Eli Schwamm

Eli Schwamm (Soundbite version): High School Senior and Volunteer at Samaritans Boston (#28)

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Our guest today: Eli Schwamm

Eli Schwamm‘s full interview (Ep. 27) was the single, most downloaded episode of the feisworld podcast. I want to take this opportunity and create a soundbite version of the audio focusing on his volunteer work at Samaritans Boston. Eli is a high schooler, audio engineer, rap singer, song writer, and a volunteer at Samaritans of Boston (suicide prevention) for 2 years.

He started his journey at Samaritans when he was just 16 years old. I remember hearing about it for the first time and not knowing exactly how to react. Instead, I decided to respect Eli’s decision but paid close attention to his journey. I have known Eli since he was a little kid. He has always shown a tremendous amount of compassion for others and deep appreciation for the life we have.

In this 17-min soundbite episode, Eli answers questions such as:

  • How did the Samaritans volunteering opportunity come about?
  • A Day in the Life of a Samaritans Volunteers (find out how little you know).
  • What are the policies for working at Samaritans and what Eli is trained to help?
  • What is the most controversial policy at Samaritans?

Favorite “quotes” and snippets from Eli Schwamm: 

On volunteering at Samaritans (Learn more at: http://samaritanshope.org ):

“Volunteering at Samaritans generates such good feelings. As people, we really want to feel useful.  The best way to be useful is to be helpful. The work we do is rooted in pragmatism – we are people who listen, I’d love to say that I save lives but that’s not true.”

It’s a big commitment. Everyone will help someone when it’s convenient.. Everyone is stumbling through life together. Eli walks us through what it’s like to volunteer at Samaritan and why he thinks that making human connections is really important.

There is a very strict policy at Samaritans to not give advice. “We always believe what the caller tells us isn’t true. A lot of the times people just need to be listened to.”

“Only 40% of the calls are being answered. On a busy shift, we are have 6-7 people taking back to back calls.”

“When you are feeling on the top the world, it is easy to help others. But when you are at the other end, that other person lifting a finger for you will make a huge difference for you.”

To learn more about Samaritans (how to get help, volunteer and events), please visit: http://samaritanshope.org

If you are interested in listening to the full, one-hour version of the interview with Eli Schwamm, please click here. (The full version contains explicit content).

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Eli Schwamm 0:00
I think it’s helped me become a better listener. I think it’s helped me understand people a little bit better. I think it’s helped grow compassion and May. But it’s also just a really good feeling to go there.

Fei Wu 0:27
That was Eli schrom, a 17 year old high school student, audio engineer, rap singer songwriter, and the volunteer at Samaritans of Boston for over two years. He started his journey there when he was just 16 years old. I remember hearing about it for the first time and not knowing how to respond or react to that. So instead, I decided to respect Eli’s decision, but paid close attention to his journey that, in my opinion required so much patience, courage and compassion. You’re listening to the face world podcast. This is your host Faye Wu. I share stories from some and unsung heroes who are just like you and me, who are willing to share their views of the world, deconstruct their success stories that are relatable, applicable shownotes tools and resources are on my website at FES world.com. That is F e i s wo rld. If you liked this episode, please check out the other ones also on my podcast. The best gift you could ever give me any time of the year is a review on iTunes, Stitcher, or a podcast source of your choice. I also welcome that you share my podcast face world with families and friends. Now onto my conversation with Eli Shrum.

So, welcome to the FES world podcast, Eli srong.

Eli Schwamm 2:20
Thank you. Thank you very much.

Fei Wu 2:22
I am so psyched to have you on my show, because you are going to be the youngest guest probably for a little while. Cool. I was gonna say recently, and I realized it’s not so recent anymore, because you’ve been going out for about a year now, that a year ago, when you’re only 16, you started volunteering at the Samaritans. And, you know, I had a very mixed feeling, knowing you, you know, watching you grow up at a very mixed feeling of even that’s something that I wouldn’t that didn’t really come onto my radar, even though personally, I’ve experienced, you know, not super close friends committing suicide, the young people, I remember when I was doing in college, I found out that three of the kids from my high school committed suicide a year younger than I was at the time. So tell us about your How did you find them? How does the opportunity even come about?

Eli Schwamm 3:24
So the story of how I found it sporting event or something like that, and there is this exposition of a bunch of different groups in the community. And each had a little array of candy that you know, to input approach the booth. So I went to the booth that had the best candy, which is the Nestle current intuitive from Samaritans. So I was intrigued. I guess the crunch bar served its purpose, closer to two years. But it’s been a really important I think it’s helped me become a better listener. I think it’s helped me understand people a little bit better. I think it’s helped grow compassion in me. But it’s also just a really good feeling to go there. I think

Fei Wu 4:16
it’s so good. I was that was my next question.

