“My mind went blank. It was dead silence in the room. It drove home how you never know what you’re going to get. It could be someone with relationship problems, or it could be something very serious,” said Robert Hurst.

Hurst, an associate professor of film and media studies at the University of Kansas, was describing his experience at a suicide prevention program. He is currently working on his upcoming documentary, “The Listeners,” which aims to inform people about suicide prevention, and the people who work to help prevent it. Hurst’s goal is to make a movie that does not focus on or sensationalize suicide.

Steve Lobes, a friend of Hurst, suggested the idea for the film to him in 2012. Lobes was working as a volunteer at the Headquarters Counseling Center in Lawrence at the time. After juggling the idea around for a while, Hurst met with the Center’s board of directors, and pitched the idea.

Headquarters is a collection of professional and volunteer staff devoted to helping Lawrence community members. They offer free counseling services, and a suicide prevention hotline.

Hurst secured permission from the center and volunteers to follow a group of 13 through their training process. Beginning in the fall of 2013, he and the crew filmed around 100 hours of the training process over the course of 11 weeks. In addition to following them through their training processes, Hurst spent time interviewing the volunteers, getting to know why they were involved, and what brought them to Headquarters.

The filming for the movie is still far from over. Though the training process ended in the fall, the volunteers began their work earlier this spring and will not be finished until later in May. After their volunteer work is done, Hurst will conduct follow-up interviews with the volunteers. The training process began with 13 volunteers, but the film will narrow the focus down to five specific people. He did not name them, but he clarified the decision.

“Some of the people didn’t want to be that involved,” he said. “They were okay with being filmed during the training process, but they wanted to stop there, and that’s totally fine.”

Sarah Kaminski, a full-time employee at the center, said she thought the movie would be a good way to raise awareness, and that a lot of people still do not know that places like Headquarters are available to them, and that she had not heard of the center until taking a class at KU a few years prior. She also hopes the film will make people that want help more comfortable with seeking it.

“We are humans,” Kaminski said. “We are not some robots that get trained to just give you some stock responses.”

Kaminski suffered emotional abuse at her home as a teenager and had anxiety issues as a result. She joined with headquarters as a way to help others going through trauma of their own.

“I didn’t have anyone to reach out to,” she said. “This is just a safe place for someone to call and get that emotional turmoil out. I wish I’d have known about it when I was younger, because it’s been around for a very long time.”

Matt Kostroske, a 22-year-old KU student, said he hoped the movie would encourage people interested in the matter to volunteer. Kotroske will not be in the film, but he finished his training recently and had just begun his volunteer work.

Kostroske plans to become a psychologist, and chose to volunteer to learn better ways to talk to and help people with emotional troubles.

“I’ve had friends with problems like depression,” he said. “I never really knew what to say to them. I decided to do this so I could help them, and I want to help other people too.”
Like Kostroske’s and Kaminski’s story, Hurst wants audiences to get to know the volunteers in the film, their experiences at Headquarters. The documentary will not be entirely about the individuals, but that they will serve as an anchor for the audience to identify with.

The movie is scheduled for release in late 2015. Hurst hopes to have the film broadcast on television, and distributed on home video.

Audio Interviews:

Transcript – 

Introduction by Alex Keenan:

Originally opened as drug crisis center for teens, Headquarters Counseling Center has since become a source of emotional support for those looking for someone to talk to in times of emotional stress.

The center is made up of both professional and volunteer staff alike, but how does somebody come to work for places like Headquarters?

I sat down with two members at the center to find out how and why they got their start and what motivates them to do what they do.

First, I spoke with Sarah Kaminski, a two-year employee of the center.

Sarah Kaminski:

I didn’t really know about it until I took a class at KU.

Paul Atchley said in the basic psych class.

He was talking about volunteer opportunities and how we should do it if we’re interested in grad school and talked about Headquarters.

And then I was like “oh that sounds awesome,” and it was definitely something I wanted to get into so I did a little bit more research and started volunteering.

I’ve been through some rough times as many of our volunteers have, and it’s just really great knowing that someone’s out there for you, and you have no-one else possibly, and you’re feeling pretty desperate it’s a really, really great place.

Alex Keenan:

Next, I sat down with Matt Kostroske, a KU student on his first shift at the center.

Matt Kostroske:

I just heard about it through the psychology school.

Cause there’s a group on Facebook for KU psychology and there was someone posting stuff about Headquarters and getting involved with it, so I ended up going to one of the meetings.

It’s kind of what I want to do once I graduate or after I go through graduate school.

I want to council people, so I figured this would be a good place to start.

Alex Keenan:

This is Alex Keenan for inrealreeltime.wordpress.com