Interview With A Volunteer: Paula

Written By Dave Rolf

At Listen.One, an important thing we strive for is transparency. When we talk to people about what is going on in their lives – they are transparent with us. That does not necessarily need to be a one-way street. While our main goal is to listen, it is important for our volunteers to share a little bit about their lives as well. We want to keep our doors open as much as possible in an effort to encourage others to open theirs as well. Sharing is the first step to conquering loneliness.

That being said – we have decided to interview some of our amazing volunteers. If you are reading this blog and have reached out to us before, you may recognize this person based on the content shared. 

Paula is 62, but said, “Just say I’m 63 because I will be in a few months.” I have known Paula for about a month and she is a really wonderful volunteer and person. I have seen her dedication to people who message Listen.One. If you don’t believe me – she sent 1,284 messages in the month of April 2020. 

When I asked about her childhood, she said: “Growing up – many families look really great on the outside, but on the inside, there are a lot of difficulties.” That was her family. Paula grew up in Minnesota before landing in Arizona. She has a slight accent that is very welcoming and shows you her Midwest roots.

Even though her childhood seemed ‘normal’, behind closed doors it was a whole different story. Paula found escape from her pain with Bulimia and Anorexia, which started at 16. The next 17 years of her life would be full of twists and turns in her fight to recover. Two mental hospital trips, years of therapy, and so on. There was no treatment for eating disorders then, so she was on her own. 

It was a dark journey for many years. She says she credits God and the invention of Prozac (when she was 35) for helping her with her recovery. The medication gave her the ability to put weight on, find enough self-confidence to move to Scottsdale from Flagstaff, and land a new job.   But it also gave her the strength to start working on her childhood abuse issues. They had never been addressed previously. They became the next focus, her next long journey.  

She had her share of abusive relationships and betrayals, and as a result, never married or had children. But Paula is fine with that. She thinks she really wouldn’t have succeeded at either, and that is ok. For Paula, Jesus is enough.  And He always provides the deep friendships she needs.

Paula went to school in Grinnell, Iowa for two years and then took off to Wyoming with a high school friend for a year. She says the two years in Iowa and year in Wyoming were her ‘great years’. Fun, free, happy, innocent. It was like an oasis before the storm of her life hit. She finished her education in Flagstaff at NAU with a degree in Mathematics.  She is grateful that, during her senior year in college, God revealed Himself to her and she met Christ. Little did she know how desperately she would be needing Him to guide her through the many challenges ahead of her in her life.

I asked Paula what she did for her day job since she dedicates so much time to Listen.One. She recently retired from her career in Medical Practice Administration. For the last 25 of those years, she ran a cancer clinic in Scottsdale, AZ.  She loved being a boss, helping people believe in themselves, and seeing them grow.  She enjoyed the patients, the caring physicians, and seeing so much recovery and advancements in cancer treatment options. She enjoyed fighting for cancer care, but she has quickly adapted to her retirement in 2019. For the first year, she worked in an Assisted Living facility where she discovered how much she enjoyed working with the older generation. Now she volunteers for Listen.One, for Make-A-Wish, and for Duet, a service that provides help to seniors living at home alone.

I asked Paula more about her life and how she ended up being somebody who wants to give back.

She told me that In 2012, she experienced something so traumatic it threw her way far over the edge. She hit a new low. Severe PTSD set in. 

And then, she says “an Angel came.” 

She met a Trauma counselor that helped her work through her current trauma, as well as all of her traumas from the past. As she healed, little by little, she watched that ‘small flicker of a light’, God’s light, the one she had hung onto so long, wipe out the darkness in her life. 

“One day at a time. The worst trauma I could imagine ended up being the one that was the turning point in my life.”

 She was able to push through, to see a crack in the wall. To realize the light is real. She was starting to get her life back. Maybe she could help others do the same.

I asked her if that was why she wanted to volunteer. She said “I want to help people by offering my experience, strength, and hope that I gained to people that are trying to find their way”

She said: “Volunteering, in general, is a way to take the skills I’ve developed through life and help others implement them into their lives. I know that therapy is not something everyone has access to or can afford, so I want to do my part by offering a ‘free’ listening ear to help others cope. Whatever I can do – even one little thing. A kind word  A kind action. I believe kindness is the gate to helping others heal.”

I asked her if there is any campaign or community initiative she identifies with particularly (Check out our Community Initiatives page for more information!). She said that any campaign that works with people who suffer from loneliness, addictions, or PTSD. She relates to people that have experienced something traumatic, including victims of crime (which is part of her story.) She also enjoys talking with the elderly. 

She says ”They are so special, so lonely, and so need a friend.”

Paula’s favorite part about being a Listener is making genuine connections with people and providing the wonderful feeling of creating a SAFE PLACE for Sharers to be themselves. 

“It’s when someone realizes that they are not alone, that someone cares, is listening, is truly interested, and won’t abandon them. Every person’s story matters. Every person’s story needs to be told. Everyone is unique and beautiful in the eyes of God.”

 She is honored to be the ‘safe’ person at the other end where they are free to be themselves and tell their truths. 

Being a Listener is not without its challenges. I asked her the most challenging part of this role, and she said: “That’s easy!   It’s not being able to fix everybody’s problems!”

She wants to make their pain go away, but she knows that they have to get through their own journey in their own way.  She is just here to stand by them, to listen, and help them get over that hump when they feel like giving up. She cares for her sharers and takes them to God in prayer daily.

To wrap up our interview, I asked Paula what she likes to do for fun. She said Reading, gardening, and her cats are her main hobbies.

She loves walking and hiking, playing piano, and studying Spanish.  Her second ‘home’ is in Mexico, where she visits a few times a year. She loves Latin culture, especially their music, dance, and warmth.  She calls herself an introvert and a homebody.  She loves the little miracles. Watching Trees grow, birds feed at the feeder, seeds finding their way to the sunshine from underground.  Big old trees swaying in the wind. The miracle of God’s creation never ceases to amaze her.

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