Eli Schwamm 4:19
Yeah, sure. I I really feel like I’m useful there. I think we want people to appreciate us. We want people to love us to value our existence. Actually, some of the most deeply disturbed callers talk about feeling like they have no purpose feeling like nobody needs them and nobody wants them. And that is really why we’re there is suggest listen, and be compassionate, and try to express to people that you know, there is there are people who still want have them there and people who need them, people who care about them.

Fei Wu 5:05
What are your roles? They’re like, if you walk, you know, you’re there all the time. I feel like, you know, we got to schedule this interview around, you’re volunteering, you know, opportunities there. So could you walk me through? What is it like to show up?

Eli Schwamm 5:20
What would you sure, yeah, so it’s on the fourth floor of a small office, just outside of Chinatown in Boston. And it has one room full of all the the call receiver people, which is really nice, because that fosters a real community amongst the people who are taking calls on your shift. And then there’s a one room of administrative people. And there’s a room of people who do instant messaging support. So we have which is like I don’t even know how they do that. That’s, it’s the phone already feels a little bit detached. I don’t know how they do it via computer, but they do. I would say as for the, there’s really only three ish positions that you can have, you can be a member of the staff, which is pretty limited. So because we’re funded by, you know, public grants, and or you can be a volunteer, either for the im service, or for the phone lines. And there’s a range of people that do it, which is really wonderful. There’s men, women, young individuals, like myself, older people. So it really does feel like a like a, like a, like everyone is represented, which is nice.

Fei Wu 6:37
So how many people were on the floor like full time? I don’t know if there’s any full time employees?

Eli Schwamm 6:41
Yeah, no, it totally changes, it totally changes. We’re open 24/7. So sometimes at like to in the morning, on a Wednesday, it’s going to be pretty desolate, there’s probably going to be one person there taking calls. On Saturday or Sunday morning, there’s going to be as many as six or seven, sometimes even eight people there. But there’s never like 30 or 40 people, we just don’t have the infrastructure to support it.

Fei Wu 7:11
So it’s an area that we can explore a little bit because the give people a sense of the traffic, the amount of the volume of the call that are coming in. Do you think you have enough people to cover?

Eli Schwamm 7:26
Oh, no, not at all, we answer about 40% of the calls that come in, and that’s doing really well. We get on a busy shift, we have six or seven people getting back to back calls for the entire three or four hour period. And granted, I think it’s important to mention that not all of the people, in fact, a small percentage of the people that call are actually what we what we call imminently suicidal. So I’ve been at Samaritans for like two years, I’ve answered hundreds of calls. And I’ve had only, you know, five or six calls from people who at that moment in time, we are concerned that they’re going to try to take their life, what we get a lot more of is people who have been struggling people who call, you know, once or twice a week that have been struggling for years, and that need a place to to vent a place to be you we try to be that mirror that I was talking about earlier. We have a policy of strict policy actually of not giving any advice for two reasons. One is that we don’t know, we’re not we’re you know, we’re very removed from these people’s lives. And we don’t know what the best course of action is almost ever. The only advice we do give is advice on how to keep people safe. If they are located, you know, they are indicating that they’re going to try to take their life. The other policy that we have is that we’re really there to listen and be supportive. So we always believe whatever the callers tell us, even if it’s something that we know isn’t true. Like if if someone were to say, Oh, I’m Barack Obama’s, you know, lover or something like that, then either the point is you have to believe them. Because a lot of people that call are alienated. There are people who suffer from mental illness that gives them you know, that makes them truly believe things that nobody else believes like, Barack Obama love everything. That’s not an actual example. But um, and we, a lot of times people just need to be heard and listened to. And that’s really what we exist for.

Fei Wu 9:38
How long? How long typically are each one of the phone calls, and I wonder how people whose mode and of operation as long as much as you could detect change from beginning.

Eli Schwamm 9:51
Sure. And so the thing is, this is actually one of our most controversial policies that we end, every phone call After 10 minutes, unless there is concerned that the person is about to end their life, in which case, we continue the phone call until we know that person is safe. But every other phone call no matter how much someone is struggling, we end after 10 minutes. And that’s tough. And sometimes it’s awful. And you’re in the middle of talking with someone. And we always give people a minute warning, but you’re in the middle of talking with someone and they’re starting to open up. And then their time is up. We always encourage people to call back. But we just wouldn’t be able to answer any, any any calls, we’d answer, like three calls a day, and our three calls a shift instead of like, 30. Yeah. So it’s hard. And in many ways that points to I think the fact that there is no, the work that we do is rooted in pragmatism, I would love to say that I you know, that I save lives there. I don’t think that’s true, I think I just am a person who listens. And that’s all we are, we’re a person where people who listen for for 10 minutes for as long as we can spare until someone else needs to be listened to.

