Angela Jiminez’s aunt Priscilla killed herself when she was 24. She’d gotten pregnant in her junior of high school, and her family sent her to a convent, essentially to seclude her, hide her. They gave her child up for adoption.
No one explained this in any direct way to Angela, who was five at the time, living in Sunnyvale, Calif. But she knew. When she dreamt, she dreamt of being buried alive by oranges. “I was trying to climb out, but they’d just keep rolling back in place.”
Night after night, screaming, writhing in her mother’s arms. “I just picked up on what was going on around me,” she explains.
They took her to a therapist. Angela doesn’t remember much about therapy, but the night terrors subsided, only to come back whenever she, as an adult, would go through a breakup or any kind of loss that meant a separation from someone she loved.
Angela thinks about this sometimes as she volunteers as a crisis worker at Lines for Life. It’s one of the reasons she’s collected nearly 1000 hours, talking with people in their direst moments of pain and of loneliness.
Connection is everything, as they say. For Angela, the connection was our Crisis Lines assistant director, Debbie Zwetchkenbaum—a friend who told Angela almost six years ago she thought she’d make a great volunteer. Not only did Angela become great, but she made it a kind of family enterprise. Her children—Nickolas (15) and Priscilla (19) both volunteer on YouthLine. Priscilla alone has more than 300 hours of volunteer time.
Pain is also a connection. Angela says she draws on it “many, many times” in talking with callers. She tells the story of a 90-year-old man who called to talk about isolation and loneliness. He said he’d been clinging to salespeople who came to the door, desperate for anyone to talk to.
“I started following up with him, checking back every couple of weeks to ask if he was making any progress on reconnecting with his family.”
The last time she called, he said he’d talked with his son. It couldn’t be better. He was going to live with his son.
“My goodness,” he told her, “you sure are persistent.”
What we wish we could, as a whole, say back about Angela: “You have no idea.”
It’s Volunteer Appreciation Week. And Angela, we really, really appreciate you, Nickolas and Priscilla, and the love and concern you make real for the people who need it most.