My name is Katie, and I volunteer at Oregon Partnership’s YouthLine, a teen-to-teen crisis line that offers a listening ear and resource referrals for struggling teens and their concerned friends and family members statewide. Before I joined YouthLine, I thought that I had a very open mind and broad viewpoints, and that I was generally a non-judgmental person. In my head, I justified the reasons why I categorized my friends by what they wore, how dark their make-up was, or what kind of house they lived in. I told myself it was how I was able to relate to them, to see what we had in common. In reality, I was setting them apart from myself and creating a bridge between myself and others formed by hasty opinions and cruel assessments.
All of those opinions I had of myself changed the very moment I began at YouthLine. I realized how close-minded I really was, and even how judgmental I could get. The first day I walked into the YouthLine training, our Coordinator sat down with us and said flat out, “No sharing ages or schools. I want you to be able to build relationships on something other than classifications.” And we did. A lot of us have built strong friendships from common interests, personalities and who we are as individuals, rather than where we’re from, or whether or not we went to a classy school or an inner-city public school. This was our place, she said. She wanted us to be able to come into our shifts and feel comfortable and recognize that we were in a safe area. We had to do that by creating relationships, not interpretations of each other. We were then able to talk about anything in our lives and not feel scrutinized or judged for things we’ve gone through or seen. Since we were able to experience that freedom first hand, we learned how to give that to each caller. Confidentiality, support, freedom and the simple words: “I believe you.” Sometimes that is all that teens need when they call: to have their story heard by someone who really cares and who is actively listening to their experiences.
YouthLine is my place. It’s our place–YouthLiners and callers alike. We have learned not to make a first judgment, but to listen and wait for a person’s true colors to blossom. It’s what we do best–listening. Yes, we’re here to learn and build our knowledge of teen issues like sexuality, relationships, pregnancy, mental health, physical health, grief, depression, and even suicide. And the more we learn, the closer we are to understanding the lives of Oregon teens. The more we listen, the closer we are to helping them
Visit the YouthLine web site at www.oregonyouthline.com