Listening Post

11 Jul

Every Tuesday during the fall and spring semesters on the campus of Appalachian State University a few older people show up at the Student Union with a very simple agenda – “we are here to listen”.    Every Tuesday two of these volunteer listeners will sit at a table located across from the coffee shop and next to the student art gallery.   The table is covered by a checkered table cloth.  There are apples, peanuts, and cookies there as well.   A sign sits on the table that reads – Listening Post a place to talk.    The listeners sit at the table with two empty chairs waiting for students, faculty or staff to come and sit down to talk.   The chairs rarely stay empty for long.   Students come and sit and share their stories, hopes, concerns, and lives with these trained volunteer listeners.   These older folks, who more often than not are the age of grandparents, will sit, listen and ask clarifying questions.   The exchange may last a few minutes or fill the entire 90 minutes that each volunteer commits to the post.  Once these two listeners are done with their shift two more trained volunteers show up to take their places.  The listening continues from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. each and every Tuesday.

On each and every Wednesday a similar thing happens across campus.   From 11:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. a volunteer couple set the Listening Post sign on a big round table that overlooks the duck pond.   Each Wednesday the same older couple hosts the Listening Post in Trivette Cafeteria.  Because this is a food service setting they are not permitted to provide apples, cookies, and peanuts.   However they are welcomed to sit and share a meal with the students who come, many on a regular basis.   Each week come and sit and talk while Harliss and Anne listen.

Presbyterian Episcopal Campus Ministry at ASU sponsors these Listening Posts along with our six partner congregations, three Presbyterian and three Episcopal.  The congregations support the posts by providing older adult volunteers including one wonderful volunteer from the smallest of these churches, Jinx Miller, who serves as Listening Post coordinator.   In my role as Presbyterian Campus Minister, I support Jinx and she and I provide training each semester for the listeners.   It is a great expression of partnership.  It is a very successful program on the ASU campus.   It is supported by the administration and the staff of Plemmons Student Union and ASU Food Service.

The Listening Post concept is certainly not original to ASU.   It was begun in 1979 by Mabel Bartel partially in response to the Columbine shootings.   She sought to create a program that responded to the statements from young people that “no one listens to us”.   At Listening Posts around the country there are people who simply listen.   To learn more about the Listening Post program go to their website www.listeningpostinc.org.

As financial support for campus ministry continues to tighten and the need to more closely partner with local congregations increases, Listening Post is an excellent program to consider.    In our experience it was very helpful to work closely with the Student Affairs office and the Student Counseling Center to establish this program on campus.   It has also been critical for the success of the program to have a volunteer coordinator who is not the campus minister.   In our case Jinx is able to work with the listeners, go to congregations to recruit new listeners, and provide a perspective on the role that I can not provide.   I strongly suggest that having the right volunteer coordinator, even if you have to wait for the right one to come along, is key for the success of the Listening Post program.

Each semester the volunteers and I gather for a luncheon to share stories and evaluate the Listening Posts at ASU.   I also give the volunteers a gift in thanks for all that they do for the students at ASU by just being there to listen.   At the lunch someone always says something like, “I never thought that college students would come and sit and talk with an older person like me.   I also never realized how much I would learn and love sitting and listening to them.   I am so glad to be a part of this ministry it makes me feel young just to be there on campus with all those students.”

If you want to learn more about the Listening Post and how we do it here at ASU email me at tommybrownmdiv@msn.com.    We would love to help you get a Listening Post going on your campus.

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Rev. Tommy Brown (tbrownmdiv@gmail.com) is Presbyterian Campus Minister at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC having served in this position since 2002.  He is a life coach in process of certification and founder of College/Life Engagement Coaching.  He also serves as adjunct faculty at ASU teaching courses in the Recreation Management and First Year Seminar programs.   He received his MDiv from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in 1990 and his BA in English/Theater from Maryville College in 1984.  He and his wife Karen, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, have two sons Hayden a junior at Maryville College and Shafer a high school senior at UNC School of the Arts.   In July of 2012 his book Unscripted: Engaging Life after College published by Parson’s Porch Press will be released and available on Amazon.com, and other sources including from Tommy.

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2 Responses to “Listening Post”

  1. Barbara Heck July 12, 2012 at 3:16 pm #

    I’ve used The Listening Post at Rutgers, usually to great acclaim. I’ve found it more difficult in recent years with the rise of cell phones and iPods. All the more reason to be available for the simple pleasure (and practice) of human interaction!!

  2. Bruce Chapman July 12, 2012 at 3:53 pm #

    Great stuff! Thanks!

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