A smiling woman wearing glasses and a dandelion crown, standing under a tree with sunlight filtering through the leaves.

Staff Spotlight – Meet Cynthia!

Hi – I’m Cynthia!

I would describe myself as a caring, curious, creative, and adventurous lifelong learner. I’m a mother of three grown sons, grandmother of an 8-year-old grandson, friend, teacher, healer (former acupuncturist/therapeutic massage practitioner), artist, nature and animal lover, social justice advocate, world traveler, writer, photographer, visionary, and a grateful member of our Pathways and Vermont Support Line team.

At 66, I am humbled by all the ways in which I still fumble, stumble, and struggle while simultaneously celebrating accomplishments and finding meaning through connections with others. I honor and enjoy sharing stories and building connections and relationships with family, friends, community, coworkers, and callers, and I feel blessed to do so.

At Pathways and on the Vermont Support Line, I love that we get to be authentic, hired to be exactly who we each are, that our lived experiences matter, and that many of us heal, learn, and grow best in community. I have been an operator on our Vermont Support Line team for nine of its eleven years.

My role as an operator on VSL is to offer support to callers, coworkers, and supervisors as best I can. Using Intentional Peer Support principles, I listen with curiosity for untold stories of callers, honoring each person as the expert in their own lived experiences, exploring connections, building relationships, and exploring mutuality and worldviews. We practice non-judgmental conversations, sometimes sitting in discomfort and taking risks.

I am on the second shift, 3 pm – 11 pm, and recently became a level two staff member. My responsibilities include co-facilitating VSL second shift team meetings, co-facilitating co-reflections, interviewing and training new operators and per diem staff, being on call, sharing mission moments, and demonstrating role play using Intentional Peer Support principles. Additionally, I am on two steering committees: Suicide: Philosophy, Care & Support, and Hiring, Retention & Wellness.

Pathways’ mission to end homelessness and offer innovative alternatives to mental health inspires me every day. I have personally and professionally grown with our trainings in Mad History, Harm Reduction, Hearing Voices, Alternatives to Suicide, and many others. I co-created the 2023 VSL Staff Retreat. I flew to Washington, DC, with a coworker, representing Pathways at the 2019 Alternatives Conference, and attended the 2021 online Alternatives Conference, meeting individuals and groups working within the peer support movements across the country, including several I am still in touch with.

As an artist, an early drawing of mine, “JOY,” was featured on the 2023 Pathways holiday card sent to the Pathways community. I have also shown my art at several Pathways Vermont events. Many of my drawings were created while supporting Vermonters on the Vermont Support Line, and I cherish that this spirit of support may thrive within each one.

Intentional Peer Support principles of validation, connection, relationship, mutuality, worldviews, learning, and growing together are at the core of the mission that inspires me to work each day. I loved IPS training, took it twice, and painted these principles as a mural on my kitchen wall. I hope to be trained as an IPS facilitator in the future.

A mission moment that stands out to me includes a caller with whom I spoke regularly for years, sharing their feelings daily as they approached their final day of life, having made an appointment for a physician-assisted death in three weeks. They were confidently at peace with their choice, and it was an honor to be in the presence of their experience.

It is safe at Vermont Support Line for a caller to explore their will to live without being reported or asked if they ‘are safe’ or ‘have a plan.’ We may focus on “what is happening” with curiosity, honoring them as experts of their lived experiences. The power of conversation is palpable. I was moved by a caller who shared an ‘urge to hurt someone else and/or themselves,’ yet by the end of our conversation, they were laughing and thinking of their next best step forward. Any connection or conversation, whether about joys or interests shared, I find equally satisfying.

Within a day, I take calls or texts, may be in an All Staff or Support Line team meeting, or co-reflection. A few words that summarize what I do are: listen, validate, connect, relate, and sometimes draw while supporting others. I love this interesting and meaningful job!

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