening support and best-in-class training to the Central and Northern New Jersey community. More than 100 trained volunteer listeners answered nearly 9,000 calls last year from people in crisis, having suicidal thoughts or simply feeling depressed and lonely.

Hotline volunteer listeners are given 52 hours of training in empathetic and nonjudgmental active listening and mental health issues and attend a two-day intensive session on suicide intervention called ASIST, or Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training. Training is followed by an internship on the lines with experienced listeners.

"Our listeners are the heart of Caring Contact," said Janet Sarkos, the hotline's executive director. "Research shows that when a person is in crisis, having someone to talk to eases their distress, not only while they are on the call but for weeks afterward. We could not achieve all we do without our listeners."

Sarkos noted that the hotline's volunteers come from all age groups and backgrounds, including retirees, those working in a wide variety of careers and college students.

"At the same time, our other volunteers play vital roles as well," she said. "Our board members provide the leadership necessary to operate an organization like this. Our fundraisers help raise the money that keeps our listeners on the lines. And our marketing volunteers make sure people know we're here for them. Once a year we celebrate them all and say thank you."

Anyone interested in volunteering at Caring Contact, either as a listener or in some other capacity, should visit http://caringcontact.org/give-support/volunteer/.

Those in need of someone to listen is encouraged to call the hotline at 908-232-2880. To learn more, visit www.caringcontact.org.