When her teenage daughter's friends came over to hang out, they would often linger at the kitchen table with her, open up, and share their stories. That's how PSEG employee Michelle Brady made an important discovery.
"The kids would tell me 'I don't talk to my own mother like this,'" said the Hillside mom. "It felt good to know they were comfortable to talk. I always wanted to create a safe and accepting place for my daughter and her friends. And I discovered all I had to do was listen!"
Brady's commitment to listening has set her on an important new path in life. The senior administrative assistant in the human resources department at PSEG in Newark regularly soothes souls and saves lives by volunteering for CONTACT We Care, the 24-hour caring and crisis hotline based in Westfield.
"When my daughter's friends would say, 'You should be a counselor, Miss Michelle,' it got me thinking. I realized that the ability to listen is a skill I can use at work, at home and in all areas of my life. Through PSEG's Volunteer Match Program I discovered CONTACT We Care and signed up to take their Volunteer Training because I wanted to learn how to really listen and make a difference."
After nearly two years answering calls to the hotline, Brady says the rewards are countless. "The most rewarding part is when a caller expresses appreciation and says they feel better. They thank me for being there for them."
CONTACT We Care handles more than 11,000 calls a year from men, women and teens who are lonely, depressed, stressed or suicidal. The 35 year-old non-profit was recognized as the Best Statewide Volunteer Organization by the New Jersey Governor's Office of Volunteerism.
Born and raised in Scotch Plains, Brady, who was known by her maiden name Shelley Coleman, attended Berkeley Business School following graduation from Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School in 1985. She has worked in varying positions at PSEG for nearly 13 years. "I'm a social person and I love to connect with people," said Brady. "It feels so good to help them and make a difference."
"Volunteering on the crisis hotline gives me great perspective," said Brady. "I realize that whatever I'm going through isn't so big after all. We tend to make problems bigger than what they are sometimes."
More and more often Brady answers the hotline phone and finds a caller without hope, considering suicide. "It's tremendously powerful to be able to be there for someone in crisis and help them through their dark moment. If feels so good to connect and touch others in such a significant way - to help another human being."
Brady's experiences at CONTACT have inspired her to go back to school to study psychology. She's begun looking into different programs and options. "I'd love to enhance my skills and learn even more about the human mind. It's taken time and many different experiences to get me to this point, and it's all coming together now," said Brady.
For more information about volunteering for CONTACT We Care, call 908/301-1899 or visit the website www.contactwecare.org