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Tel Aide listeners become part of the family

Kristine Berey

November 2011

Being a “good listener” has a very special meaning to a Tel Aide volunteer.

The telephone listening service, now in its 40th year, lends an ear to those who need to reach out, but find no one there.

A caller may need practical information, which a Tel Aide listener, using the Information and Referral Centre’s guide as a resource, will provide. Or it may be 3 am and he’s overwhelmed by anxiety. It may be someone who feels they can no longer go on but wants to say goodbye to someone, or is just looking for a chat, like 76-year-old “Minnie.”

Decades ago, Minnie would call Tel Aide several times a day, as if the listeners were part of her extended family. In fact they were, because it was the only family she had.

While “just” listening may sound easy, this service is as understated as it is essential. Callers and listeners alike may experience healing moments or lives may be saved. You never know what to expect when you pick up the telephone, listeners say.

“I got involved with Tel Aide almost 23 years ago,” Courtney Lai Hing says. “What keeps me going is that at the end of every shift I could pretty much feel that I had made a difference in a small way. I was there for somebody who needed me.”

Tel Aide’s mission is to listen to those who need to speak, at any hour, in English or French. Volunteers undergo training in “active” listening, conceptualized by humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers. Callers and listeners interact anonymously and conversation remains confidential.

“This is a good thing because a caller can interact with many people rather than being locked in to one person. The anonymous confidential service gives the caller freedom to express any thoughts, whatever they are feeling, without being judged,” Lay Hing says.

Volunteering at Tel Aide is a special kind of commitment and may not be for everyone, director Hélène Forget says.

“It is for a long period of time and a long training, but we see that the demand is high and will get higher in the next few years.”

The number of calls Tel Aide responds to has increased from 20,844 in 2007 to more than 24,000 so far this year.

Germaine Montpetit, fluently bilingual, works where she is most needed.

“I listen on the English side. Right now we have 60 active English listeners but we need double that to cover all the shifts. I am very concerned. The mission of Tel Aide is to provide bilingual service 24 hours a day, but we can’t fulfill our mission because if we don’t have enough volunteers there is no one to man the phones.”

Over the last three years, the three major reasons people call Tel Aide are solitude, relationship problems and depression. Many callers also mention mental health problems and feelings of exclusion as something they suffer from daily.

“There are resources in the community,” Forget says, “but those resources are not there on an everyday level. But we are.”

The service Tel Aide provides is as understated as it is essential. It provides a free, anonymous and confidential phone listening service in both official languages.

To speak to a listener, call 514-935-1101. To volunteer, call 514-935-1105, ext. 3.



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