PIN (People in Need) Crisis Line volunteer coordinator Gayle Shulhan plans the next volunteer training session, which takes place mid-November.

PIN (People in Need) Crisis Line volunteer coordinator Gayle Shulhan plans the next volunteer training session, which takes place mid-November.

A phone call can change lives

Crisis Line volunteers provide a valuable service, but many also say they get back far more than they give

The recognition is small but the rewards are immeasurable.

PIN Crisis Line volunteers find it so fulfilling that there are many who have been there for five or more years.

“For the little bit of time I give, I get 10-fold back in the appreciative comments from callers and the satisfaction of knowing that I’ve helped someone,” said a volunteer (all volunteers must remain anonymous) who has been with the Crisis Line for more than 10 years.

“I read about it in the paper and took the training, which prepared me very well and has been invaluable in my personal life as well. There is always a staff member available to us when we have questions and we get great support. What we are doing here is empowering people to find their own solutions by listening and providing information about resources.”

The PIN Crisis Line started in 1975 and is the longest continuously operating crisis line in the province. Since 2011 all PIN programs have been operated by the Canadian Mental Health Association Vernon Branch.

“What is really exciting is the connections we have been able to make to improve our service. We are available 24/7 and no call ever goes unanswered,” said Gayle Shulhan, volunteer coordinator.

“In 2012 we became part of the Interior Crisis Line Network which linked us with other crisis lines. That means that if we are on the line the call will go to another crisis line. The volunteers who answer in the communities have all the information available to help wherever people are calling from. The calls are always confidential.”

The Vernon line now shares calls with crisis lines in Kelowna, Trail, Cranbrook and Williams Lake. The service is available to everyone in the Interior Health region, including all rural areas.

“People in rural areas didn’t have this resource before but now they can call from anywhere. The change in technology has made that possible,” said Shulhan.

The PIN Crisis Line is also part of the Crisis Line Association of B.C. which unifies crisis lines across the province. It is linked to the 1-888-353-CARE (2273) number for suicide-related calls.

Crisis line services are only made possible by volunteers but some people may hesitate to volunteer because of uncertainty about being able to help with suicide-related calls.

“About six per cent of calls are suicide-related and a very small percentage are actually in a crisis situation,” said Shulhan. “There are more calls but this is because there is more awareness of suicide and less stigma about asking for help. The calls are often at the idea stage and can be resolved by talking and finding the referrals needed.

“Many people call with concerns about a family member or friend, again because of more awareness. Our training deals with this thoroughly.”

The volunteer training includes 20 hours of class work and a 20-hour practicum. The time commitment is one four-hour shift a week with flexibility to cover holidays and other commitments.

“Our calls cover everything from emotional support to referrals to resources in the community to crisis intervention which means an immediate connection to 911 police, ambulance or fire services. Sometimes a warm voice on the line can make a difference in a person’s life. A simple call can change someone’s life,” Shulhan said. “The crisis line would not be possible without our amazing volunteers and we appreciate them so much. They do this because they care.”

She noted that students in health care and social services often volunteer for the experience and because the training in communication skills and the community service gives them an edge in job interviews.

The next volunteer training session is in mid-November and applications are being taken now. For more information about the PIN Crisis Line and volunteering call Shulhan at 259-545-8074, email or see


Vernon Morning Star