COVID threw a curve ball at SARA that drastically changed the way we provided services. This includes the role of the Hotline Volunteer. While this position typically operates “virtually” (meaning volunteers don’t have to be in the office to answer the phone), the training required is always done in person. Hotline Volunteer training is 40 hours long, usually made up of 4-hour sessions on Saturday mornings. The training is interactive and asks volunteers to be vulnerable as they learn about themselves and what it means to help those in crisis over the phone.
When SARA closed its doors to in-person meetings, we had to also adapt how the Hotline Volunteer training would be done. A 40-hour training over Zoom sounded exhausting, let alone difficult to foster the interpersonal connection the training is typically designed for. There were also pros to making it virtual, including access to participating in training.
We decided to give a virtual Hotline Training a try. We split up the usual 4-hour sessions into shorter, 1.5-hour sessions to be conducted over zoom, adapted some activities to a virtual platform, and utilized Google Classroom to organize material and assignments.
The first virtual training started at the beginning of June 2020. The group that completed this training was the largest training group SARA has ever had for the Hotline. Volunteers were able to join the training from both Charlottesville and other parts of the country. The training was a success—volunteers were able to adapt to the new platforms and navigate the virtual materials easily.
The training was so successful, that we hosted another training in October 2020, and have just started a third for February 2021. We’ve learned a lot along the way, and have made a few adjustments to the program to better meet the needs of our volunteers. We’re also thankful that we could provide insight to adapting trainings to our community partners, many of whom are now using a similar model to SARA. We are proud of the work we’ve done to adapt this robust and intense training to a virtual platform. We are still able to train volunteers in a comprehensive way that allows them to serve hotline callers to the best of their ability.
Here’s some of the comments volunteers shared in their post training surveys:
“I liked how I could do it from home. I have been interested in working at SARA for a couple months now, but the training demands were high for my schedule at school. I am actually glad school turned online just so I could do this! I am extremely excited to grow with SARA.”
“I like that it was virtual yet still felt engaged throughout the whole process. It allowed for more work to be done in a faster amount of time.”
"I really liked the digital aspect. I know with my ADHD i would have been so restless in a 4 hours long training for 4 Saturdays in a row and that would have prevented me from signing up to work or volunteer. I think you should maintain this as an option for training at least once a year.”
For more information on how to be a Hotline Volunteer, please visit our website at www.saracville.org/volunteer.