FACING TEENS IN CRISIS WITH EMPATHY
Nathan Bone was nervous when he started volunteering for Oregon YouthLine, a free 24-hour crisis helpline for teens.
“At first it was really nerve-racking, because there’s only so much training they can give you, and the real training has to happen with real people with real issues,” Nathan says.
After volunteering for four hours weekly for almost a year, the sophomore at Oregon City High School says he’s now feeling more comfortable talking with people over the phone — and with other people in his life — no matter what types of trauma they might be dealing with.
“I think I’m more empathetic every time I go in, because I hear so many people’s stories and I’m realizing how many different types of experiences people have,” Nathan says.
Nathan uses a pseudonym while volunteering at YouthLine, a teen-to-teen peer support and crisis line where youth volunteers take texts, chats, phone calls and emails from 4-10 p.m. every day, supervised and supported by master’s-level staff. During off hours, phone calls are answered by adult crisis-line staff.
Teens call Nathan for all types of reasons. Some might be having social issues related to having gone through quarantine, while other teens want to talk about their suicidal feelings, and some don’t know how to talk with their parents about being gay.
“Sometimes people don’t know what they want to talk about, and others are having very specific intense issues,” Nathan says.
He says that receiving Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training helped him to talk with people who are at a stage of planning for suicide so that he can help them connect with a person who matters in their life or begin to look forward to something, like potentially going on a vacation.
“Do you think we can make a plan for you to stay safe so you can go on that trip, or so you can see that person?” Nathan might ask a caller.
These calls have been rewarding for Nathan, who says, “I’ve been able to establish a life connection with them and help them realize their life has value and realize that they have things to look forward to.”
While the volunteer time is only one evening a week, Nathan says he has to work to nurture his own mental health so that he’s not kept up at night replaying the calls in his head.
“It’s definitely hard to stop thinking about those calls and separating the volunteer work from my personal life,” he says.
Nathan received a boost for his YouthLine efforts when he was recently honored by the U.S. president for his volunteerism.
“Throughout our country’s history, the American story has been strengthened by those who combine an optimism about what can be with the resilience to turn that vision into reality,” President Joe Biden wrote in a commendation letter. “On behalf of the American people, I extend my heartfelt appreciation to you for your volunteer leadership, and I encourage you to continue to answer the call to serve.”
Receiving the president’s Volunteer Service Award was “a real surprise” for Nathan because the adults who helped run the crisis line secretly nominated him. Part of him felt like he didn’t deserve such recognition, but the president spurred him on to feel like he later earned the commendation.
“I felt like I still had more to learn, but the recognition was certainly very encouraging to continue what I was doing as a volunteer,” Nathan says.
Although a teacher was his inspiration for volunteering, Nathan now sees how his father, who owns the Hillside Chapel funeral home in Oregon City, may have “provided a basis of compassion for other people” that helped him take calls from teens in crisis.
“I can see how that would translate to the type of work that I’m doing now,” Nathan says.
Whether someone is calling a crisis line or a funeral home, Nathan thinks a lot of the support he or his father is providing in “both situations has to have that real understanding for empathy.”
In the meantime, Nathan has fun plans for his other pursuits. To follow up on traveling with the Krayon Kids Musical Theatre Company to Peru to perform in Lima as part of a cultural exchange in 2018, Nathan’s membership in the Oregon City Master Choir will allow him to travel to Europe this summer to sing at various venues as part of the Oregon Ambassadors of Music program.
Nathan is also a member of an a cappela singing group called Sound Check, which is recording and producing an album called “Ignite” to be released this summer.