How a Retired Teacher Found Purpose by Counseling Others

Editor’s note: this National Volunteer Month, we’re celebrating remarkable volunteers who give their time and talent to good causes. Read Steve Tillison’s story to learn how he found purpose in his second act by counseling those in crisis.

Guest post by Steve Tillison

I’m a 67-year-old retired educator who’s lived my dream of working with middle school students for 30 years. Later, I had the opportunity to volunteer for three years in my wife’s first-grade classroom. 

After she retired, life was good for a bit, however, I gradually became depressed as I felt I wasn’t contributing to society. Maya Angelou’s words started resonating with me, “As long as you’re breathing, it’s never too late to do some good.” It was time to find a new purpose.

I googled volunteer opportunities and came across VolunteerMatch. Crisis Text Line was looking for Crisis Counselors. After investigating, it seemed this organization might be the perfect fit.

I often thought I would be a good counselor as this is what educators do informally. Second, my wife and I are on the road a lot, so I was searching for a way to contribute wherever our travels would take us. All I needed to pursue this opportunity was a computer and a reliable WiFi connection.

Thus I applied. After Crisis Text Line reviewed my application, verified my background and checked my references, I started my 34 hours of training. I counseled my first texter in February of 2017. Since then I have helped texters avert crisis through over 800 conversations!

Knowing you’re there for someone in crisis is an awesome responsibility. In a way, crisis counseling is similar to teaching. At times texters, like students, waver and start questioning themselves – can I problem solve/think appropriately? And am I a good human?

As Crisis Counselors, we’re there to support and empower texters by listening, collaborative problem solving and helping them be more aware of the many strengths they possess. This empowerment is a gift Crisis Counselors give to texters.

For texters, having the courage to reach out is their gift to us. It’s a beautiful win-win situation.

Our entire Crisis Text Line team from top to bottom: Nancy, Bob, Jen and all the other staff including the folks I work closely with – coaches, supervisors and Crisis Counselors – are truly incredible.

I had the opportunity to attend our workshop in Atlanta and met many of them in person. The upbeat energy in the room was unbelievable. For three days it felt like I was in heaven with a group of angels. Heaven was good.

Crisis Text Line always tries to do things the right way. For example, we share our data with the community and other organizations so that the needs of people in crisis are better served. 

Our team walks the talk, too. When a texter texts us, s/he may have any one of us on the other end lending an empathetic ear. In a way, we are a selfish lot as we have our hearts warmed by being there for others. It’s who we are.

Counseling, like teaching, gives me a high similar to what I felt when working with students. I’m very appreciative and humbled to be part of this selfless organization. 

Crisis Text Line has provided me with the opportunity to once again spend more time thinking of others and not myself, which in turn, has helped me feel good about my contributions to society.

Learn more about Crisis Text Line then sign up to be a Crisis Counselor on VolunteerMatch.