Jill Diemer

What made you get involved with this event?

My husband and I both come from modest backgrounds and have always felt it was important to give back.I had just finished many years of volunteering with another organization and was looking for something new. I saw an ad for the Phonathon and thought my sales skills may be of use. Michael and I we were not in the position to give a substantial amount of money, but we could give time – even if it was just a little. Since I was working two jobs and starting a new business, I loved the idea that I could help generate a lot of money for COTS in a short amount of time.

We wanted to get our children involved at a young age because they are in a different position than we were growing up. We feel it is essential to teach them understanding and empathy for others, especially those less fortunate.

Why do you volunteer with COTS?

When I was 21, I was thrust into a job managing a motel just outside of New York City. This motel was called “Residential Motel for the Homeless.” It had 115 rooms and was 100 percent booked, 365 days a year with up to five people per room. The parent company had five of these of hotel/motels in their portfolio. All were 100 percent booked, paid for by the State of New York, and had a never-ending waiting list. The depth of homelessness was astonishing and heartbreaking.

I was shocked to learn that this was multi-generational. In my motel, one family had four generations living there. The only home they had ever known was a small motel room with a bathroom. If they were lucky, they had a mini fridge and hot plate. The hot plates had to be smuggled in. Clothes, dish washing, and bathing, all happened in the same place, the bathtub. The families’ entire belongings were in that one room. Items were piled to the ceiling because there was no storage. They were caught in a cycle that was so difficult to break. My heart ached for the families, especially the children, I wanted to save them all – but did not know where to begin.

I love that COTS does not simply put a Band-Aid on the issue of homelessness. COTS not only helps the existing homeless population — those who may be in immediate distress — but they also help by providing specific tools. These tools help break the cycle, and in many cases, help people avoid homelessness altogether.

What are your favorite parts of Phonathon?

I love coming back to the Phonathon and seeing the same staff members and volunteers year after year. They have watched our kids grow up. I enjoy Becky’s yearly presentation updates. It is gratifying to see the considerable accomplishments COTS can make over the course of a year. They do not take volunteers' time or money for granted. They work hard to improve COTS’ mission and operations year after year. They are always so grateful for anything you can do to help. Oh yes, and Rita is always doing something to make me laugh; she can be a little goofy at times.

Favorite memories of volunteering you want to share?

My favorite memories always include my kids. One year, at that South Winooski Avenue Daystation location, they only had one runner, my son Tré. He was about 10 at the time. For some reason, we were spread out on three different floors. He would to run from floor to floor checking in on the callers, grabbing their call sheets, bringing them drinks, etc. He was amazing, not missing a beat. By the end of the night, he was drenched in sweat. I said, “Are you OK, honey?” He said, “Oh yeah, this was the best night of my life!”

Tyler had his first night at around 9 years old. The same evening,a a volunteer decided to celebrate her birthday with friends at the Phonathon. This wonderful group of ladies had a room to themselves and dialed for dollars all night. By the end of the evening, they all said they wanted to adopt him because he was so adorable, checking in on them regularly. They asked if they could take a picture with him. They had so much fun; we saw them again the following year.

I think Lili, now 12, goes down in history as the youngest to ever do the Phonathon. I had had her two weeks prior and did not want to break tradition, so I called and asked if she could come, and they said yes! She and I went in an office alone. She slept most of the time, but I am pretty sure we broke some records that night. She was my lucky charm!

Any advice for potential volunteers on being a caller at Phonathon?

The COTS family of donors are awesome! It is fun and easy. Many times people are waiting for us to call during the Phonathon dates, it is their yearly tradition. Some donors like to chat, tell you about the last year. Others may not be able to give this year but are kind about saying “try again next year.” If they cannot give at all, that is OK, too. You simply thank them for their past support and wish them a happy holiday season. Lastly, we, seasoned callers, are always willing to team up and help newbies walk through the process. You will be a pro in no time