Nat Okey, Exhale Volunteer:
Aspen Baker recently wrote, “Transforming hearts and minds is not the job of our government and abortion stigma is not reduced through elections. Changing culture requires people. It takes you and me. Our friends and family. Our neighbors and co-workers.”
It also takes Exhale volunteers. As volunteer counselors we create safe and sacred spaces where women and men create their own personal narratives about their abortion experience. When we volunteer, we commit to hearing every caller’s story, to be with people who are struggling, and to validate their feelings and help them to see and recognize their own inner strengths. Though we are volunteers, our work is neither easy nor free.
Our commitment is deep and significant. Before we even become counselors, we participate in a rigorous, 10-week training where we learn counseling skills and cover issues like domestic violence and transforming oppression. After the training, we commit to serving on the talkline for a year and take several shifts a month. Most volunteers go above and beyond this commitment. For example, I also volunteer in the office and write posts for our blog. I have seen other counselors serve as Pro-Voice Ambassadors across the country, become digital storytellers, workshop presenters and more. Our work is crucial to the success of Exhale and our contributions are what make Exhale such a resilient and resourceful organization.
Rarely has our work been more important and meaningful to Exhale than this year. The economy was a clear obstacle for us. Our foundation support decreased, there was staff transition, and many volunteers completed their commitment and moved on. Our call volume went up and up and we had fewer counselors than we needed to fill volunteer shifts and fewer staff available to manage our schedules.
I am writing to share a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what our corps of volunteer counselors did to ensure the continuity – and quality – of Exhale’s services this year.
First, take a moment, and imagine you have awesome and fun plans for Friday night, and then imagine, less than an hour before you’re supposed to leave, you get an email asking for someone, anyone to fill the shift from 7-10 PM that night. Now imagine that scenario plays out over several months.
What would you do?
The volunteer counselors of Exhale rose to the occasion. We took more shifts than we usually do. We cancelled our Friday night plans. And then, we cancelled our Saturday night plans. We worked together to meet the need of our talkline callers. We did this because we share a vision of a future where every woman who has an abortion feels supported and respected; because we saw the challenge as a chance to learn and grow personally and professionally; and because we feel connected to one another as volunteers. We did not, and we will not, let each other down.
Since the summer, I have been inspired and motivated by my fellow volunteers who stepped into new leadership roles by taking on duties normally managed by staff, like scheduling volunteers. Coordinating the schedule of tens of volunteers is no easy task. I watched and was inspired by volunteers who, in addition to taking extra talkline shifts, joined the fundraising committee and worked to raise new money for Exhale. I watched and was inspired by volunteers, who when faced with new obstacles rose to the occasion, time and time again.
Our work made all the difference. We ensured a smooth transition while new staff was hired and new counselors trained. Moving forward, we are excited knowing that 2011 will be an important year for building a culture where each person’s unique experience with abortion is supported and respected.
Often the word “volunteer” is associated with something simple or mundane. That’s certainly not the case here at Exhale. Our work is central to Exhale’s existence and our leadership sustains the agency. Our contributions are recognized throughout Exhale. I am excited to share the work we do within Exhale with those of you who support us from the outside.
As volunteers, we contribute one-third of Exhale’s budget through the time we give – which is over $158,000 a year! After our foundation grants, the rest comes from people like you. People who make personal donations to support our volunteer efforts and the greater mission of Exhale.
As volunteers, we are your partners in supporting women post-abortion and in changing the social climate. Please join me and the rest of the volunteers of Exhale and make a contribution that will fund Exhale’s efforts today.