By Kelley Carlson
In the hours immediately following a tragedy, victims or survivors often need emotional support and guidance. They may not know what to do, where to go, or have anyone to turn to.
In many parts of San Diego County, volunteers from the Trauma Intervention Program are called to a scene by emergency services personnel to assist those in need. It could be in response to a homicide, suicide, natural death, accident, fire, domestic violence, natural disaster or other traumatic situations.
“Our niche is that we provide emotional first aid,” said Mandy Atkission, executive director of TIP’s San Diego County chapter.
“We are a liaison between family and emergency responders, and we help get answers. We provide a lot of resources.”
There are about 100 volunteers throughout the county, but the nonprofit organization is seeking more help.
“We have a 20-minute response time guarantee, and we need sufficient (volunteer) numbers in all areas,” Atkission said.
TIP’s main office is in Carlsbad, but volunteers work in their own community and are on call three times a month in 12-hour shifts. Atkission said a person chooses his or her own shift, usually from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. or 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. There could be no calls, or as many as three or four during the time period. A volunteer on a “typical” call is often assisting for three to five hours, Atkission said — until the victims or survivors “have a grasp of reality.”
Currently, there are five community response “teams,” including North County Coastal, which covers Rancho Santa Fe, cities from Del Mar north through Camp Pendleton, and east to Vista.
Ages among volunteers can vary greatly, as TIP permits those as young as 14 to participate if their parents are also part of the program. There is no upper age limit.
To become part of the program, prospective participants must first attend an orientation to see if TIP is right for them. If they decide to proceed, they must complete a 50-hour training academy, in which they are trained to handle all types of situations, and attend a continuing education program once a month. They are also required to pass a background check.
“TIPlets,” or new members, are assigned a mentor, who shows them the ropes and helps them become comfortable enough to eventually handle calls on their own.
Marilyn Carpenter of Del Mar just responded to her first call on Feb. 22, one she said that was “pretty straightforward” and involved a person who had been in ill health for a while. Carpenter had previously been involved with other organizations, such as the American Cancer Society’s Reach to Recovery program, Hospice of the North Coast and Voices For Children. After attending a TIP fundraiser with fellow member and friend Linda Loehr, Carpenter said this was something in the back of her mind that she knew she wanted to do.
“I feel good contributing my time,” she said. “This (group) is so well-managed. People do a great deal with passion and empathy.”
When not on call, volunteers do have opportunities to socialize with one another — Atkission said many of them meet for lunch outside of TIP meetings, and there are also fundraisers and volunteer appreciation events.
Although volunteers are not monetarily paid, they often receive feedback and thank-you cards, which Atkission refers to as “volunteer pay checks.”
Just being on the scene can be emotionally rewarding.
Atkission, who has been with TIP for just over eight years, said one of her toughest, yet most fulfilling, assignments involved a 1-year-old who drowned in a bathtub.
“As the mother held her baby, she was able to say goodbye,” she said. “I afforded her the opportunity to allow that to happen.”
Loehr, a Rancho Santa Fe resident, has been with the organization for about 10 years and has responded to more than 100 calls. She said an incident in Del Mar really stands out for her, in which she was called to a hotel where an out-of-town couple had been staying and the wife had died unexpectedly.
“I was able to help the husband get the mortuary,” Loehr said. “I was able to help him with some final details while he was at the hotel and get back to his home.”
Loehr emphasized that TIP is “a great organization.”
“There are super volunteers,” she said. “We’d like to get more from the area.”
For more information or to become a part of TIP, go to
or call (760) 931-2104.