In the late hours of the evening, Ana Ledesma, a coordinator for a Boeing Company, is about to begin her shift as a first responder volunteer for people who are dealing with stressful and emotional situations.
Even at two or three in the morning, Ledesma must be mentally prepared to receive a phone call from a dispatcher asking her to report to a location because someone in a traumatic situation may need her assistance.
Ledesma is one of hundreds of volunteers in San Diego who help police, paramedics and firefighters respond to emergency calls requesting for their immediate service. For that purpose, the Trauma Intervention Program or TIP is made available to people who have been in an accident or tragedy of some kind. The non-profit organization assures that no person is left to fend for themselves through the aftermath of a traumatizing situation.
TIP volunteers often respond to victims involved in a violent crime, natural disaster, completed or attempted suicide. They provide emotional support and information for ongoing assistance. Food, shelter and transportation is also arranged for the victims or survivors.
San Diego has seen a steady increase in emergency calls in the last decade. Two officers are typically sent for each call, creating a huge drain on the police department, San Diego police said.
More than 1,600 calls for law enforcements services are processed each day, according to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department. In 2014, TIP responded to 839 scenes and provided service to 4,497 citizens of San Diego County.
“They were created to align with us as partners, a lot of police stations have a contract with TIP,” said Carlsbad police information officer Jodee Sasway. “For example, if there is a child involved it is hard for police to provide all the initial things, so it’s very nice to have these trained people respond within twenty minutes.”
TIP Volunteers, like Ledesma, are fully background checked and trained vigorously for 50 hours before training on site with another volunteer. Then, they are on-call for three days out of the month.
“We are trained on how to introduce yourself because it’s very vital putting yourself at the client’s level and not above them,” Ledesma said. “I introduce myself as ‘Hi, I’m Ana and I’m a volunteer… I’m just here for you.'”
During trainings, volunteers are taught to mediate between the person in crisis and the police officer on scene. The police officer can finish their investigation, while the TIP volunteer assists the person.
“Sometimes I say nothing,” she said. “By the time I’m done they’re thanking me for being there, so I’m just there for their needs, not my own.”
MULTIMEDIA: Ana Ledesma talks about volunteering for TIP San Diego. The organization’s 14 chapters now serve 100 cities throughout the United States.
Becoming a TIP dispatcher
Like most TIP volunteers, Jan Kelley knew she wanted to become a TIP volunteer when she came in contact with one. It was the day her best friend’s mother passed away unexpectedly. Her best friend called Kelley to come over. By the time she arrived to the scene, a TIP volunteer was already there.
At the time, Kelley, the Human Resources manager for Foothills Christian Church, had no idea what to do about death, what to do with a body, or how to choose a mortuary. Luckily, the TIP volunteer took her friend by the hand and went through all the appropriate steps with her.
“When I joined TIP I loved it so very much I knew that’s what I wanted to do and it took me almost five years to become a TIP volunteer because of my actual work schedule,” Kelley said. “Once I did, I loved it as much as I thought I would and I told my crisis team manager that if there was any way that I could move up that’s what I wanted to do.”
Today, Kelley is a team leader and active volunteer for TIP. She manages calls between the 911 dispatcher and volunteers on call. As a leader, her focus is preparing to assist the other volunteers with any problem they might face and cannot deal with during or after a call. As a volunteer herself, she challenges the unknown of what she might be walking into.
“We take a victim of a trauma and actually physically move them to another part of the home just so the police or firemen can work,” Kelley said. “They don’t need to worry about the primary party because we are taking that load off their shoulders.”
TIP, also knows as The Invisible Angels, says they are a family. They share an amazing bond, experience and support one another. This volunteer job may not be for everyone, but anyone interested is highly encouraged to join.
SLIDESHOW: Jan Kelley talks about her experience from volunteer to becoming a team leader for the East County TIP team.