On the receiving end: senior Justin Kim enters his fourth year at Teen Line

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Dani Klemes, web editor-in-chief

Off-days are typical for any adolescent–in fact, they’re almost expected. But for the days that cannot be cured by a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and a listen-through of some wistful Velvet Underground vinyl, there’s a solution. And it’s toll-free. 

Teen Line, described by its website as a “confidential telephone help line,” receives and answers approximately 10,000 calls, emails and text messages each year. The California-based program is unique in that it is operated by teenagers, the idea being that teens can help other teens deal with problems ranging from depression to abuse.

Created in 1980 by a group of mental health professionals, Teen Line takes an inclusive approach to adolescents and the emotional issues linked to being a teenager.

Its purpose has transcended through decades, sparking the interest of one of Beverly’s very own: senior Justin Kim, who has been training and volunteering with the phone line for four years.

“I first heard about Teen Line when I was in middle school. Once I got to the high school, I applied to the program and now I’m a listener,” Kim said.

Kim was mainly drawn to the program because of its communal efforts to aid troubled teenagers in California.

“I think the community service aspect of it [is what intrigued me]. I’ve always been a large proponent for trying to improve the society we live in, as cheesy as it sounds. The idea that even at a young age I can help other teens was very appealing to me,” he said.

During his freshman year, Kim underwent the rigorous application process, which included an interview, an essay and recommendations. Once Teen Line selected Kim as a volunteer, he and other teenagers spent over 100 hours training during the following summer.

“After our training, we had to take 15 specific role play tests which tested us on our ability to respond to situations ranging from suicide to sexuality to child abuse,” Kim said.

Being a volunteer requires a generous time commitment. Despite Kim’s booked afternoons, stacked with water polo practices and Model United Nations conferences, the obligation does not faze him.

“Everyone has to come in four times every month and each shift lasts around five hours, usually from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Cedars-Sinai. Along with these required shifts we also have to do outreach activities, going to conferences and advertising Teen Line, trying to raise awareness about [the program] in other high schools and middle schools,” Kim said.

Teen Line is based on the premise that teenagers will seek help from their peers. According to Kim, most of the problems he discusses with callers hit close to home; his knowledge on the subjects generally stem from personal experience.

“Just in terms of background, I think everybody at Teen Line [volunteered] because they’d experienced some form of abuse or something that prompted them to try to help others,” Kim said. “I think, in terms of empathy, you sort of need something that connects you with the other person.”

To Kim, the experience could not be any more rewarding–it’s really “all the time” that his time on the phone leaves him with the feeling that he had a positive effect on the caller.

“My most impactful shift was probably this December when I had my first suicide call,” Kim said. “It lasted over an hour, and I definitely felt at the end of it that I had helped someone through a dark time in their life.”

Regardless of the typical apprehension that comes each time the phone rings, Kim believes that his in-depth groundwork has shaped both his confidence and his skillset.

“Every new call brings with it different obstacles, but I think because of the hundreds of hours of training that we had to put in before we became actual listeners, I’ve always felt prepared,” Kim said.

Kim has made his mark on innumerable callers, and, in terms of outreach, he has imparted the program’s values onto other support programs.

“In my freshman year, I worked with our psychology teacher Dr. David Wolfe to build a class that would revolve around the mantra of Teen Line which is to help other people,” Kim said. “I also wanted it to explore all the different resources we have here in Beverly Hills, including the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings at Cedars-Sinai as well as the ones in Roxbury Park.”

As for his future plans, Kim is looking to involve himself in a program with a mission similar to Teen Line’s.

“Teen Line has always been a very large part of my life, and it’s definitely made a large impact on me. Teen Line is specifically a high school activity but I’d love to find something that would give me the same amount of satisfaction when I get to college,” Kim said.

For more information about applying, visit teenlineonline.org. If you or a friend are facing personal issues, don’t hesitate to call 310-855-HOPE (4673) or text “TEEN” to 839863.

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