In 2008, Exhale and our community lost a very dear friend and ally. Rachel Falls, the Hotline Director at the National Abortion Federation (NAF), passed away after a long battle with brain cancer. Rachel was many wonderful things to many people. At Exhale, she will always be remembered as one of the first people to embrace our mission and promote our work. Rachel was a true pro-voice champion: she integrated post-abortion counseling into NAF’s services, collaborated with Exhale staff to train others in the field, and became a vocal advocate for promoting the emotional wellbeing of women who have had abortions. We continue to miss her mentorship, her leadership in the field, and most of all, her compassion for others.
To honor and recognize Rachel Falls for her contributions and impact, Exhale created the Rachel Falls Compassion Award. This award is given once a year to a talkline counselor who best embodies the spirit and values of Rachel Falls: exuberance, strength, empathy, commitment, vision, and compassion. Only fellow talkline counselors can nominate the potential winner. Last year, we were honored to award Elsa Valmidiano, who you can read about in our zine (pg.7).
This year, Exhale honors Jan, an Exhale counselor for over six years. In her time with Exhale she has served with distinction on the talkline and in capacities almost too numerous to mention. She has shared her personal abortion experience with new volunteer trainees, acted as a pro-voice ambassador at conferences, become a lead fundraiser for Exhale, and served on other task forces and groups. If we offer a leadership opportunity, we can be sure that Jan will take it!
Jan has contributed so much over the years, and it is especially striking how she infuses her work with warmth, humor, and humanity. It is no surprise that she inspires us in everything she does! The qualities of “exuberance, strength, empathy, commitment, vision, and compassion” emanate from her.
Here are a few excerpts from nominations she received from her fellow volunteers:
“Jan is a superstar. She is always one of the first to take on leadership positions… she has been a prime example of living Exhale’s pro-voice mission… And, of course, that she’s been doing this wonderful work for so long is an inspiration.”
“I nominate Jan. She is not only a stalwart veteran to the talkline who still takes shifts devoutly every month, but she contributes by paving an amazing path in the pro-voice movement with her presence and her voice… Her perseverance and strength as a counselor to help women today on the line always amazes me, where Jan continues to connect to each and every caller no matter what generation, race, gender, or class. Go Jan!”
In honor of her award, I sat down with Jan to ask her a few questions about her experience with Exhale as a volunteer. Here is what she said.
What first brought you to Exhale?
San Francisco Chronicle columnist Stephanie Salter wrote glowingly about this new organization in the Bay Area, a talkline for callers post abortion. I read it, was intrigued and called. They were interviewing for new counselors and that interview was the most comprehensive, intense, thought-provoking one I’d ever been involved in. I ‘passed’ and was in the next training class, a class that was as thorough and as wide-ranging as the interview had suggested.
You’ve been volunteering for more than six years. Tell me about what it means to you.
It’s a rare call that does not end with my feeling Exhale makes a difference in individual lives, that I have just made a difference. Callers who are relieved and those who are in great pain are grateful for the non-judgmental, pro-voice place from which we are there to support them, to listen to their story (often told for the first time), or to work on a ‘self-care’ list with them. It’s a consistently positive experience for me.
After listening to so many women and men tell their stories with abortion on the talkline, what have you learned?
The decision to have an abortion is not one taken lightly and it’s often done with very little support. Because the dialogue around the topic has become ever more rancorous, most callers have not had the benefit of ‘talking it out’ with anyone. The stigma is great. I’ve come to believe that the dialogue has been ‘hijacked’ by the guilt inducing voices who rarely, if ever, care about the individual. Like the woman who was overjoyed about her pregnancy until it was discovered that her child would not survive outside the womb and who knew that her last 4 months of pregnancy would include constant broad smiles from passersby while she knew there would be no happy outcome; the father of the girl who is still a child herself who has an abortion and word gets out in his small, non-supportive community and church and the whispering is getting to him; the young woman I insist write down the suicide hotline number…these are among the reasons why I continue.
What do you wish everyone knew about women who have had abortions?
That one in three of us will have had an abortion before 45, so despite the dearth of conversation about the issue, it’s a very common experience. Walking down the street just count one, two, three and get a clear picture of the variety of women who just might have walked in your shoes. There might be some comfort in that and I hope that would encourage more women to speak out about their experience. It’s you, me, your neighbors both rich and poor, across the age, income and political spectrum who have had the procedure. Enough with the stigmatization.
Do you have any advice for people interested in volunteering at Exhale?
Call for your interview if you can give some time to a most worthwhile endeavor. You are needed, you will be valued and the personal reward is assured.
Thank you, Jan, for your continued excellent service to Exhale and the women we serve. Please join me in wishing Jan congratulations on her award by posting your well-wishes in the comments!
Read Full Post »