Media Archive

'Warm Line' offers comfort to callers

Article from Bangor Daily News, Tuesday, April 11, 2006

By Staff

BANGOR - A few years ago, Maureen Walsh received an unforgettable phone call just days before Christmas.

The caller, a female, needed somebody to listen, without seeming to judge her.

The caller couldn't afford to buy a Christmas tree - and forget about buying presents to put under it.

Walsh spoke with the depressed caller and tried to lift her spirits.

Once she hung up, Walsh called Manna Ministries and arranged to have one of its trees picked up by the distressed caller.

"A few hours later I got a call back saying they were decorating the tree," Walsh said. "It just made me feel like I had made a difference, like I had an impact on my community."

Walsh is coordinator of the Warm Line, a noncrisis phone service provided by Community Health and Counseling Services and staffed by volunteers.

They assist callers ranging from the mentally ill to those who have just hit a rough patch in their lives.

Volunteers receive calls from residents within the Warm Line's four counties of coverage - Penobscot, Piscataquis, Hancock and Washington.

The callers struggle with depression, loneliness, anxiety, relationship problems, any kind of abuse, divorce, homelessness, health conditions, addictions, violence and loss of employment.

The Warm Line is celebrating its seventh year of service this month, and after fielding 892 calls in March, community members apparently are using it more than ever.

"I didn't realize that in our own backyards there was so much isolation and such a need for connection," said Holly Billings, an intern and volunteer at the line.

The callers "really just want something stimulating and intelligent, something of substance. They just feel like we're not threatening. We have a lot of regular callers, but some just have one thing going on in their lives that they need to talk about."

Bill Spence, a volunteer as well as an employee at the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter, can attest to the important role the Warm Line plays for people in distress.

"I went from being an addict and homeless to being sober and working in the community, a feeling I'm not sure I have the words to describe," Spence said.

"The callers give me probably more than I give them. Sometimes the phone is very heavy and people who are prone to addiction tend to isolate."

A former radio sports broadcaster, Spence recalls spending an hour one Friday night on the phone with a lonely man who just wanted to talk about sports trivia.

"He was trying to stump me, asking questions like who was the third baseman for the New York Yankees in 1964," Spence said. "Conversation [on the line] is soft, not directed to a conclusion, and that's what makes a difference and provides a meaningful service."

It's not uncommon for people to call the Warm Line to discuss their problems or the state of the world, from bus stops, libraries, movie theaters, while riding in a taxi, at the hair dresser, or even while shopping for groceries, Billings and Walsh said.

The need for the noncrisis line is recognized by officials of its counterpart, Phone Help, which is the crisis hot line that callers are directed to when they become a danger to themselves or to others.

"The phone is a lifeline, and the ability to place a call when not in a crisis is very important and I think it's a little underrated," said David Whalen, program manager of Phone Help.

"If we weren't here, a noncrisis would become a crisis, but because we are here, we can divert it and help [callers] set goals to alleviate situations," said volunteer and intern Tim Tremble.

Walsh described the Warm Line as a giant coffeehouse, providing people with a place to talk as a form of self-preservation.

"Yes," Billings chimed in. "Cafe Life."

Warm Line can be reached by calling (800) 490-8748 or 945-5625.

"Content above originated in the edition noted as a copyrighted article and is posted here with permission of the Bangor Daily News. This permission does not extend to reproduction of these articles in any other form or publication."

NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.