Couple take turns with StressLine calls


November 26, 1998|By Geri Hastings | Geri Hastings,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

KEITH AND RUTH Smith of Clarksville have been answering calls for help from Marylanders for six years.

The Smiths are volunteers for the Family Tree's StressLine -- 800-243-7337.

The service is part of a 24-hour hot line providing support, crisis intervention, information and referrals statewide.

The Family Tree, a nonprofit agency, focuses on preventing child abuse and neglect.

Formed by a merger of Parents Anonymous and the Child Abuse Prevention Center, the organization provides free services and is staffed by volunteers.

Every Monday, the Smiths take turns on their home telephone offering information and support.

Keith Smith answers calls from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.; Ruth Smith, from 10 a.m. to noon.

"It works out really well," Keith Smith said. "Sometimes a caller will ask if they can speak to a woman, or sometimes they prefer to talk to a man. We can trade off, if necessary, and we can confer and help each other solve difficult issues."

The Smiths noted that the Monday morning shift can be busy.

"Sometimes people save everything up from the weekend. And that's where we come in," Ruth Smith said.

"Holidays can also be difficult times for some people, although we tend to get fewer calls from adults when the children are home from school."

The Smiths have found their work on the StressLine rewarding.

"It has been a real eye opener," said Ruth Smith, a retired mathematician and former professor at West Virginia State College and the West Virginia Institute of Technology.

"I always knew that many people had to deal with difficult problems, but now I feel it," she continued, noting that those who call at this time of year sometimes have no money for food. Some are being evicted.

"It's amazing what you learn about the world and people under stress," she added. "It can be very, very sad."

Keith Smith agreed. A retired sociologist who has served on the faculty of the University of Maryland Medical School and the Chicago Medical College, he saw retirement as an opportunity to contribute to the community.

"I wasn't the kind of guy who was going to be spending a lot of time on the golf course once I retired," he said. "I wanted to do some public service in an area I knew was important."

Jennifer Kinneman of the Family Tree says that more than 5,400 people called the StressLine last year, with questions ranging from how to discipline children to how to handle unemployment, poverty and substance abuse.

In six years, the Smiths have dealt with their share of suffering over the phone.

Ruth Smith recalled a phone call from a woman considering suicide.

"She was very overwrought. She'd just had her third child and was having difficulty making ends meet. She felt ashamed -- she had never taken welfare, and now it looked like she had no choice. She talked about taking her own life and taking her children with her."

Smith referred the woman to a suicide hot line.

But the Smiths say that everyday concerns are welcome on the StressLine.

Not every StressLine call is from someone in crisis.

"I guess what we like to tell people is that it's OK to call the StressLine. It doesn't matter if it's for a referral to one of the Family Tree's programs, to a drug treatment center, or simply just giving someone an ear to talk to. The important thing is to offer help to people," Ruth Smith said.

The StressLine needs more volunteers. A 15-hour introductory training program is offered to recruits.

Information or to volunteer: 410-889-2300.

The Smiths have four children and seven grandchildren. Today is a special day for the couple: their 55th wedding anniversary.

Tomorrow, after the bustle of the holiday, they plan to turn on their television set to watch Ruth Smith's brother, Arthur Guyton, a doctor in Jackson, Miss., who will be featured on ABC's "20/20" along with his 10 grown children, each of whom is a physician.

Football news

Thanksgiving is a day for family and football.

In keeping with the sports aspect of the day, this correspondent would like to highlight the Glenelg High School junior varsity football squad's wonderful season.

Led by sophomore captains Brent Clevenger, Andrew Garland, Kyle Johnston, Steve Pagoaga and Paul Schwartzbeck, the team finished the season undefeated, with 10 wins.

It scored 233 points, giving up only 48.

According to assistant coach Tom Thrasher, the boys ran more than 400 plays and gained 2,500 yards, while their opponents ran 300 plays and gained 780 yards.

The team scored 19 touchdowns on offense, while the defense gave up only three.

Most of the other points given up by Glenelg were scored on kickoff and punt returns.

Kudos to Thrasher, head coach Jeremy Snyder, assistant coach Scott Emory and the players.

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