For the first time in 14 years, the San Francisco Night Ministry has a new Coordinator of Crisis Line Counselors. In February,Laura Rolen took over from Brother Jude Hill, who has retired after serving as Coordinator since 2001.
The 47 volunteers who currently serve on the Night Ministry's phone lines, along with the Night Ministers from the hours of 10:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m., provide vital comfort, referrals, and a compassionate presence for troubled people in the middle of the night when worries can be most powerful.
Laura holds a BA in Psychology and Human Services from the University of Tennessee; she earned a Masters in Psychology with a minor in Special Education from Radford University in Virginia; and she squeezed in an Education Specialist degree in School Psychology before topping it all with a PhD in Family and Child Development from Virginia Tech in 1995.
She developed counseling skills early on in her career, as a school psychologist in Virginia. She decided to leave the east coast with her then 15-year-old son, and packed up their two dogs, a corn snake and turtle, and then headed west. "We took all those critters across country: she says, revealing her spunk. Mother and son stopped in California and settled in the Bay Area for good in 2011. "I like urban and small town - both," she declares. And she likes Crisis Line Counseling.
What does she find appealing about it? Many aspects of the program benefit callers, she points out. It is available when people are lonely at night and accessible to people who rarely leave their homes. "People who would not go to therapy or to a counselor can be reached," she says, "People don't need to make an appointment, they can call whenever they want during phone line hours. "It gives people a chance to receive counseling on their own terms," she adds. "They can just decide not to call - or they can hang up." Some people are comforted just by knowing we are there, she notes, judging from the many repeat callers.
Laura came to the Night Ministry in the fall of 2014 as a student in the Clinical Pastoral Education program. She learned about the CPE program from the Pacific School of Religion where she was studying for a Master of Theological Studies, which she earned in May of 2014. The CPE program requires students to spend time as Crisis Line Counselors. She took to nighttime phone counseling Night Ministry-style right away. "I really like that we have a lot of flexibility in our work," she says. "Crisis Line Counselors can use their own creativity speaking with callers. We have a lot of freedom to work in the ways that work best for us." Flexibility is a quality she values in the rest of her life, too, since she began to put her extensive education to good use by instructing others. She teaches online courses in child development and psychology for the University of Phoenix, and several other online universities.
And of course, she now trains new CLCs, running a three session series of instruction and observing and counseling the fledgling counselors. New trainees listen to experienced counselors for their first two nights of volunteering. Then during the next four times that new CLCs come in, they speak with callers themselves while experienced counselors carefully listen to them. Naturally, Laura is one of those experienced, wise, and caring people offering feedback.
As Coordinator, Laura supports the work of all CLCs by planning ongoing training sessions for all the volunteers, by coming up with topics, and arranging for pizza. During the most recent session, one that she and Night Ministry Director Lyle Beckman led together, CLCs got to know each other and shared experiences and tips on helping callers "It was an opportunity to share how they handle different kinds of callers," says Laura. "And feel more supported in the work they do."