Dee Bardsley, a retired schoolteacher, began volunteering on our crisis lines in 2013. She still remembers one of her first high risk calls – from a struggling young man who was having thoughts of suicide.

Dee had spoken with him for a few minutes when he revealed that he had always wanted to be a teacher.

“I said, ‘You’re talking to a teacher!’” recalled Dee. “And I said, ‘Thank you for wanting to do that, we need good teachers.’ And I think that turned it around. You always want to find a topic where you can really talk about it, and distract them from and hopefully end the suicidal thoughts. For him it was wanting to be a teacher.”

Dee began volunteering at Distress Centre when she saw a Distress Centre poster posted at her church. The poster said that we were looking for volunteers aged 50+.

“I called and said, ‘I’m definitely over 50!’” She laughed, and went on to submit an application.

Dee said that the connection with callers, like the young man who wanted to be a teacher, was what kept her at Distress Centre long after her one year commitment ended. At 61 years old, she associates much of her ability to connect with her life experience.

“I’m older, I have a chronic disability, I’m gay, I was a teacher, I have children, I have grandchildren,” Dee said. “I have a lot of different life experiences that help me relate to the callers. I don’t often tell them about myself but sometimes when I do it really makes a big difference.”

After four years of responding to calls in our contact centre, Dee applied to become a leadership volunteer in 2017. Leadership volunteers play a critical role at Distress Centre, by coaching and evaluating new volunteers during their training process. This is largely done through coaching shifts, in which a new volunteers answers calls while a leadership volunteer listens in and provides feedback, and by leading role play sessions during classroom training.

As a retired teacher, Dee is passionate about the power of feedback and says it’s gratifying to see how much new volunteers improve over time.

“They improve so much,” she said. “If I see them in their first shift and then again in their third or fourth, the amount they’ve changed is just incredible.”

There is also an opportunity for volunteers to provide feedback to their leadership volunteer, which she appreciates as it helps her improve her teaching.

“We can all learn from each other,” Dee said.

When Dee isn’t coaching new volunteers in our contact centre, she can be found volunteering at an animal rescue agency or attending her church, the Centre for Spiritual Living. Her favourite self-care activity is hitting her local pool and swimming lengths to help her clear her mind.

Thank you Dee for volunteering your time at Distress Centre and using your valuable teaching skills to mentor upcoming volunteers.

At Distress Centre, we seek volunteers from all walks of life. We encourage those aged 50+ to bring their knowledge, wisdom and experience to our crisis lines by volunteering today.