Dan Schamle knows that when he picks up the phone, someone's life can be on the line.
Schamle is a longtime volunteer at Headquarters Counseling Center, 211 E. Eighth St., and he mans a state and national suicide and counseling hot line. Headquarters accepts volunteers for a one-year commitment. Psychology students typically volunteer, but all community members are welcome, Schamle said.
"When somebody's called up and they have whatever means for suicide in front of them, that's where Headquarters shines. We have never knowingly lost somebody to suicide that is actively in contact with us. And I'm proud of that," he said.
Except for a few years, Schamle is a lifelong Lawrence resident. He's a former elementary teacher at a Topeka school. Now he works as a house manager at Residential Alternatives in Lawrence.
Schamle also is working to start his landscaping business, Peaceful Gardens, after he completed the master gardener training in Douglas County.
How did you get started as a Headquarters volunteer?
It was 1983; I knew about Headquarters from growing up in town. I wasn't sure about it, but I became involved in a situation with a woman, and I brought somebody to Headquarters. I didn't know how to deal with somewhat of a crisis situation.
Volunteer: Counselor and volunteer trainer at Headquarters Counseling Center; has manned a suicide and self-help hot line from 1984-1991 and 2002 to present. Job: House manager for Residential Alternatives; also starting a landscaping business, Peaceful Gardens. Education: Lawrence High School, Class of 1978; Washburn University, bachelor's degree in elementary education, 2000. Family: Mother, Pat Schamle, Lawrence. Headquarters calls: In 2005, 10 percent involved depression, and 6 percent involved extreme risk. "There could be some calls where people are needing counseling resources at low costs, or they need to know about landlords that have a better reputation in town. Maybe somebody's looking for food, or their car broke down. We suggest some churches that have helped out people. We truly are the clearing house of information," Schamle said. The Kansas Suicide Prevention Line is 1-800-SUICIDE.
I remember just walking up with this woman and knocking on the door and being met by two people that I ended up becoming good friends with. And I was so impressed with how they handled the situation. Soon after that, in 1984, I saw a flier, and I ended up going to a meeting and just had the most positive experience.
You have been involved with Headquarters from 1984 to 1991 and from 2002 to the present. What is it typically like answering phones on an evening shift?
It's hard to generalize. Sometimes holiday weekends can spark some things. There's a joke that you never say you are having a quiet shift. There's the superstitions.
How do you cope with or deal with such a difficult situation over the phone?
You can be terrified at Headquarters. It's not unknown. There's an old sign, and it says "Keep Calm." It's been there since the 1970s.
Also, the sanity aspect of it. We emphasize this a lot in training. It's something I was taught and something that we really push. It's the sanity thing. It's the caller's choice, and it's something that we cling to at times.
You reach out to fellow volunteers. The paid staff is always really good about touching base with people after a difficult call.
What is your thought process during a tough call?
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People can truly be where one-half or a part of them wants to die. There are situations where it's just really that they are so tired, so hurt and in so much pain. The fact that they called Headquarters is that they are reaching out, and that's what we are going to cling to, talk to and share.
What is your favorite thing about Lawrence?
I love Lawrence, and I love the community. I think it does have a more worldly attitude, and I'm pretty liberal. I like that aspect of Lawrence, although we are in a little bubble here, I think.
What is the most critical Lawrence issue?
Keeping with Headquarters, I'd like to see more awareness of Headquarters. I've been really pleased; Peoples Bank has formed a partnership with Headquarters.
The national trend is that volunteering is down. Headquarters is hurting. We have shifts that only have one person on them, especially the overnight shift. That used to be always double-covered. I wish more people were aware and would consider volunteering in all forms.