In 2013, The Samaritans Inc., a suicide prevention and education center in Keene, N.H. answered more than 13,000 phone calls over their anonymous crisis hotline. Through internships and volunteer opportunities, KSC students from all majors have been able to gain experience answering phones at the hotline, while also assisting the center in other ways.

One mission of both the hotline and other Samaritans services is suicide prevention. Samaritans’ Program Coordinator Carmen Prandini Trafton stated, “Everyone who is suicidal, commits suicide, or attempts suicide is just simply trying to end some sort of great pain that they have in their life. It could be physical. It could be emotional. It could be psychological—if they can share any of that with our hotline volunteers, they feel better. If we can prolong that and try to get them some help, most people can recover from feeling suicidal.”

Each year, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), suicide claims more than 38 thousand lives in the United States. The CDC reported that in 2010, “An estimated 1 million adults [one half of one percent of the US population] reported making a suicide attempt in the past year.”

KSC senior and psychology major Stephanie Beach works for the hotline and said she gained prior crisis training in her Abnormal Psychology course, but said, “I was nervous because I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into.”

Psychology Professor, Karen Couture, explained, “Many students have done [interned or volunteered at] suicide hotlines. They start off not knowing what to say, what to do—kind of nervous. But, they gain an experience and confidence and poise and communication skills of being able to think quickly on their feet—also to be able to control their own emotional reactions when interacting with someone with a difficulty. I do see growth over that time.”

Photo Illustration by Sam Lewis / Equinox Staff

Photo Illustration by Sam Lewis / Equinox Staff

According to Trafton, when students and volunteers begin their internships or time at Samaritans, they are advised that, “They can stop at any time. It’s not a reflection on them if it’s not their cup of tea. We have all kinds of support systems that are in place to support the volunteers through difficult situations,” Trafton said.

Trafton stated that there is a 26-hour training period before students or volunteers work on their own at the hotlines.

“For the first ten hours, they observe a hotline volunteer answering the calls and they listen to both sides of the call. Then for ten hours the volunteer watches them answer the call and at all times there’s another volunteer assigned to you while you’re on the hotline. I think students feel really safe knowing all of those pieces are in place,” Trafton said.

Beach, a current intern at Samaritans for course credit, observed that, “Sometimes they [the callers] just want you to listen. They don’t want you to speak, so if you start to talk, they will kind of make you stop talking.”

While Samaritans runs a crisis hotline, it also has resources, such as support groups for people who have lost loved ones to suicide, which interns may also be encouraged to attend to learn about this type of support, according to Trafton.

Currently, Samaritans is working with six KSC interns in the spring 2014 semester.

Trafton explained that Samaritans can accommodate up to 12 interns at a time. Trafton, who graduated from KSC in 1995 with degrees in communication studies and journalism, explained that while psychology and sociology students are mainly drawn to the hotline service, students of other majors have interned or volunteered in three other roles.

These roles are Assistant Program Manager, Communications Assistant and Education and Outreach Assistant.

If they would like to, interns and volunteers from all different majors or academic backgrounds may also get the opportunity to work in all four roles during their time at Samaritans, according to Trafton.

Trafton added, “We take countless volunteers from the community or for people that just want volunteer experience. You don’t have to do it for credit at all. There’s really no [academic] department that we couldn’t work with. Everything could be a fit. We just really want to make it a very meaningful experience for students.”

Trafton stated about her interns, “They’re incredibly valuable to our organization.”

Trafton explained further that, although most of the calls received by volunteers and interns are not related to suicide, roughly three to five calls a week seem to have greater risk factors, according to the hotline’s “lethality scale,” which ranks each call from one to five.  One, being the least lethality, or suicide risk, and five being the highest risk.

Josh DiGiovanna, who graduated from KSC in December, said he interned at Samaritans for class credit in his final semester.

DiGiovanna said, “A lot of working on the hotline is about being patient, and I think that comes from experience. Not all the stuff that I was doing on the hotline was learned in classes.”

DiGiovanna explained, “I never really had experience working with severely depressed individuals. I did receive a couple very serious calls. It is a crisis hotline. They kind of advertise it as a suicide hotline, but most of the calls that we get are not actually suicide related. It’s more of people that are depressed or confused. In addition to that, I also get third party calls, which means they call in on behalf of someone else.”

DiGiovanna added, “This hotline is completely anonymous—It’s completely confidential. People can use it as a way to kind of vent and just relieve all that stress.”

Through his work at the hotline, DiGiovanna said he learned one of the most important factors of each phone call was patience, as he explained, “The biggest challenge was being patient and understanding with somebody that’s very bogged down by their own depression to a point where they can’t really break through it in order to be happy to live like a normal life.”

“I ended up doing extra hours because I’d go in for a three or four hour shift and I’d get in one call or two calls – sometimes five calls. You never really know what you’re  going to get. Anyone can call from throughout the country. We’ve even had calls from outside the country, surprisingly, from Europe and some parts of Asia. That doesn’t happen often, but it solidifies the fact that anyone can call,” DiGiovanna said.

Like other psychology students, while volunteering at Samaritans for Internship credit, DiGiovanna was required to write journals and a paper about the experience at the end of the 2013 fall semester.

Beach, who is now an intern, explained that the academic and journal writing aspect of the internship was also a good experience.

“It was interesting because I got to look back at everything, because I related it all back to my classes. It was interesting to think of the people who called and how they can relate to my psychology classes,” Beach said.

Professor Couture, who also supervises interning students, explained, “Students are asked to apply what they have learned throughout their college career and apply what they’ve learned in class to their site experiences and do some pretty attentive reflection.”

Beach, who is also working as a Program Coordinator at Samaritans also shared, “Right now we are trying to start a campus chapter so that it is more on campus. It probably won’t actually be in effect until next year. We just wanted to do something to have it [Samaritans] on campus, so I’m the vice president of that.”

When it came to working with college students, Trafton explained, “I find it deeply rewarding, I want people to go forth and serve from Keene State and I feel as though if we provide an exceptional experience for them, they’ll see that they really could work at a non-profit and give back to the community and help others and still pay their bills….I think the experience really is very tangible…It’s kind of giving them the edge over other [job] applicants.”

DiGiovanna, who now works for the Meadowview Recovery Residence in Brattleboro Vt., explained what he had learned at the  Samaritans’ crisis hotline, “The reason why the hotline exists is to allow the callers to process. We literally give them the opportunity to vent all of their feelings and all of their emotions.”

He continued and explained. “My job is to provide a non-judgmental, safe space where that person doesn’t feel pressurized and they also don’t feel any judgement from what they’re saying. They’re pretty much unloading everything that has been trapped in their mind that they don’t necessarily have the opportunity to tell a friend.”

DiGiovanna noted that his work strongly involved, “the power of words,” and also stated that his most rewarding moment involved being thanked by a caller.

DiGiovanna said, “I had an hour-long call that was very serious —and at the end of the conversation, the woman who called actually thanked me. That was really helpful in ensuring that what I’m doing is helpful. Sometimes, I get a really long call, and I feel like I’m not really getting anywhere. The fact that she thanked me for doing my job was really powerful.”


Pamela Bump can be contacted at

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