For many years, I searched for an organization and a way to give back to my LGBTQ+ community, to truly make an impact and a difference. I had experienced an array of volunteering in the past, but none offered the opportunity to contribute on a more meaningful level and to be actively involved until I discovered The Trevor Project—a leading U.S. organization focused on crisis and suicide prevention efforts among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth.
In May 2021, I started my training program with Trevor. Each week, I spent 4-6 hours in workshops, completing learning modules or performing scenario-based role plays for approximately four months. During this time, I began to doubt myself and my ability to be the effective counselor these youth contacts needed in their moment of crisis. Personally, I’ve always struggled with articulating what I’m really thinking and how I feel. This is a result of deeply-seeded personal shame and insecurity I carried throughout my adolescence and continue to work through as an adult from coming to terms with my sexual orientation. However, with the support, coaching, and positive reinforcement from the staff at Trevor, I successfully completed my training program and began taking live calls in the fall.
I remember my first call vividly. My hands were shaking, sweat was beading on my face, and my heart was racing. I clicked accept, started my introduction, and from there, I’ve continued to grow, learning how to create a space for each contact to be heard.
Each call and week are different. When I first started, I found it difficult because I innately wanted to fix things or tell the caller what to do. I had to reframe my mindset for this type of work and understand I am there to create a safe space for a contact to share what and how they feel and ensure they are safe. This was not an easy shift, especially when listening to individuals experiencing pain, unhappiness, those who are scared, and cannot see a path forward in their world.
Every call comes with its own set of challenges. I remind myself each time I am there for the person on the other end of the phone, listening, and that is enough.
My experience as a counselor has been life-changing in so many ways. First, it’s opened my eyes to continued inequality and the work our society needs to do to support the LGBTQ+ community. Secondly, it’s allowed me to grow and become a more compassionate, patient, and understanding person. Most importantly, it’s allowing me the opportunity to prevent a generation from experiencing the personal shame that many LGBTQ+ individuals develop and carry for life, making them feel insecure, unaccepted and unloved.
Every Monday at 4 p.m., I sign off early from my Cisco role to begin my counselor duties with Trevor. Cisco is a strong supporter of its employees, encouraging us to give back to our communities and providing 40 hours a year of paid time off for volunteering, increasing that Time2Give benefit to 80 hours this year. In addition to the paid time off, Cisco donates $10 for every hour an employee volunteers to their chosen and approved organization, as well as other donation matching opportunities. This support is more important than ever, as more than 200,000 calls and texts pour into the Trevor Project from across the U.S.
Over the last ten years, so many people at Cisco have not realized how they have made a difference in allowing me to accept myself and be my true self. My journey to feeling comfortable and confident speaking about my personal life, relationships and orientation has taken time, especially earlier in my career—and look at me now sharing in this forum made possible by Cisco!
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