LEWISTON — As she gets ready to begin law school next month, Julia Teitel knows she’ll have some tough work ahead of her — but she has a secret weapon.

Although she resigned as an educator for Auburn-based Safe Voices to go to school, she’ll continue taking phone calls as a volunteer for the group’s toll-free help line.

The calls, she figures, will be good reminders of why she’s seeking a law degree.

“What better perspective could there be when I am feeling sorry for myself because of a torts assignment?” Teitel said. “It’s a perspective-giving thing for me. For any given helpline call, that is the worst day in the caller’s life — or one of them. That person is having that experience, dealing with that assault or whatever, but they still called. To me, there is a built-in sense of hope in that.”

Safe Voices Executive Director Elise Johansen said Teitel is one of the many volunteers who takes calls from people living in abusive situations, advises them and offers help and counseling. The toll-free number, 800-559-2927, accepts calls 24 hours a day, 365 days per year from Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties.

“It could be safety planning, it could be questions about domestic violence in general, people seeking shelter, people needing help filing a protection from abuse order and they need help,” Johansen said. “It’s lots of different things, depending on what’s going on in that person’s life.”

Last year, Johansen said, Safe Voices took more than 3,000 advocacy calls on its helpline and office line.

Teitel said she moved to Maine and started with Safe Voices two years ago, fresh from a professional career as a mezzo-soprano opera singer in Boston and New York.

“I’d slowly come to the realization that I wanted to do work that was more impactful and social-justice oriented,” she said. “I wanted to do something, frankly, that felt more like work and less like entertainment.”

She’d volunteered with groups that helped at-risk youth before, so the job with Safe Voices sounded just like what she wanted.

“It was working with young people, kids,” she said. “Domestic violence is about so much more than just gender and violence against women. There are many subcategories folded in there.”

As an educator, she helped employers, doctors, clergy and others learn to recognize signs of domestic violence and how to help and find services and counseling for potential victims. She also helped create educational programs for students, kindergarten through college.

“For the little tiny kids, it’s really about helping them shore up their sense of self-worth,” she said. “We talk about healthy relationships, sticking up for yourself and for other people.”

A law degree seems like a logical next step. She hopes to focus on juvenile justice issues, particularly on foster family matters and homeless youth. She plans to graduate in 2019.

In the meantime, she said she’ll take calls from Safe Voices helpline for a few hours each week. The calls will be forwarded from Safe Voices to her cellphone when she has a break in her studies or a spare moment.

“It will probably just be a few hours per week since I need to make sure I’m not in class,” she said. “Probably a lot of what I’ll do is stepping in for a volunteer who gets sick or something like that. That could mean (an) occasional 12 a.m. to 6 a.m. shift.”

Much of the phone line work is about answering questions and identifying what kind of help they need.

“We get a lot of calls from people who are in the process of discovering or realizing that the relationship they are in is abusive,” she said. “Those are the calls I am grateful to get. They are having that realization and get to that point where they can ask, ‘What should I do now?’ And sometimes, that’s all they want to hear — that they are not crazy or being oversensitive.”

[email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.