Caring Contact, the Westfield-based crisis hotline and listening community, recently celebrated its volunteer listeners and other supporters at its 42nd Annual Volunteer Recognition Night, held last week at Ferraro's of Westfield.

In addition to thanking their more than 100 volunteer listeners, Caring Contact also recognized four volunteers for milestones and welcomed its newest listeners. The hotline also recognized 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.

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Dayle Moore of Westfield and Kristal Ras of Livingston were welcomed as two of Caring Contact's newest listeners. Moore spent 55 years as a nurse and found she was bored after retiring. She tried delivering meals on wheels and teaching literacy classes to adults but did not feel fulfilled, she said. She volunteered at Caring Contact and has been on the phones since June, averaging about 20 hours per month.

"The part of nursing I loved the most was afterward when I could talk to the patients one-on-one," she said. "I feel that's what I'm getting now. It's very rewarding. When I listen and talk to the callers, I feel I can help them. I'm 76 years old and I have a lot of empathy inside. Sometimes when my shift is over I want to keep going because it's so rewarding."

Ras is a part-time hair stylist and college student studying forensic psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She also 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."

Caring Contact recognized James Stewart of Roselle Park, Robert John of Westfield and Jim Lenox of Edison for reaching 2,000, 1,300 and 1,100 hours on the lines, respectively. John also serves as president of the hotline's board of directors. In addition, Caring Contact posthumously honored former listener Edna Nash for her more than 1,000 hours on the lines over her decade of volunteering.  

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. 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/.

Caring Contact serves Central and Northern New Jersey and is a primary responder to calls to the national suicide prevention line (1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-SUICIDE) that originate in New Jersey. Callers also reach Caring Contact by dialing 908-232-2880. Those preferring to seek supporting through texting may text “heart” to 741-741. The hotline also provides best-in-class training to the Central and Northern New Jersey Community.

 If you are in crisis and need someone to listen, call us at 908-232-2880.To learn more, visit www.caringcontact.org.

About Caring Contact

Caring Contact is an award-winning, volunteer-staffed caring and crisis hotline providing active listening support and best-in-class education to the Central and Northern New Jersey community. We attentively and compassionately serve those in emotional distress and educate our communities about the power of personal connection. We are affiliated with CONTACT USA, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the American Association of Suicidology. If you are in crisis and need someone to listen, call us at 908-232-2880.To learn more, visit www.caringcontact.org