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Hot Line Helper Finds Pain, Enrichment

* Jim Rahn, 35

Occupation: National sales manager for steel products company.

Organization: Hotline Help Center

Address: P.O. Box 999, Anaheim, Calif., 92815. (714) 778-1000

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Four years ago, Jim Rahn was searching for a way to fulfill the moral imperative of his Catholic faith to do good deeds.

He wanted to do something that demanded more of a commitment than the occasional paper drive or sporadic church work.

So he followed up on an item he had seen in the church bulletin, and it changed his life.

As a volunteer counselor for the Hotline Help Center, one of the county’s busiest crisis hot lines, Rahn has faced the most elemental of life’s needs: one human being needing another.

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It has been painful and frustrating but also totally enriching, Rahn says.

“There are times when I have wanted to leave, but I feel this is what I do to give something back,” he said recently as he prepared to begin a five-hour evening shift at the hot line’s cramped offices in Orange.

His sudden emersion in human sorrow was a total departure for the 35-year-old Rahn, whose background as a mechanical engineer gave him no training in counseling or psychology.

“There was a lot of trepidation, especially about the suicide callers, that was scary, but I also had a lot of confidence that having worked closely with people in sales, I could offer some insights,” he explained.

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As part of the program, Rahn received more than 60 hours of training in drug-abuse counseling, crisis intervention and how to deal with suicidal callers. After the training, volunteers spend a minimum of three sessions observing supervisors at work before venturing out on their own.

Rahn has had to develop a resilient emotional hide to weather the ups and downs of manning a crisis hot line. In a field where burnout and high turnover are occupational hazards, he has been able to endure by limiting himself to one weekly five-hour shift.

“Some nights I go home and I’m wiped out, and other nights I’m fine,” he said. “Over the years, I’ve become very realistic about what I can and can’t do. While the goal is to help everyone, the expectation is we will help very few.”

Most problematic, of course, are the suicide callers--and the frustration is not knowing how such cases turn out. Rahn cites the case a few years ago of a man suffering through the latter stages of AIDS who had overdosed on pills. After alerting police and paramedics, Rahn said he never learned how long the man survived.

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But there are also the times when a regular will call in asking to speak to his friend “Jim,” and on such occasions Rahn feels as if a link has been established and the relationship is not so anonymous. “I get a little back and feel like I’ve given something to them.”

Rahn, a bachelor who grew up in a close-knit family, said the amount of pain and dysfunction “right here in one of the most affluent communities” has been a revelation.

But his work has served to reinforce his faith and lend perspective to his own life. “When I leave here, a lot of the problems I thought I had . . . tend to diminish,” he said.


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