Sometimes it’s a shoulder to lean on, and for UVA third-year Huma Ashai, it’s an ear to listen. She’s learned the power of empathetic listening firsthand by volunteering with HELP Line — a 24-hour, confidential, and anonymous hotline staffed by trained Madison House volunteers.
“Being a good listener can truly change the way you look at the world,” Huma says. By taking the time to quietly listen and try to understand another person’s point of view, she says, one can avoid misunderstandings and biases.
"Being a good listener can truly change the way you look at the world."
Image: Downtown Charlottesville
After encouragement from her sister and Madison House alumna Khadeeja Ashai, Huma began volunteering with Madison House during the first semester of her first year. She says Madison House’s table at UVA’s Activities Fair — an annual event where hundreds of UVA organizations gather to introduce themselves to new students — was the first she wanted to visit.
Volunteering with Madison House helped Huma find her own niche at UVA while helping the community around her. After volunteering with two other Madison House programs, Medical Services and Athletics, Huma now serves as HELP Line’s Program Director for Marketing and Outreach. Her roommate is a fellow HELP Line volunteer, Head Program Director Kennedy Couch.
As part of her volunteering, Huma gives presentations on HELP Line and empathetic listening skills to groups like Greek life, multicultural organizations, and others that could benefit from the program’s services. Huma says the most rewarding aspect of her service “by far” is providing diverse UVA students with the tools to talk about difficult topics.
"HELP Line has shown me that whatever career I do end up in, I want to be in a position where I can talk people through their problems and be a support system for them."
“I have learned a lot about myself and how to better myself in the many roles I play in my life, whether that’s as a friend, a resident advisor, a peer health educator, and so much more,” Huma says. “HELP Line has shown me that whatever career I do end up in, I want to be in a position where I can talk people through their problems and be a support system for them.”
As a pre-med student considering a career in psychiatry, Huma says volunteering with HELP Line has shown her that she’s on the right academic and professional path.
“HELP Line really reinforced that I am meant to go into a career where I can use empathetic listening and understanding to help patients,” says Huma.
As HELP Line volunteers support and listen to the people who call the hotline, Huma says the volunteers are also building their professional and personal skillset. Volunteers receive 30-plus hours of training in order to learn how to talk about difficult topics like suicide prevention, sexual assault, and many more.
Image: HELP Line Head Program Director and Program Directors
Total service hours during
2016 – 2017 academic year:
Value of volunteers’
2016 – 2017 service hours:
Calls received during
2016 – 2017
Academics, assault and abuse, depression, drugs and alcohol, family and marriage, gender and sexuality, general empathy, mental health, money and work, sex, stress, and suicide
30 hours of training and 3-hour weekly shifts
“The learning never stops,” Huma says. “Those volunteers are then taking their skills…and spreading empathy and compassion to their friends and family,” she emphasizes.
“Since volunteers are anonymous, you might not even know if someone who is supporting you learned their skills from us.”
"The learning never stops."