By Ella Deters, REACH Intern
I came into my internship training for REACH anxiously excited to learn and make a difference in whatever way I could. From the first training I felt validated, respected, and encouraged to think critically and autonomously while setting boundaries and treating others with the same attention and respect that I was receiving every time I spoke. Throughout the training I learned about active listening, setting boundaries, and generally how to support others with respect and compassion. I quickly realized that these practices were not only applicable to my role at REACH but rather incredible skills that I will continue to integrate into my daily life.
When my first shift on the online chat came around, I was anxious and questioned my ability to succeed. But after my first conversation with a chatter, I realized that being able to listen, validate, and share kindness and available resources was the core of helping and supporting others in challenging situations. As part of our training, we role-played various scenarios with other REACH staff and volunteers to practice. During a role-play practice chat with a worried mother, I realized that what was most important for this character was to feel validated in her feelings and learn about the best ways to support her child. I understand that even opening a chat can be a huge step for some people and I feel privileged to be able to listen to and to validate those feelings. As someone who has used an online chat platform before, I understand the hesitance of sharing deep personal information with seemingly just a computer. If you were to have conversation with me versus another member of the online chat staff it would be different and specific to me, just as if you were having an in person conversation with two different people.
We are not all the same, but we are all here to help while appreciating that this level of anonymity can be a more comfortable platform for many people. While there a few generated messages that are necessary to send to ensure a safe environment, it is always a person on the other side, eager to help in any way possible! I feel a sense of community within REACH and if you are talking with someone on the chat, you are receiving the support of many more people than it may seem.
My role on the online chat is to support, and there are challenges that come along with that. Since the online chat is a new platform with changing hours, many people do not know that the chat exists or when it is open and able to be utilized. With the low number of incoming chatters, it can feel defeating to feel as if I am not able to utilize the skills I have honed throughout my time at REACH. The colleagues I work with help me feel grounded and connected as I know we are both experiencing the silence on the chat, and even being able to check in feels important; we are both present in a time when presence is scarce. After multiple conversations I have realized that being there and being present makes it possible for people to utilize the chat and find support when they need it, which in itself, is supporting others.
The online chat is a great way to find various types of assistance, whether that be creating a safety plan, getting resources, or simply just being able to talk to someone who will listen receptively. In a time when people get lots of calls from telemarketers, knowing that we are really people on the other side is important for me to share. Even though it says “REACH” on the chat, we are people, ready to help with our best intentions. We want to create a conversation that’s supportive and on your terms. This platform is great for those who do not feel comfortable talking on the phone or would rather stay completely anonymous. I feel grateful to be able to participate in the online chat and hope that more people are able to utilize and appreciate it as much as I do.
If you are interested in learning more and chatting with us, you can visit the REACH website at reachma.org/online-chat/. Chat hours are: Monday: 1-5pm, Tuesday, 1-8pm, Wednesday: 1-5pm, Thursday: 1-8pm, Friday: 1-5pm.