Volunteers share their reflections on the 5th Anniversary of Exhale’s expansion:
Jennifer Rudy, Board President:
As the board president of Exhale I am honored to be part of an organization that has grown its program to create a social climate where each person’s unique experience with abortion is supported, respected and free of stigma. Five years ago, I remember the clarity we felt in the demand for expanding our talkline. I recall the board and staff’s excitement that our volunteers were now going to meet the post-abortion needs of women and men from all over the country. Today, I feel joyful about all the benchmarks Exhale has reached since its national expansion, including:
- Our talkline call volume grew 835% and we received more than 23,000 calls.
- We responded to our caller’s needs by launching a first-of-its-kind private online community space for our callers to connect with one another.
- Our volunteer program has trained 104 women and men to serve as counselors on our talkline and as moderators for the online community; 35% of our volunteers are bilingual and the majority (55%) are people of color.
- Earned an award for “Excellence in Nonprofit Volunteer Management” from the Bay Area’s Volunteer Center.
I am proud to have served as Board President of Exhale over the last five-years. Five-years from now I imagine an organization that will have grown its programs in the conscious way it always does to promote the wellbeing of thousands post-abortion each year. I envision a deep and powerful online network where our callers are connecting and sharing their personal experiences. I foresee more opportunities for our organization to share what we’ve learned from years of listening.
Sonia Contreras, Volunteer Alumni:
What I remember about being a counselor when Exhale expanded was that the program offered non-judgmental anonymous counseling ever since I joined. After five years, I was so excited to hear that Exhale expanded because of all the possibilities of the program succeeding. I admired its vision, its leadership, and all the women that received the support when they needed it. I wasn’t so lucky when I had my abortion. What I remember the most was the wonderful and an inspirational instructor, Carolina, who reminded each counselor to just ‘listen’. To this day and as a teacher, if I would give any advice to a new counselor it would be to learn how to just ‘listen’.
Kristen Schultz Oliver, Volunteer Alumni, former Director of Programs:
In the spring of 2005 I was the counselor training intern, and I remember thinking with excitement that this was the first group of Exhalers who were preparing to talk to women all across America about their abortion experiences. There was definitely a sense of the unknown lingering on the horizon – that while we were doing the best job we could to prepare counselors based on what we had already encountered as a local after-abortion line, that we couldn’t entirely predict what new things might come up.
In the first several counselor meetings after the line went national, counselors talked about hearing new stories of intense isolation, more intense than anything we had previously encountered. A lot of that seemed related to geographic remoteness and rural life, or to living in communities where the dominant messages about abortion were negative and judgmental.
But beyond the regional differences, I was most surprised by the fact that the calls I took were still thematically similar – people wanting to be heard, needing validation for their experience, examining their values, reflecting on their relationships, trying to figure out how to live their lives. These topics have endured from the first calls I took back in 2002 to today.
Teresa Helena Urquhart, Volunteer Alumni:
I remember the time leading up to the expansion as a flurry of activity and excitement. When we went live the talkline became even more busy and I remember getting great feedback from callers that Exhale was really stepping up to provide some much-needed services for folks that wanted to talk about their abortion experiences. I was and still am so proud that Exhale was able to make its talkline available to many more people across the country.
Martha de la Pena, Volunteer Alumni:
Being counselor with Exhale has been one of the most rewarding experiences it allowed me to be of support for people who speak Spanish which are dear to my heart and that otherwise would be isolated with their feelings because it’s such a stimagtized situation. To all of the sudden being able to empower people all over the country from areas where women would experience greater tribulations than in the Bay Area was an empowering experience in itself. I would be forever grateful to Exhale and the opportunity it gave me to help people help themselves.
Happy 5th Anniversary!