Image of a person's back. They are wearing a corduoroy shirt, and another's hands are visibly hugging this person. “Look for the helpers.” Have you ever heard that advice? When conflict after crisis after natural disaster threaten to blot out all the light in the world, look for the helpers. There will always be those who step up to fill sandbags, make sandwiches, take in strangers, dispense hugs: simple acts of humanity to fill simple human needs for caring and compassion. And they bring the light with them. 

Diane’s world was dark after her son Michael died on the job. Michael was working for a construction company, clearing debris from a deep hole at a wastewater treatment plant. A plug used to hold back the water gave way and Michael was pinned as the hole filled with water. He was just 18. Diane found caring and compassion through Threads of Life’s Volunteer Family Guide program. It was only a few months after Michael’s death, and Diane learned about Threads of Life and asked to be matched with a Volunteer Family Guide (VFG).

“I needed to speak with someone who knows firsthand just what I’m going through and how I’m feeling,” Diane says. “I needed to confirm that the way I’m feeling is normal. The emotions I’m going through are normal. I needed to know that I am going to be alright.”

The Volunteer Family Guide program is one of the cornerstones of Threads of Life. It’s been in place for 20 years and its peer support model has helped hundreds of people cope in the dark aftermath of a work-related fatality, serious injury or occupational disease. Individuals like Diane are matched with a VFG who has a similar profile and experience – a mom with a mom, a sibling with a sibling, a parent with a parent, an injured worker with an injured worker.  

“The main thing for me is letting me know that I am not alone,” Diane says. “They are there to help and support me and others. You become part of a family. You are understood. It’s a family no one wants to be part of but when you lose someone so suddenly you sure are happy to have this family.”

Diane’s VFG is Elisa, whose son was also killed on the job. The first time they spoke on the phone, “Elisa introduced herself and was very calming. We discussed the loss of our sons. We realized we lost them in different years but in the same month and they both have the same birthdays. This helped prove our connection was meant to be.”

“Elisa has cried with me, laughed with me, shared her story and the court process she went through,” Diane adds. “We discussed getting through the first year, getting through the second year which at times can feel worse than the first year. If I’m feeling a certain way Elisa lets me know it’s normal and that I’m not alone. She helped with my impact statement and listens when I need to discuss the court process I’m going through. She listens and provides comfort and advice when needed. She has become a friend and I very much appreciate having her with me during this tough time.”

When you look for the helpers, often it’s just a few people providing so much comfort. And that’s the case with Volunteer Family Guides – there are only 65 trained and active VFGs, plus four new volunteers who just completed their training this fall. Many VFGs are supporting more than one family, and they commit themselves to not only offering that compassion by phone or email, but to ongoing training to keep up their own peer support skills. VFGs devote dozens of hours every year to this vital role. They truly are among those quiet helpers.

Diane is even considering becoming a VFG herself, when the time is right. “Elisa has been a great example of how to help others,” she says. “Everyone going through this needs someone like her. So many thanks to this organization and all involved.”

Sometimes the world seems dark. But when you look for the helpers, that’s where you’ll find the hope. 

If you’d like to help the helpers, you can support this light-giving program with a donation today. And if you give before December 21, our wonderful partner Franco-Nevada will match your gift, up to a total of $10,000. Help Threads of Life provide training and ongoing development for our Volunteer Family Guides.

Susan Haldane
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