BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Behind Crisis Services‘ 24-hour suicide prevention and crisis counseling program is a dedicated team of counselors led by a remarkable woman: Rachel Morrison.
“Being a part of something like this and being able to understand what it actually means to be 24 hours, I have understood that and dedicated myself for years to what a 24-hour component is,” Morrison said. “We have become so much for our community. I take it so seriously and I just feel like I’m really blessed to be in this position.”
Born in Buffalo, it’s Morrison’s 20th year with one of the most comprehensive crisis agencies in Western New York. Her work started with the homeless outreach program. She was also part of the team that created the City of Buffalo’s emergency weather safety plan, Code Blue.
“There were maybe three or four deaths that winter of homeless folks, either under the bridge or in a car, and some of them we worked with. I had probably seen them the day before,” Morrison said. “So we sat together and we’re like, ‘What can we do?’ So we actually had a van — I used to drive a van around the City of Buffalo and give folks clothes or anything like that — so we start picking up folks and taking them to Harbor House or taking them to City Mission, and it kind of evolved from that.”
After about six years, Morrison became the program director of the 24-hour suicide prevention and addiction hotlines — prioritizing mental health and the person on the other end of the phone.
“Mental health is so important to me. I like to put the person before the numbers. So when somebody is saying like, ‘Oh, we’ve got 400-something calls,’ it’s like okay, those are 400 and something people that we have to advocate for, or stick up for, or provide resources for,” Morrison said. “It could be me or you, it could be our family members. One of the things that I always try to say when I’m training folks is treat this person as if it’s your family, your mother, your brother, your sister, your cousin. If they were in a very tough situation or going through a crisis, how would you want them to be treated? You want someone there for them.”
“Her level of experience showed me a lot about her, her integrity and how important it is to care for people,” said Debbie Daniels, Morrison’s friend and co-worker. “Her level of empathy is unbelievable, her care and concern for clients and staff.”
Morrison also founded “Renewed Me” — a private wellness practice — with her sister, Renee. They do workshops, symposiums, fashion shows to benefit victims of homicide, along with international philanthropy work in Ghana and Trinidad.
“I think the focus of this year and going forward is hope… I’m really tapped into something where, these youth, they are really looking for somebody to teach them what hope is, teach them what their future can be,” Morrison said. “Just trying to be that face to young girls and young boys that you can get up and do whatever you want to do as long as you keep trying.”
When the May 14 Tops massacre shook Western New York to its core, Morrison partnered with the Buffalo Federation of Neighborhood Centers and the Resiliency Center to provide a safe space and help the community heal.
“There were so many pillars in our community that were taken away from families, and that’s generations of loss and healing that we’re going to have to continue to do,” Morrison said. “One of the things that we talk about a lot is vicarious trauma and how the inner city in certain parts of Buffalo have these traumas that have been built up and this was like a big one that kind of exploded, and it’s so important for those of us of color, and not of color — of any culture — to step out and really be there for our community. I felt like this is it. For whatever reason that any of us didn’t do anything before, this is the reason, this is the time, and we’re committed to doing that.”
Then when the deadly Christmas blizzard battered the region, Morrison and a team of four counselors worked 15-hour days, answering over 400 calls for help.
“911 forwarded people over to us. The police couldn’t get to anybody, emergency services were down. We are a part of the emergency response so it was very, very important for us to be able to stay and get these calls and we worked diligently for doing that,” Morrison said. “I’d hate to see what it would have been like if we hadn’t even been there for those folks during that day. It was something that we really needed to be able to do and it really exemplifies what Crisis Services, our 24-hour hotline, really means.”
Morrison is a human representation of the work she’s done and continues to do through Crisis Services and Renewed Me. Without question, she’d do it all again in a heartbeat.
“She being who she is and able to touch so many people,” Daniels said. “She’s there… Always an ear, always a smile.”
“I can’t imagine that I would actually be doing anything else,” Morrison said. “This is a part of the servitude that I was supposed to do and I don’t know what would happen if we wouldn’t have Crisis Services.”
Tune into News 4 at 4 every Wednesday throughout the month of March to see a profile of one woman in Western New York who stands out. The winner of this year’s Remarkable Women campaign will be announced Wednesday, March 29.
Jordan Norkus is an award-winning anchor who has been part of the News 4 team since 2021. See more of her work here or follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.