Lifeline closes Taree office

LIFELINE Taree will close its office in Taree this week.

Declining volunteer numbers and an inability to meet national key performance indicators resulted in the decision of Lifeline MidCoast to close the office in Commerce Street.

Board chair of Lifeline MidCoast, Mort Shearer said it was important people in Taree and the surrounding areas understand that the decision to close the office would not impact on community access to Lifeline.

He said the national objective of Lifeline was to improve the call rates of its existing national call system. He explained the Taree office had two desks connected to the national call system and due to declining volunteer numbers, the office could not meet the key performance indicators in terms of how many calls had to be answered by each desk.

He said the office would close and "the desks be transferred to other areas that had people lining up to volunteer."

"It's been a chain of events that has led to this decision. We tried to recruit volunteers but it also involves a very extensive training process that must be undertaken by each volunteer before they can become a Lifeline counsellor," Mr Shearer said.

"This decision may seem difficult for Taree but there should be no hint of concern in relation to access to Lifeline services. It makes absolutely no difference, in fact, it actually improves local access to counsellors as we are improving the national network by handing over these desks to other areas."

He said Lifeline MidCoast would organise an event for current and former counsellors to commemorate their contribution.

Three former local Lifeline counsellors, Del Dennis, Pattie Hogan and Darryl Drury contributed countless hours to the service at its Taree office and were invited to share their perspective on their years of service.

"Lifeline - that word is exactly what it is for many people battling depression and mental health issues, the phone service is vital to their wellbeing," Mrs Hogan said.

"The calls are so varied and complex and depressing, sometimes you need to take a break from the calls on your shifts and debrief for your own sanity and health. In one shift you are taking calls from people with depression, financial difficulties, marriage breakup, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, domestic violence, child abuse, peer pressure, job loss - there are so many issues that people struggle with on a daily basis.

"The most important ingredients in becoming a Lifeline counsellor is to be a good listener, have empathy and be non-judgmental. Sometimes the callers would tell you their story and it would seem like it was written in a fiction novel, the callers are to be treated with respect and dignity and not challenged on the story being true.

"Being a Lifeline counsellor is rewarding, in that you realise that by providing your service as a volunteer can mean the difference between life and death.

"My Lifeline experience taught me compassion and humility, and that a caring and kind word to others can make such a difference to their lives," Mrs Hogan added.

Darryl Drury served as a volunteer Lifeline counsellor for more than 16 years.

"To have the privilege of being empathically present with another human being, whether on the telephone or face to face, supporting them as they wrestle with their unique challenges and crises that life tends to throw up at times, is a very special one," Mr Drury said.

"Being present while options are canvassed and the 'Ah-hah moment' breaks forth from a fresh flash of insight, is a very special, even 'sacred' moment for both the client and the counsellor. The awakening to a new purpose, meaning and direction for life representing hope, is like a miracle to be truly celebrated.

"Lifeline has provided me with many special experiences and life-enhancing opportunities through the training, being a facilitator on training teams, supporting counsellors, and being a member of a very committed and caring community that is Lifeline. Those opportunities and experiences have been for me very special gifts for which I am deeply appreciative and thankful."

For Del Dennis of Taree the experience of being a Lifeline counsellor contributed a great deal to her own life.

"Reflecting back over the years I spent at Lifeline I recall excellent training, like-minded fellow counsellors, great support and especially the difference between listening and hearing.

I felt satisfied that the clients using the service were better equipped to enable them to find their own solutions after dialling 13 11 14 and hearing, "This is Lifeline, how may I help you?"

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