“As a kid, I would bring extra ham and cheese sandwiches to school for the kids who didn’t have lunch. I was that kid who would notice, would go up to someone and say, ‘Seems like you’re having a bad day. Want to talk about it?’”
Sam’s Dad is retired Army Infantry, and her Mom served in the Army as a medic. As an only child, Sam went to school in Washington, then Texas, then back to Washington for middle and high school in Arlington, where she brought the sandwiches.
“My parents are rough-and-tumble kind of people. Sharing emotions wasn’t a thing in our family.” Sam cut her own path, and today VOA recognizes her as an outstanding Crisis Chat volunteer, connecting with teens and adults through imhurting.org. There’s a reason that -- at 19 years old and already graduated from Western Washington University -- Sam can connect with those who are lost, alone, and stressed.
As a teen, Sam was driven: 10 years playing the oboe, Wind Ensemble at Arlington High, academic letter all four years, and two years of Running Start classes to get a jumpstart on college. “I remember being this kid, and my Dad thought that everything was fine with me. She’s in band, she gets straight As, she’s going to Running Start. But I was severely depressed and really lonely.”
Human Anatomy took her down. “I pushed myself really hard. I wasn’t sleeping. I was staying up for 48 hours or three days straight. I was so concerned that if I failed a test, I would fail the class and get an F on my transcript. I wouldn’t eat. I passed out twice. I was starting to crash and burn.” Her mom was stationed in Hawaii or Tennessee during those months. But someone noticed. Her aunt could tell something was wrong and encouraged Sam to go to therapy. Sam walked into a therapist’s office for the first time at 16 years old, the kid who was always taking care of other people.
Three years later, Sam volunteers for VOA two nights a week, answering Chats from teens and young adults who feel lost, like she once did. “I’m not too far removed. I really can relate: you’re doing everything you can and it’s still not enough, and you can’t talk to anyone.”
Thanks to our clinicians and volunteers like Sam, VOA responded to over 12,300 crisis chats last year. “Volunteering at Crisis Chat is such a great experience. It’s so wonderful being in an environment where my perspective was valued because I was young. I would love to do this as my full time job.”
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Sam’s story is one part of our 2021 Volunteer Appreciation campaign. To learn more or discover how you can give back, visit:voaww.org/volunteer.