‘Listening is the most powerful thing we do’: Cork Samaritan finds the balance between work and volunteering

Director of Cork Samaritans Jonathan Neville has been a volunteer for 13 years with an organisation that helps so many people, writes Roisin Burke
‘Listening is the most powerful thing we do’: Cork Samaritan finds the balance between work and volunteering

Jonathan Neville, Director of Cork Samaritans. Picture Dan Linehan

Jonathan Neville, 51, a senior software developer, qualified as a psychotherapist some years ago, studying by night while working, for four years.

The IT expert said it was an “innate sense of wanting to help others, along with getting to know other people who would have the same mindset,” that inspired him to get involved with the Samaritans.

“One of the main motivations for me is being able to be there and listen to our helpline callers as they share their life experiences and how it affects them to this day. I consider it a huge privilege to be able to be there for them, even during the darkest hours of the night.”

Jonathan, who is originally from Youghal but living in the city, said he takes great solace in his role as a volunteer with the charity organisation.

“From a Samaritan’s point of view, what I really like is the simple fact that we just listen and do not give advice. This in itself is the most powerful thing we do.

“Listening is not as easy to do as it sounds, however, all Samaritan volunteers go through a training and mentoring process which in turn help us to listen without judgment.” Another thing Jonathan enjoys is the friends he has made along the way.

“My fellow volunteers are of all ages and from all walks of life, and the many friends I have made through my 13 years of volunteering is a highlight.”

The atypical schedule of a Samaritans volunteer involves coming into the Cork Samaritans centre on Coach street for three to four hours to support people who ring the helpline or contact us by email.

“We ask our volunteers to do three shifts per month with one of them being an overnight shift.”

Jonathan said the overnight shift is definitely the busiest.

Jonathan Neville , director samaritans speaking at the presentation of Cork Samaritan listener certificates and tops at Cork prison .Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Jonathan Neville , director samaritans speaking at the presentation of Cork Samaritan listener certificates and tops at Cork prison .Picture: Eddie O'Hare

“From around 8.30pm to 7am, it is our busiest time. Loneliness is our biggest theme if you want to put it like that and lockdown has made it even more prominent. Since lockdown, there are more lonely people than ever before. People who would have been busy getting out and meeting people who are suddenly alone.”

Throughout lockdown and the entire pandemic, Cork Samaritans were still turning up to the Cork centre to offer support to those who needed it by phone or by email.

“We (volunteers) were exempt from the travel ban. We had to make changes internally to accommodate social distancing and so on, but what we found the hardest to do was closing our doors to the public who would often call into our building for emotional support. We do hope to reopen to the public again in the coming months.

“From a volunteering point of view, we adapted quickly to all things Zoom, where we conducted training, support meetings and general talks to help keep us motivated during the lockdowns.”

The branch director said as he now oversees the overall running of the Cork branch of Samaritans ranging from leading the branch to effectively delivering Samaritans support services, up to ensuring legal and regulatory compliance within Irish law, he spends less time on the phones, but still manages a few frontline shifts.

“I do this role in my spare time, so after I finish my day job as a software developer, I switch into Samaritan mode to answer emails, catch up with other volunteers or attend/lead a Zoom meeting.”

Despite his hectic schedule, Jonathan is adamant he takes time to look after his own wellbeing.

“I ensure that I take time out to spend it with my partner and walking our dogs,” he says.

“Volunteering put me on a journey of self-discovery where I learnt with time, that caring for ourselves should be the first priority before we care and support others.

“Again this is easier to say than actually do, but since I was asked to become director of Cork Samaritans, I ensure that I do take time out and care for myself more than ever.”

“For me, every volunteer in Cork Samaritans is an unsung hero and I’d like to dedicate this article to all of them for their many hours of volunteering, more so during the many months of lockdowns that we had since 2020.”

“If anyone is struggling with anything, however small you may think it is, then please ring us anytime on freephone 116123 or by email on jo@samaritans.ie

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