Loneliness and social isolation are not new epidemics.
Two in five Americans say their social relationships aren't meaningful, according to a report from Cigna, and only half say they have meaningful in-person interactions daily.
For nearly 50 years, Community Helpline, based in the South Bay, has been seeking to alleviate these issues by providing a listening ear to the lonely. The all-volunteer staff fields 1,000 calls per month on their toll-free hotline, connecting with those experiencing depression, anxiety, relationship trouble or feelings of isolation.
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"We have some callers who call in on a regular basis – some on a daily basis," said Katherine Stritzinger, the nonprofit’s volunteer coordinator. "We might be the only person they get to talk to that day, for whatever reason. They're shut in or they don't have friends and family's support."
Community Hotline is also a unique training ground for young students considering careers in psychology. After passing fingerprint and background checks, they're trained to handle just about any call.
"The most important thing is to develop that rapport and that takes time," Stritzinger told trainees at a recent session.
Ikaika Napohaku, a 20-year-old psychology student at El Camino College, volunteers at Community Hotline three days a week. He says as a former troubled kid, he knows the value of just having someone to talk to.
"You can fix a bandage on somebody's wound, and you can fix a broken arm, but there's a lot of scars inside of our heads that we haven't gotten over with," he said.
Napohaku says in an increasingly digital world, many of his peers suffer from feelings of isolation, and sometimes just a bit of real human connection can make all the difference when you're feeling lost.
"[A caller and I] were talking about song, and he started singing the song, and I finished the line to the verse, and we just started laughing together and I’m like, 'Great!'" Napohaku said. "He was just in this dark place 20 minutes ago and now we're laughing. That's a really big step in somebody's life."
"It’s so empowering for our volunteers, especially for the teens and young adults, to see what a difference they can make by just being there to support someone else," Stritzinger added.
Community Helpline recently lost its biggest funding source. The nonprofit is scraping by each month, paying for their office space with private donations and a few small grants.
But their dedicated volunteers say they’ll keep fighting to keep the lines open.
"You realize it's an honor to be there for people and help them," Stritzinger said.
"Sometimes, they call back at another time, and you feel a sense of relief," she added. "Like, 'Whew! They made it. They're okay.'"
For more information about Community Helpline, or to inquire about donating or volunteering, visit http://chelpline.org/wordpress. The phone line is active seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at (877) 541-2525.