dame peer helper.

When I was in high school, I was part of a club called Peer Helpers. To be in the club, you had to be nominated by other students as being a good person to talk to about problems. I was in a lot of clubs, because it was important to appear over-committed well-rounded to scholarship committees, but Peer Helpers was the only one I actually cared about. My reluctance to share seems to have made me ideal for listening. It turns out that other people really like to be listened to. Sometimes they like it so much that they nominate you for a club.

At the beginning of the school year, we peer helpers would go on a weekend retreat to the mountains, where we'd be trained in helping our peers. I am not an official Peer Helper Trainer™, but I'll give you the little of what I remember of my training.

First, listen listen listen. Do not give advice. Instead, ask questions that encourage the person to think out loud about their issue.

Peer talks about problem.
Peer Helper: What do you think you might do about it?
Peer talks about possible action.
Peer Helper: What do you think might happen if you did that?
Peer talks out the results of said action.
(Repeat until Peer has a workable course of action)
Peer Helper: Let me know how it goes.
Peer Helper: What happened with <your problem>?

This concludes your training. Now, go out and help your peers!

For the retreat, we were told to bring an object that was significant to us. One evening, we'd sit in a circle and talk about our significant item. A lot of kids brought pictures of pets or loved ones, one kid brought a shotgun shell from his grandfather's 21-gun salute, another kid apparently forgot the assignment and ended up talking a lot about his stick of deodorant. And then we'd keep going around the circle and whoever wanted to say something, about themselves or in response to something another person said, would talk. There was much crying, but it was the good, cleansing type of cry. It was strange to be so open and honest with people you might not ordinarily hang out with. There were popular kids and not-so-popular kids in there, but for one weekend, we were all just peer helpers.

We did not do much in the way of outreach. I remember helping with a bulletin board in the hall once, but who looks at those? The training was good, but I suspect that it was mostly used in the same way we'd gotten into the club in the first place - one of our existing friends would talk to us about a problem. Nothing wrong with that, of course, and the skills certainly can go beyond high school. Maybe the other Peer Helpers were consoling crying strangers in the bathrooms left and right, and it was just me that never reached out to anyone new.

I am oddly proud of being a Peer Helper, more proud than anyone should be of membership in a high school club. And just so you know, I was actually the President of the Peer Helpers during my senior year. I attribute my election to having made a bunch of sarcastic quips during the training retreat. But the pride is about being seen as caring and trustworthy and objective by some peer, possibly even multiple peers! I never tell anyone anything, so when someone shares with me, it's pretty much like being knighted. I dub thee Dame Peer Helper!

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