The idea for Team HOPE was born after Colleen Nick, the mother of a missing child in Arkansas, reached out to Patty Wetterling, the mother of a missing child in Minnesota. A friendship was forged and the two have leaned on one another for support for many, many years.
Nick's 6-year-old daughter, Morgan, was abducted from a Little League baseball game and has been missing for more than 23 years. Wetterling's 11-year-old son Jacob was abducted at gunpoint from his bicycle and was recently recovered deceased after 27 years. His abductor confessed to killing Jacob, giving the family more pain but finally the answers they craved.
"The support they received from each other, they couldn't get from anyone else," says Potash. "It was so valuable, and they realized a support group like Team HOPE could help so many other families that are suffering."
The 41 new volunteers, from cities large and small, are enrolled in Team HOPE's 26th training session. Over four emotional days, they’ll have sessions on such topics as "Trauma," "Listening Skills and Communication," and "When Their Trauma Becomes Yours; Taking Care of Yourself." There's a box of tissues on every table and bottles for blowing bubbles if things get too intense.
The volunteers are divided into teams by case type, including family abductions, non-family abductions, endangered runaways and child sexual exploitation. The most crucial part of being an effective volunteer, says Potash, is to listen – and not insert your own story into the conversation.
“We don’t want to make it about us,” says Potash. “A parent whose child has been missing for a week may not want to know that their volunteer’s child has been missing for a year.”
Through their phone conversations, Team HOPE volunteers provide their referrals with emotional support, coping tools and resources. They work to empower them by helping them find their strength and try to alleviate the isolation that can result when a child is missing or sexually exploited. Relatives and friends don’t always know what to say, so they may withdraw.
Volunteers know what it’s like to be disappointed when they don’t receive a return call and make sure they keep their promises to the families they support.
“Team Hope volunteers are courageous, determined and they generously give their hearts to the families they are supporting,” says Potash.
To speak with a Team HOPE volunteer, call 1-866-305-HOPE (4673)