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March 2010
Connecting on the Distress Line
Meet Bill Diver
2010 Spirit of Volunteerism
DCO 2010 - 2011 Membership

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Connecting on the Distress Line

by Laura Persichetti

I'm staring out the window, sitting under fluorescent lights that irritate my eyes. It's quiet in the phone room, so the sudden shrill of a ringing telephone makes my heart skip a beat. Hours of training swarm through my head -- grief and bereavement, domestic violence, depression, suicide. I take a deep breath and confidently lift the receiver:  "Sarnia Distress Line . . ."

I have been volunteering with the distress line for more than half a year. The phone rings every night, and each time I feel slightly nervous.  Each call is unpredictable, but every caller has the need to talk to someone.  Sometimes I come up with strategies or offer suggestions.  But I've learned it's not about coming up with solutions for problems.  It's about being on the other end of the line and picking up the phone when someone needs to talk.  It's about listening to the details, and asking the right questions to let that person open up and feel comfortable. It's about shutting off my own thoughts and "solutions" in order to listen actively, without judgment. If more people did that on a regular basis with the people in their lives, I doubt we would need a distress line. 

Dozens of volunteers are what make the program run efficiently.  From young adults to retirees, we each undergo 30-plus hours of training and commit to service three times a month, for at least a year.  Many continue beyond that.

Volunteering for the Sarnia Distress Line is about more than answering the telephone.  We're also responsible for making calls through the Family Counselling Centre's Tel-Check service. Tel-Check is a security check for seniors and people with chronic illness or disabilities who live on their own. The service provides friendly conversation, reassurance, and at times, crisis intervention. The Sarnia Distress Line and Tel-Check are two of 19 services offered through the Family Counselling Centre. Tel-Check phone calls become a ritual in people's lives, something they look forward to.

For me, the familiar voice on the other end has a story I love to hear about.  I have never met these people in person, yet I wonder how one's cat is doing, who came to the family gathering, or if a doctor's appointment went OK that day.  I feel like I know them personally.  The relationships built over the phone are more than a quick call; they're a chance to catch up with a friend. 

The Tel-Check service actually inspired me to make a Tel-Check list at home of my own family and friends.  It's so easy to get caught up in every day routines and allow time to pass without making a quick call to someone you've been thinking about.  I admit, even with my own list, I still have difficulty setting aside enough time for calls.  But the Tel-Check service reminds me the calls are important. 

Tel-Check and the Distress Line are especially vital after the holidays; family and friends begin to slip through the cracks as people scramble back into routine. The service offered is consistent. It doesn't have a job or children to take priority.  It doesn't run out of time or need to eat dinner. The service is always there when someone needs it most, and the lives it impacts are more than we could put a number on.

Laura Persichetti is a volunteer at the Sarnia Distress Centre and a University of Windsor graduate pursuing a career in journalism.

Meet Bill Diver, ED, London & District Distress Centre

London and District ED, Bill Diver, comes to us from an unlikely past. With an educational background in Geography, Bill was a senior manager at a local conservation authority until 1996, when he took his management and human relations experience to the London United Way and began working and volunteering there, getting to know the community through fund-raising work.


Bill took his management and fundraising experience and United Way knowledge with him to the Distress Centre London in 2006 when the existing ED retired, and settled into the job. This new position provided Bill an opportunity to exercise his management and people skills with volunteers, staff, and distress line callers. "I enjoy the opportunity to help people and deal with them from different angles," Bill says, explaining that for him, this work is "motivating and intriguing because I love people."


Upon his arrival at the DC London, Bill had several objectives. With his fundraising background, he increased the resource development component of his centre through special event initiatives and the extension of government and personal donations. With this, the London Community Addiction Response Strategy (London CAReS) began as a new telephone initiative, supporting the London distress line and since 2002, a seniors help line dedicated to seniors dealing with neglect, abuse, and loneliness.


Bill has increased his volunteer numbers through advertising and improving and strengthening training. The desire to build stronger partnerships within the community enabled his DC to take their messages out into the community, speak publicly, join different committees (Mental Health Care and Seniors, Ontario Suicide Prevention Organizations, and service clubs), and ultimately create more awareness. "DC London will become widely-known and will attract and welcome any caller who is feeling worried, overwhelmed, sad, or in crisis."


Bill is up at 5:30 am and off to the gym each morning. The former marathon runner now prefers long distance cycling when he isn't off visiting his daughter who studies medical research in New York City or spending quality time with his son in and around Waterloo.

2010 Spirit of Volunteerism Awards


happy volunteer

Distress Centres Ontario offer support forOntarians in need of an empathetic ear, helping them through loneliness, depression, suicide ideation, isolation, and crisis. DCO distress lines, often available on a 24-7 basis, are maintained by many wonderful, committed, and highly-trained volunteers. We honour all of our volunteers and are pleased to announce the nominees of the 2010 Spirit of Volunteerism, in memory of the Reverend Chad Varah.


Congratulations to this year's nominated volunteers:


Andrew Brennan - Community Torchlight, Wellington-Dufferin

Anselm De Souza - Toronto Distress Centre

Catharine McLeod - Distress Centre of Ottawa and Region

Christopher Paiva - Distress Centre Peel

Dana Yates - Toronto Distress Centre

Dorothy McRae - Toronto Distress Centre - Scarborough

Elizabeth Penn - TALK Kingston

John Davis - Distress Centre Peel

Karen Cressman - Community Torchlight, Wellington-Dufferin

Mathura Thiagarajah - Toronto Distress Centre - Scarborough

Michael Bennett - DC Windsor-Essex County

Paula Robertsons - Distress Centre Durham

Ron Pritchard - Toronto Distress Centre - Scarborough

Stephanie Gordon - Toronto Distress Centre - North Branch

Sue Duchesnay - Distress Centre Durham

Sue Turner - DC Lanark, Leeds, & Grenville

Tom Morris - Distress Centre Durham

Wendy Guilmette - Community Torchlight, Wellington-Dufferin

Distress Centre Ontario 2010 - 2011 Membership

April 1, 2010 is the deadline to submit your membership applications into the DCO offices. Choose from the following membership levels:
  • Organizational
  • Associate
  • Individual
  • Senior / Student
For more information, please visit www.dcontario.org.