Almost a decade later, Sharon Martin, 66, still remembers the call and the caller vividly: a teenage boy caught in an emotional riptide of failing grades, divorcing parents and his own recent breakup. A handful of sleeping pills – that was his plan. En route to make the purchase – but desperate for a lifeline – he dialed the Boys Town National Hotline.
Sharon, a specially-trained crisis counselor, picked up and surrounded the boy with support.
“I called back later that day and talked to his mom, and she said, ‘You saved his life ... We’re going to get to family counseling. Everything is going to change from here on.’ It was one of the best calls I ever had.”
For more than 26 years – and for thousands of people in turmoil – Sharon has been a steady, reassuring and life-saving voice on the other end of the line; a woman dedicated to others, fearless about wading into the complexities and messiness of life.
“We really do listen, and we really do care,” she says. “Every day when I leave here, I want to feel like I made a difference in a person’s life, even one person. If I’ve done that, then I’ve done what I needed to do.”
The Boys Town National Hotline, supported, in part, by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska’s charitable giving to Boys Town, is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Callers to the hotline range from exasperated parents to teens dealing with bullying to adults wrestling with varying mental health issues. Some callers just need an ear willing to listen. Others benefit from social service referrals.
“People who are in serious crisis, many times they’ll call and say, ‘I’m really depressed and I’m feeling suicidal.’ That call can last an hour-and-a-half. We may end up having to involve police,” she offers.
Sharon began serving as a crisis counselor in 1990 when the Boys Town National Hotline was brand-new. It was, to her, a natural extension of the Boys Town family teaching she and her husband had done for 13 years prior.
“I love helping people – and I really mean that,” she says. “Knowing that I am listening and caring enough to be in that conversation can make a huge difference in the life of a person who is struggling and feels like they have no one to turn to.”
A lot has changed during Sharon's tenure. Counselors have computers now, and those in need of assistance can text or chat online. What hasn’t changed are the skills necessary to be effective.
“You have to be a caring person. You have to be a good listener,” she says. “You have to be patient. Patience is a huge component of working here, along with empathy.”
Sharon embodies that blend, and the community has taken notice. Earlier this year, Project Harmony honored her with its Kids First Award for her commitment and distinguished service to children in the community.
“Sharon has a great ability to build rapport with hotline users, leading to best case outcomes,” says supervisor Diana Schmidt. “Her calm demeanor is reassuring to callers; her nonjudgmental manner is refreshing.”
Sharon is equally complimentary of her co-workers.
“Honestly, the hotline is like no place I’ve ever worked. The people here and the supervisory staff are amazing. They are the most caring group I have ever seen in one building. That’s another big reason why I stay.”
Sharon forewent full retirement last year, dialing back to part time instead. She now can spend more time with her five grandchildren and pursue additional avenues of outreach. She volunteers as a “mentor mom” at Bethlehem House, an organization that offers a safe and nurturing home to pregnant women who are in crisis. More proof that for Sharon, “not my problem” is not an option.
“If people would just extend themselves a little more and show how much they care about each other as we do here on an everyday basis, we’d have such a better world. I just strive every day to come in here and say, ‘This is the first day of the rest of my life’ and to make it count for somebody.”
“Faces of Fearless” is a storytelling series in Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska’s “Live Fearless” campaign celebrating people living their very best lives and inspiring others to do the same.
1 of 18
Mary Marion is more than a people person. She is a serving-people person. Her entire adult life has been spent caring for others – from the eight sons she raised to the neighbors she helps feed to the fellow seniors she impacts twice a week, every week at The Salvation Army’s Dora Bingel Senior Center. Click here to read the story.
After dealing with a painful loss, an Omaha musician's career is budding again — and he gives a lion’s share of the credit for his recovery to Grief’s Journey, formerly Ted E. Bear Hollow. Click here to read the story.
It’s not that we have a food production problem in our community. We have a food distribution problem," says Beth Ostdiek Smith, founder of Saving Grace Perishable Food Rescue, which receives grant support from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska. Click here to read the story.
Sharon Martin and Mike Hughbanks share a passion for advocacy and outreach related to dementia through Art to Remember, an interactive program at Joslyn Art Museum. Sharon is a docent; Mike has early-onset Alzheimer's disease. Click here to read the story.
Occupational therapist Diane Bemis is motivated by the “magic” of pairing horses and people with disabilities in a therapeutic riding program funded in part by a Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska grant. Click here to read the story.
Beth Kernaghan, left, has spent the past two years coaching Ana Pérez-Villagómez through College Possible, a program for low-income academic achievers. The program is funded in part by a Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska grant. Click here to read the story.
Adam Armstrong is giving back as a veteran support specialist with At Ease, a Lutheran Family Services initiative that is sponsored, in part, by a Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska grant. For him, it’s more than a job. It’s a call to service. Click here to read the story.
Lamya Ali has a garden plot through Community Crops and uses the Lincoln nonprofit’s mobile farmers market. The community garden program has been a godsend, she says, and now she’s quick to tell others about it. Community Crops is supported, in part, by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska. Click here to read the story.
Molly Troxel is a visually impaired athlete who aspires to be a Paralympian. Here, the 15-year-old plays goalball, an intense Paralympic team sport that involves using one’s body to prevent a clanging ball from crossing the goal line. Competitive play is provided through Outlook Nebraska Inc., a nonprofit recipient of grant support from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska. Click here to read the story.
Tim Smiley answered a "driver wanted" ad that changed his life. Today, he's helping thousands in need, coordinating deliveries for Food Bank for the Heartland. Smiley's 12-hour days include the distribution of fresh produce to agencies across Nebraska and western Iowa in an initiative supported in part by a grant from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska. Click here to read the story.
Dr. Zach Meyer is a medical director at Third City Community Clinic (TCCC). TCCC was founded more than 20 years ago to serve low-income patients who could not otherwise afford basic dental and medical care. Click here to read the story.
Shelton Public School physical education teachers Matt Walter and Amanda Thober stand on a soft shredded rubber blacktop with new playground equipment. Shelton is a recent Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska Project Fit America grantee. Click here to read the story.
"Parents are our first heroes," says Vanita Jarmon, principal at Conestoga Magnet School in Omaha, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska’s Adopt-A-School Partner for more than 15 years. Her leadership approach celebrates their positive contributions to student — and teacher — success. Click here to read the story.
Rock Steady Boxing is paying off for John Coffey in improved balance, gait, activities of daily living and quality of life. Click here to read the story.
Louis "Big Lou" Parker is a mainstay at the Heart Ministry Center, paying back the help he got when he needed it most. “I’ve always been a hard worker. I’ve always believed in going in all the way. And I’ve always had a heart to help people," he said. Click here to read the story.
Sharon Martin on manning the Boys Town National Hotline: “Every day when I leave here, I want to feel like I made a difference in a person’s life, even one person. If I’ve done that, then I’ve done what I needed to do.” Click here to read the story.
Partnership 4 Kids is providing life-changing experiences for JoAnn Robinson. This summer she's discovering that she's a natural leader in P4K University's team-building workshop sponsored by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska. Click here to read the story.
Karlyn Walker and her daughter, Adrionna, 13, are faithful attendees of Wellbriety Family Nights at the Nebraska Urban Indian Health Coalition in Omaha, where they enjoy making native crafts together. Wellbriety, Karlyn said, has helped her keep her demons at bay and see that “there is a healthy life out there.” Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska supports the program. Click here to read the story.