Fei Wu 11:14
So as a result, I realized, there were a lot of much of my curiosity, and this year were towards questions of this particular domain. And I feel like if I want to learn more, you know, perhaps one day I should stop by, and I don’t know what the policy is around, I don’t

Eli Schwamm 11:30
actually know either. But I do know that they have a website. It’s like Samaritans hope.org. And it has all kinds of information, they have a lot of different services, they also offer, what they will have people drive out to your home, if you have a loved one who’s committed suicide, and provide you with support, they have support groups for that kind of situation. So they have all different kinds of services. And all of them are actually well described in the in the website. I don’t know I could, I could always look into, like having a guests there. But I don’t know,

Fei Wu 12:04
I heard great things about it. And unfortunately, one of my co workers suffered from an event with a family member, he informed me that Samaritans are super helpful when it comes to support group to a degree that they didn’t even expect that they didn’t know what to expect. And they were very surprised. So, you know, the even before your volunteering role as Samaritans, you had spoken up very early on in your life, if I remember correctly, 1213 years old, and you talk about wanting to be helpful to other people in your life. And I feel like this may not this might not even be, you know, an accident? I think it’s it’s done almost on purpose.

Eli Schwamm 12:52
I think I definitely I stumbled into it by accident, I think I, I knew because it was, I did do like a 24 hour training period plus another nine hours of listening to calls in order to in order to actually start working there. So it is an I owe them because I went through that training, I owe them nine months of three hours a week. So I’ve fulfilled that at this point. But so it was it was a big commitment. So I was I wanted to do it. And I think I wanted to do it because of you know what I said before, and I think it’s a fundamental human desire to be wanted. And one of the best ways to be wanted is to be helpful. I know, I feel really, I think I get as much out of feeling helpful as the person who might have helped, sometimes more, and to be honest. And you know, it works. It’s pretty positive cycle. Because when you help a lot of people is this guy that sounds like, it sounds like something that you’d read in like a kindergarten book. But it’s true. When you help a lot of people, they’re much more willing to help you when you’re struggling. And the biggest difference, I think, is that everyone will help someone if it’s convenient. It’s I think, when it’s inconvenient, who helps you as who you know, are your real friends. I

Fei Wu 14:15
completely echo that. I mean, I remember, this was maybe a year ago that we there was a survey at work and to talk about us a circle one to 10 How do you feel about these questions? And one of the reasons was what makes you love most about your job? And at the beginning, there are questions about you know, I’m learning something new. I like my clients, I get to experience all these like cutting edge technologies. And remember the last question was, because I’m able to help others, I’m able to help people. Yeah. And it came to me as Oh, my goodness, that’s a 10 for me. And I remember I’m almost curious enough to ask other people and I did speak to a few of my friends and I was the same thing for them? Yeah. You know, I realized my the beauty of me gonna work to say that. That’s interesting. They could just be a co worker of mine who’s not even working on my project. Yeah. Be like, Do you know how to solve that Excel problem? The problem itself could be completely insignificant. But yeah, I love that. And those moments, those are the moments I always cherish for. Yeah, absolutely. It’s making that

Eli Schwamm 15:21
human connection, I think is really important.

Fei Wu 15:25
And to really help people who are struggling, like I’ve been trying to solve the problem for two weeks now.

Eli Schwamm 15:29
Yeah, you’re like, Oh, I’m familiar. It’s so much. It’s so much when you are on top of the world and feeling great. It does not take that much energy to help someone for the most part. I mean, there are some some truly intractable problems. But for the most part, you can, you can lift the finger and make a pretty sizable difference in someone’s life. And then when you are in the other end, and you are devastated, and you have no energy to spare that other person lifting a finger for you will, will make a huge difference for you.

Fei Wu 16:01
Yeah, absolutely. Thank you so much for listening to this wonderful story from Eli schrom. To learn more about Samaritans, please visit their website at Samaritans hope.org That is sa ma r i t a n s. H O P e.org, where you can learn more about how to get help services, volunteering opportunities and other events. Samaritans has been providing compassionate suicide prevention programs for over 40 years, they have provided caring, non judgmental support on over 2.5 million calls from our community’s most vulnerable individuals. They have provided workshops and training on suicide prevention to more than 100,000 individuals in human service organizations, churches and community groups, and they have supported over 10,000 individuals who have lost a loved one to suicide. Samaritan services would not be possible without the help of their dedicated volunteers. Learn more about how you can help prevent suicide. Thank you so much for listening. To listen to more episodes of the face world podcast, please subscribe on iTunes where visit face world.com That is Fei SWO rld where you can find show notes links for other tools and resources. You can also follow me on Twitter at face world. Until next time, thanks for listening

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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