MEET AND GREET: Lifeline CEO Pete Shmigel (far left) with Coffs Harbour volunteers (standing) Alistair, Madeline, Dave, (seated) Sharna, Lauren and Marie.
MEET AND GREET: Lifeline CEO Pete Shmigel (far left) with Coffs Harbour volunteers (standing) Alistair, Madeline, Dave, (seated) Sharna, Lauren and Marie. Emily Burley

Lifeline thanks local ‘angels’

LIFELINE'S chief executive officer stopped in at the organisation's Coffs Harbour offices this week to meet with local volunteers.

The visit is part of a tour that will see Pete Shmigel call at Lifeline centres in 13 cities in 13 days.

"The life of Lifeline is its centres," Mr Shmigel said.

"The tour is about getting out and meeting the volunteers and appreciating the amazing work they do.

"We've got about 4000 volunteers across the country and about 140 here in the Coffs Harbour area.

"A good percentage of those are people who work on the phones and some work in the shops that sustain us."

Mr Shmigel emphasised the commitment volunteers must give - particularly those who work on the phones.

"You have to do 192 hours worth of training, you pay for that training, then you have to be on the phones for a year before we even consider you a full (telephone crisis supporter), and what you hear on the phones can be extraordinarily challenging," he said.

"You hear everything from mental health issues to family issues to new phenomena like people calling up about bulling on the internet.

"People feel very at home with that compassion that comes without any conditions.

"The volunteers really are Australia's little angels, so I try to get around and meet as many of them as I can."

Mr Shmigel said the organisation was continually developing to keep up with society's needs.

"As Australia changes, so too do the people that contact Lifeline," he said.

"We're constantly looking at ways to keep pace with the community, but also to keep pace with technology.

"Among the things we're looking at now is a text-based service where people will be able to SMS if they're in crisis."

The local North Coast Lifeline branch answered close to 12,000 calls from throughout Australia in the 2014/15 financial year.

The service is in more demand than ever, with the number of calls received in January the highest in Lifeline's history.