Volunteers needed for community centers

By Tammy Sholer

Trained to handle certain problems at certain times, volunteers are needed to run crisis lines and refer people to professional counselors at two organizations in DeKalb.

Rick Johnson, community education coordinator for the Ben Gordon Mental Health Center, 12 Health Services Drive, said volunteers are trained to run its crisis line.

Volunteers also are trained to help people who have been sexually assaulted, Johnson said. However, the training emphasizes listening and referral skills, he said.

Volunteers are supposed to listen and refer someone to a professional counselor, Johnson said. Training for the crisis line extends over one weekend and is basically “preventive” training, he said.

“They’re (volunteers) trained to handle certain problems at certain times,” Johnson said. “Differentiating skills are important,” he said.

He said a diverse number of people volunteer ranging from NIU students and professors to members of the community. Volunteers work out the hours they want to work with the crisis center, but a certain amount of hours are required, he said.

Another organization in DeKalb that depends on volunteers is Safe Passage Inc. for Battered Women. Counselor Sylvia Lee-Thompson said the DeKalb County service organization is for victims of domestic violence.

Women and their children who have been abused sexually, physically or emotionally in an intimate relationship can find professional counseling, shelter and support at Safe Passage. A 24-hour hot line also is available.

Volunteers are taught about domestic violence, Lee-Thompson said. The volunteers are trained in support and referral skills, she said.

Recently, about 20 people attended volunteer training sessions for Safe Passage, Lee-Thompson said. “A good number of students from NIU attended,” she said.

Johnson said regarding the crisis line a case could rise where a volunteer does not refer a person to a counselor and takes a matter into his own hands. He said in this instance, potential liability could be involved.

University Legal Counselor Norden Gilbert said the agency potentially would be held liable for a volunteer’s poor advise and not the volunteer himself because the agency allowed the volunteer to work.

Don Henderson, attorney for NIU Students’ Legal Assistance, said presumably, an agency has insurance that would cover a malpractice suit.

Gilbret said, “Negligence would have to be shown in that the volunteer did not know what he was talking about.”

He said the standard of care that is expected with a volunteer would be lower than with a psycholgist so the liability would be lower also.

“One doesn’t expect as much from a crisis line as from a psychologist,” Gilbert said. One does not expect the same from a phone call as from visiting a counselor, he said.

When a crisis line is run, that organization is putting itself out to the world, and it is seen as a profession with trained employees, Gilbert said.