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A Day in My Life: What it’s Like to Volunteer with the National Runaway Switchboard

Photo: Sofia Katsaggelos

Ever wonder what it’d be like to work for a leading nonprofit that’s trying to empower at-risk youth? We’ve got your backstage pass right here. We’ve asked young people working for some of our favorite organizations to keep a diary of one day in their life – and you’ll be surprised to see what they get up to! This week, Sofia Katsaggelos, a National Runaway Switchboard Liner and Board Member, shares her story.

9:00 a.m. – Between 1.6 and 2.8 million youth run away in a year, which can be sad and dangerous for the people involved. That’s why I start every Sunday at this time volunteering as a liner at the National Runaway Switchboard (NRS), a hotline and online service for runaway, homeless and at-risk youth. After a quick hello to the supervisors and the fellow volunteers, I log into my phone and computer account. Then I sit and wait, mentally preparing myself for the upcoming calls to 1-800-RUNAWAY.

9:10 a.m.- “National Runaway Switchboard”, I say into the phone. I receive a call from a youth who has run away and is looking for shelter. I ask basic questions such as: “Are you in a safe place?” “What city and state are you in?” “How old are you?” Based off of these answers, I am able to narrow my search for a nearby shelter. Since it is a Sunday, there are additional challenges getting teens into shelters on weekends. But at NRS, that is not a deterrent. We do our best to help the caller in any way possible.

Ten minutes later, I am able to find a shelter for the caller. I conference call the shelter representative and the youth so everyone is on the same page. Before I hang up the phone, I make sure the youth is comfortable with this situation and clarify that if at any time she needs our support, she should call back. I create a log with the caller’s information, as we track reasons for calls, even though we do not capture specific caller identifying information as calls are kept confidential and caller information is anonymous.

9:40 a.m. – A youth calls who had run away to a different state, and after three weeks of being away, wishes to return home. We begin to talk about why she decided to run away. She states that her mom and she were no longer getting along, they continuously fought, they disagreed on the house rules, and the mom asked her to leave the house. The caller and I begin to talk about how she would change if she were to go home; she would be more respectful of her mother, more willing to listen, etc. I ask the youth for her mom’s number so that I can speak to her about the situation and see what her side of the story is. Next, I call her mom and she explains a similar story; her child was disobeying her and if she were to come home she would have to behave differently in order to make their relationship work. After this conversation, I conference call in the daughter; the conference call is a time for the problems to come out and for solutions to be reached. After the successful conference call and a green light from my supervisor, I book the youth a free bus ticket through the NRS Home Free program done in collaboration with Greyhound Lines, Inc. The mother and daughter will be reunited within 24 hours.

10:30 a.m.- I speak to another caller, 15, who is contemplating running away. He explains that home has been really hard for him lately. His mom recently got a new boyfriend and the house feels crowded, which has caused serious fights with his mom who has insisted that he leave. He is frightened and wants to talk about his options. We begin to dig a little bit deeper into the problem and explore what the caller really wants. He wishes to stay at home, so he brainstorms ways to approach his mom while I sit there quietly because in the end, he is the expert on his situation, not me. He decides that he will bring these problems up to his mom. If this doesn’t work, he will call back and I encourage him to do so.

11:00 a.m.- I hang up with my last caller, say goodbye to everyone at NRS and thank my wonderful supervisors. On my car ride home, I smile as I think about the youths I helped. I also take a deep breath when I reflect on those callers who were armed with solutions and next steps, but I didn’t know their final outcome. I realize that they will call back if they need to because they know that the people at NRS are always open to talk. That is the beauty of the organization.

November is National Runaway Prevention Month. Find out how you can get involved with the National Runaway Switchboard by visiting www.1800RUNAWAY.org or calling 1-800-RUNAWAY.