When many visitors come to Kauai, the first thing they notice is the natural beauty.
Mountains, exotic fruits and, of course, the pristine beaches and water.
For 34-year-old Megan Aucoin, not only did she fall in love with the natural landscapes of the Garden Isle, but she fell in love with the culture and the people.
After taking many small trips from her home on the Big Island, she was hooked on Kauai. She set down roots and never looked back.
Two years later, as the lead crisis counselor at the YWCA of Kauai, she sees a lot of the community and meets a lot of different people. Day by day, she helps many who may have experienced some of the worst trauma of their lives and guides them through those experiences, offering anything they may need to get through it.
With a background in behavior and community health science, Aucoin said all she wants to do is help as many people as possible.
It’s a tough job, but there are plenty of places to relax on the island if she does need to wind down.
What inspired you to want to go into mental health?
I think mainly traveling and seeing the need for that kind of work. I’ve always enjoyed working with many different cultures. It seemed like a good fit.
How do you feel about living in a place that’s such a melting pot?
I feel great about it. It feels great to be a part of this community. I’m always learning. I like that there are so many cultures on this island. I do like that people tend to celebrate diversity here for the most part.
I’ve met a lot of wonderful in this field and it has certainly help me feel like more a part of the community.
Tell us a little bit about what you do.
As the lead crisis counselor at the YWCA, I work in a full-time, on-call position for our sexual assault treatment program. I provide crisis intervention services for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. On-call means 24 hours, Monday through Saturday morning.
The YWCA has a crisis hotline that anyone who is affected by sexual assault or domestic violence can call at any time, so an advocate will answer the phone. Depending on the situation, it may be necessary to speak to a crisis counselor, which is where I come in.
I do a variety of things. I can meet the person face to face. Speak with them over the phone. I may provide support for them when they attend their forensic interview. I may go to court with a client. Depending on the resources they need. Every situation is unique. I may help them seek out other social services. I may help them get shelter. I may get them into therapy. It just depends on their needs and other situation.
It sounds like people come in with really troubling problems. When they call this hotline, how do get them comfortable with you?
Well, I never push anyone into discussing what they have experienced. We are here to help in any way that we can. Usually if someone is calling the hotline, they are seeking outside support.
I’m just open and keep an open mind. I look out for their best interest. Just showing compassion. All that goes a long way.
Doing something like this every day, six to seven times a week, 24 hours on call, do you often find yourself feeling stressed out?
Yes, sometimes. But I have a great support system at the YWCA and we all help support each other. And it’s fairly easy to destress around Kauai, I found.
Speaking of, what kinds of activities do you do to destress?
I really enjoy hiking, mountain biking, scuba diving and cooking. I’ve found a good balance between spending time with friends and taking some time for myself, too.
How do you make that separation between work and knowing you’re always on-call?
It’s tricky, but since I don’t always know if I will be called or if I will be meeting with a client, I just have to take time for myself, but always be ready at the same. My response time is one hour to meet with a person face to face. If I do get a call, I always try to call that person within 15 minutes.
If I get a hotline employee, then I try to call the client within 15 minutes and then meet with them in an hour. The hotline advocate will call me on this phone. The call initially goes through them and then I call the client directly. Always ready.
Do you think your job is demanding?
It comes in waves. Some weeks are really busy. And some are fairly quiet. And the things that make it stressful also keep it interesting.
Not always knowing what to expect in a day’s work is good in a way. It keeps me on my toes.
What are some of your most favorite things about Kauai?
The quality of life. I love the physical beauty. The relaxed pace. The strong aloha spirit.
Why do you feel the need to help people?
I think my parents instilled that in my sister and me. When we were growing up, they were always helping others and I think a bit of that got passed on. It also feels good to be able to out someone, especially when they are in a time of crisis.
Have you ever had someone help you when you’ve been in a time of crisis?
Lots of examples come to mind. Like getting a flat and having someone stop to help means a lot in that moment. That’s a small example. But I do love that about the island. It seems like people go out of there to help each other and that’s pretty special. It’s not like that everywhere. Those little things go a long way.
I like that sense of community and small-town feel that Kauai has.