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For More Than 26 years, Sharon Martin has Been the Lifesaving Ear on the Other End of the Line

Copyright Kurt A. Keeler

​​This article ​is written by Dan McCann as a Special for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska. It was posted on on August 7, 2016.

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.