New Peer Support Program ‘GW Listens’ Sounds a Call for Volunteers

Online applications accepted until Oct. 30, training begins spring 2016

GW Listens
Senior Associate Dean of Students Mark Levine stands with SA leaders Will Ettingoiff, Andie Dowd, Chris Evans and Mental Health Services Assistant Director of Training and Outreach Amber Cargill, in front of the Marvin Center. (Rob Stewart/GW Today)
October 12, 2015

By Brittney Dunkins

George Washington University students will have a new anonymous outlet to express their hopes, concerns and worries with “GW Listens,” the university’s first peer support program.

A Monday announcement from the GW Student Association, Mental Health Services and leadership from the Division of Student Affairs, outlined the details of the program, which will operate as an after-hours call center staffed by anonymous student volunteers.

“As our university and community have shifted toward recognizing and fighting mental health issues and stigma, students have expressed a desire to get involved and support one another,” said SA Director of Health and Wellness Chris Evans. “This program shows that at GW this is an issue on people’s minds, and we are ready to step up.”

“We can support our roommates, and we can support our friends, but they might not be the people who need our help. With GW Listens, students who want to help can get the tools and training to reach the people who need help the most.”

Volunteer positions within the SA-run program are open to all undergraduate and graduate students. The application includes basic questions that assess a student’s interest, problem-solving skills and past preparatory experiences. The online application is open until Oct. 30.

Students will be interviewed in November. Training for volunteers will begin during the spring 2016 semester. The call line is slated to open at the start of the 2016-17 academic year.

George Washington President Steven Knapp announced the program at the opening of the Colonial Health Center last January.

According the Mr. Evans, GW Listens peer supporters will provide “an open ear” and referrals to university and outside resources when necessary. Students interested in volunteering should possess three important qualities: active listening, empathy and problem-solving skills.

“We welcome all students to apply,” Mr. Evans said. “We’re looking for people who want their time at GW to be dedicated to students in this way.”

MHS Assistant Director of Training Amber Cargill will lead weekly training for volunteers during the spring semester. Training will include active listening skills, a review of university and external resources, education about the concerns of college students and a structure for recognizing warning signs and referring students to licensed professionals.

“There will be a large emphasis on making sure that peer supporters are well-trained,” Ms. Cargill said. “The most important function is for them to be good listeners who offer support and know when to refer callers to licensed professionals.”

GW Listens is designed to maintain the anonymity of both the caller and the peer supporter. The location of the on-campus call center also will be confidential Mr. Evans said that peer supporters are encouraged to participate for the duration of their time at GW. During their final semester, anonymous volunteers will be able to reveal their involvement and transition to a recruitment and advocacy role.

Representatives from the SA have collaborated with Senior Associate Dean of Students Mark Levine and MHS and DSA staff members to create a program based on research, available resources and student need.

GW joins institutions such as the University of Pennsylvania, Northwestern and Cornell that have had success establishing peer support initiatives.

 “We have spent the last several months collaborating on a program that we believe will truly enhance our Healthy GW efforts for years to come,” Mr. Levine said. “It has been wonderful working with SA members to get this exciting program off the ground.”

In the coming weeks, the SA will meet with student organizations to share details about GW Listens. For more information email [email protected].