"Where teens listen to teens in trouble"
A Conversation with
Communities in Harmony Advocating for Learning and Kids (CHALK) co-founded by David Glickman and Jason Singer, just launched a Youthline for San Francisco teens. Youthline "listeners" (the folks who answer the phone) are teens themselves. Adrian Perez, 18, is one of those trained listeners, and for him, this experience of helping teens in trouble, has made him realize that despite the differences among people, everyone deserves respect, accurate information and access to someone who cares.
The InSite: What is Youthline?
Adrian: Youthline is a referral service for young people. [It's] a program where teens call in and if they need help for something we can refer them to a place to go or for someone to talk to. Instead of calling ... and hearing an older person's voice, they talk to us [teens].
Jason: Youthline is a youth employment/youth empowerment program. It is fully run by the youth (16-22 years olds) who we employ. They are extremely dynamic and well trained. And they are there to provide this really remarkable service for the youth in San Francisco.
Youthline is a youth empowerment program.
TI: How did you get involved, Adrian?
Adrian: My cousin used to work for the agency and he told me about Youthline.
TI: And it sounded like something you wanted to do?
Adrian: Not at first! Then as I went through it and saw what it was, I enjoyed it more and more. I thought, "Okay! This is also my way of giving back!" You know?
TI: When your friends are in trouble, are you the person they come to for help?
Adrian: Sometimes. Yes. Not every single problem but a lot of things, my friends will come and speak to me. They'll ask my opinion, but I won't always give my opinion. I'll kind of make them answer their own questions. And then they'll feel like, "Okay! I helped myself."
TI: Did you learn that at Youthline?
Adrian: Yes. We try to help people make their own decisions.
We try to help people make their own decisions.
TI: So when someone calls and says "I'm in this situation, what should I do?" What do you say to them?
Adrian: I say, "What do you think you should do? What are your thoughts on it? What's been running through your mind?"
TI: [laughing] Well I don't know, man! That's why I called you!
Adrian: [laughing] I mean you can tell them. You can make a decision. And I help them.
TI: I'm sure there's a lot of training Youthline Listeners have to go through. Did part of the training include "role play" stuff so you could practice what you would do in an emergency situation?
Adrian: Oh yes! We did a couple of crisis role plays... suicide.
TI: Suppose someone calls up and says "I feel like crap. Life isn't worth living and I'm going to kill myself." What did you practice in your training so that you'd know what to say in case you ever really got a phone call like that?
Adrian: First we'd ask them if they had a plan about killing themselves. And why would they want to kill themselves? Then we have to talk them down and make them think "Why?" We'd be asking them why they would but in their head it would be turning around slowly. "Well, okay. Maybe I don't want to do this. Maybe I don't need to do this." And then after we finish talking to them we ask if they would like to speak to somebody else because we're not an agency that can give advice. We don't have the schooling for that, so we refer people to other places [adult staffed agencies].
TI: If someone is depressed enough to actually be thinking of suicide I'm sure it is difficult to get through to them. But what if that person's on drugs? Doesn't that make things a lot harder?
Adrian: Yes! You have to say something that will get that person's attention and keep them focused on you. I haven't been put in that situation yet, so I don't know... but I would think that a person on drugs would probably need something to take their attention. Because whatever they've taking is probably making a voice inside their head telling them to do it [killing themselves] more and more. 'Cause drugs are strong and maybe it will amp up this feeling. "But wait a minute! There's this other voice inside of me telling me I don't want to do it. So what do I do? Do I kill myself or do I [make the] call?" The person who [really] doesn't want to kill him/herself is going to call and be talked down.
So what do I do?
TI: This is very important work you are doing. You must be really proud.
Adrian: Yes, I am very proud of myself.
TI: Can you tell me more about the Youthline training?
Jason: We invited .... agencies that had expertise in the area of child abuse, sexual abuse, gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender issues and questioning youth issues, suicide. Any type of... crisis call we might get. And we invited them... to come in and help us with the training.
Adrian: There was this group called Lyric. They came here and spoke to us about the gay and lesbian communities. They were just making us open minded to other people's problems and differences and not to prejudge them... so when we hear something on the phone that we might not agree with we'll keep it to ourselves.
TI: Before you went through this training, did you consider yourself to be a judgmental person?
TI: So that must be a hard thing to do, to change one's attitude.
Adrian: Yes, because you're kinda used to going one way and then it's like, all of a sudden you've gotta pull back and respect others.
TI: People's attitudes often come from their friends. So if you personally have gone through this attitude change and you still have the same friends but their attitudes haven't changed, what does that do to the friendship?
Adrian: Really nothing. Because the friends I hold are my true friends. And just because I don't have an attitude with somebody that doesn't mean that they dislike me because this [other] person is gay and I'm cool with that person. They are my friends. And if a person is your friend, no matter who you know, they are going to like you. They're not my friend in the first place if they don't like me because I'm cool with a gay person. That's just their sexuality. But friends can always be friends. You don't have to have a sexual relationship to be friends with a gay person.
But friends can always be friends. You don't have to have a sexual relationship to be friends with a gay person.
TI: I'm really glad to hear you say that, Adrian. It's a really good message.
TI: How many hours a week do you work?
Adrian: I work about 12-14 hours a week.
TI: What kind of phone calls do you get?
Adrian: Right now we get a lot of informational calls. And we have been getting a lot of Spanish [speaking] calls. Because the Spanish News came in here. And that kinda helped too. I've gotten a lot of Spanish [speaking] callers but I had to pass them on [to other Youthline listeners] because I don't speak Spanish very well. As the organization gets older the calls will get harder. Right now we are being boosted so we have to be pumped for people to understand that it's okay to call here. People will call after a while. But when something is new, it doesn't seem to hit right away.
TI: How do people even know about this phone number to call?
Jason: We launched a huge media campaign. There's 25 posters in the bus shelters around town. There's 10 billboards going up in the next couple of days. There's over a thousand signs inside buses. There's 50... signs going on the outside of the buses. And, our own grass-roots outreach campaign includes t-shirts, plastic info-cards that has information about Youthline and how to call. We also have pens and things that we hand out when we go to schools and community events.
Adrian: A lot of people who know about us are building up the courage to call.
TI: What kind of change has working with Youthline made in your personal life, Adrian?
Adrian: It's made me a little more open minded to certain other people's opinions and to be not so bull-headed about it. Like "If it's my opinion it's my opinion and I really don't care what you have to say! I don't want to listen to it." But now I will listen because the more you listen, the more information you get. This training has helped me to realize that if I listen and not respond so quickly I will understand and I'll be better to ask better questions and help more people.
TI: Have people around you noticed this change in you?
Adrian: My mother has and two of my closest friends have. They're like "Woah! Not so much in your attitude anymore."
Jason: When you put the power to run things... when you trust youth enough to take the initiative and take the leadership role in their community and to support and empower each other, dynamic and powerful things happen! And that's the kind of program that Youthline is.
Visit their website at: www.chalk.org
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last updated November 19, 2005
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