By Marcia Smith
Six-hour suicide calls are not the norm at COPE Hotline, but it was a call to remember for Mequon resident Janie Miller. The nine-year COPE veteran said she was the first to answer the call from a desperate suicidal man walking the streets of Chicago. After six hours of hanging up, calling back, and talking to numerous volunteers, the man was finally convinced to walk into an emergency room for help.
It was “unbelievable and intense” said Miller, but the COPE staff and volunteers stayed with the man through his trauma and made sure the hospital was ready for him when he walked through their door.
The retired teacher and mother of three calls COPE, “one place I feel that the people I volunteer for make me feel important.” Volunteers really help people here, she says.
According to Miller, the comprehensive training she went through to be a COPE listener helped her improve listening skills in everyday life and with her family. “Training people to be a listener is extensive,” she said, “and they don’t let you man the phones until you’re ready.”
COPE Hotline has been a staple of Ozaukee County since 1979 and provides emotional support, crisis intervention, information and referral services to people in need. Its administrative offices are in Grafton, but for security reasons, it keeps its hotline at an undisclosed location.
The 24-hour call center receives more than 28,000 calls a year, and although the majority of them come from Milwaukee and Ozaukee counties, calls do come in from across the U.S, according to COPE Executive Director Cecile Duhnke.
The callers span all age groups, and include people with mental health struggles, loneliness, depression, relationship problems and addiction issues. “Cope is anonymous and confidential,” said Duhnke, “we don’t identify our callers or our listeners by name,” she said. “It’s our job to just listen and provide a safe, trusting environment for everyone.”
COPE’s goal is to reduce the stress level of every caller and help them identify the next step in their day. Basically, a listener is helping the caller “cope” through a particularly bad moment of their day or night, said Duhnke.
According to Miller, there are often repeat callers, “who I feel could be my friend. We are their touchstone …. someone between their social worker and doctor who they can talk to.”
Miller’s weekly trip to COPE is often a spiritual journey. She says, “I always say a prayer when I drive up and ask God to give me the right words and to say the right thing. And when I leave, I think wow, people really do just need a person to listen them.”
COPE is a non-profit group supported by private donations, United Way, and other charitable organizations. The Hotline can be reached at 262-377-COPE. Additional information is available at www.copeservices.org.