Days after graduating from a 55-hour training academy, the inaugural class of graduates of Lane County’s Trauma Intervention Program meet one more time at the Trauma Healing Project in south Eugene. It’s the group’s final meeting before they start heading out to assist people going through a tragic experience, such as the death of a loved one.
TIP has been an active program in Multnomah County and other parts of the country, which trains volunteers in emotional and practical training. The program’s advocates say it minimizes trauma in survivors, and Lane County’s TIP volunteers could be ready to serve as soon as early April.
“It’s one thing to always want to be that person who can help people,” says Bridget Byfield, the program director of TIP Lane County. “It’s another thing to actually make the commitment to do 55 hours of training and then three hours every month to stay up on the latest so that you are prepared.”
Before managing the Lane County organization, Byfield was a TIP volunteer in Multnomah County for eight years. From her work as a volunteer, Byfield recalls speaking with someone whose mother died when he was 8 years old. First responders took his mother to the hospital, but hadn’t noticed that he was there alone.
“He sat at home for six hours,” she recalls him telling her. “He said if somebody had been there, his whole life would be different because that was an early childhood trauma.”
As program manager, Byfield will be notified by 911 dispatchers when a volunteer is needed, and she’ll then call a volunteer. Each volunteer is available for three 12-hour shifts a month throughout the year, making someone available at all times.
Other calls that TIP volunteers respond to include death of a loved one, violent crimes (including rape, assault, robbery or burglary), survivors of fire, disoriented or lonely elderly people, vehicle crashes and those whose loved one has died by suicide or overdose. Byfield estimates that TIP of Lane County will respond to 20 to 30 calls a week.
“A lot of times when there’s been a crisis, they go into this panic of everything has to be done at once — you know, sell the house, sell the car, move out,” Byfield says. TIP volunteers are on scene with a first responder to provide emotional and practical support for survivors, helping them navigate what the next immediate steps are, such as contacting the mortuary in the case of death. “We know what to say, we know what needs to be done. We know how to help people.”
Byfield says that when the program first opened, she had more than 70 people interested in volunteering. More than 30 showed up and 26 finished the training, which she says is a large pool considering the size of Eugene. TIP Lane County plans to have another volunteer academy in fall.
One of the volunteers, Mercedes Slaughter, says she decided to join TIP because she had experienced tragedy young when her mother died and she didn’t have someone there to walk her through the next steps. And the training itself is applicable for life, she says.
Another volunteer, Clyde Byfield, Bridget’s husband, says he recently retired as a physician and is transitioning from “curing people to caring for people.”
“I think that’ll make less scars and post-traumatic stress disorder if you can handle it better at first,” Clyde says about volunteering with TIP. “That’s where we were trained, to help care for people and help them get themselves organized, get themselves where their strength is and where their help is going to be.”
TIP Lane County is a part of TIP National, established in 1985. In November 2022, Lane County provided $40,000 to fund the management of a program locally. The money came from different service agencies in the county — Eugene Fire Department, Eugene Police Department, Springfield Police Department and other service agencies, both urban and rural.
“The truth is, that part of life is there for everyone,” Byfield says. “We’re there for the everyday stuff that none of us are going to totally avoid forever. And to have some there — somebody who’s not in a uniform, not getting paid, who’s not a therapist — is just there because they care.”
For more information about TIP and how to volunteer, visit TIPLaneCounty.org.