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The Trevor Project Launches New AI Tool To Support Crisis Counselor Training

Developed in collaboration with Google.org, the first-of-its-kind “Crisis Contact Simulator” will help train counselors and prepare them to support youth in crisis

Life-saving nonprofit builds on years of innovation to triple its digital volunteer crisis counselors in 2021

NEW YORK, NY — The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people, today launched its “Crisis Contact Simulator,” a proprietary, AI-powered counselor training tool that simulates digital conversations with LGBTQ youth in crisis.

The Crisis Contact Simulator is a new component of the organization’s counselor training program for its free, confidential, and 24/7 digital crisis services, TrevorChat and TrevorText. Trainees learn about counseling skills, LGBTQ identity, and more, and complete a number of role-plays to prepare them to speak with youth in crisis. In addition to participating in role-plays with staff instructors, trainees complete digital role-play conversations with the Crisis Contact Simulator.

“We’re excited to incorporate the Crisis Contact Simulator into our counselor training program to prepare counselors to support youth through moments of crisis,” said Dan Fichter, Head of AI and Engineering at The Trevor Project. “Our Crisis Contact Simulator can engage in a prolonged back-and-forth dialogue with trainees and can use language in the same way people do, including language LGBTQ youth often use to describe their experiences and emotions. The simulator maintains a consistent emotional and experiential narrative in talking about real-life feelings and situations.”

The first-of-its-kind tool allows trainees to practice realistic conversations with youth personas. “Riley,” the first Crisis Contact Simulator persona, emulates messages from a teen in North Carolina who feels anxious and depressed. In addition to Riley, the organization is currently developing a variety of personas that represent a wide range of life situations, backgrounds, sexual orientations, gender identities, and risk levels.

The Trevor Project currently has more than 700 digital volunteer crisis counselors in total and trains a new counselor cohort each month. In the U.S. alone, the organization estimates more than 1.8 million LGBTQ youth seriously consider suicide each year, and at least one LGBTQ young person (13-24) attempts suicide every 45 seconds. The Trevor Project aims to triple its digital volunteer crisis counselors in 2021, and eventually grow the pool by 10x – significantly increasing the number of LGBTQ youth served each year. LGBTQ young people who contact The Trevor Project will always speak to a highly trained human crisis counselor, available 24/7 and for free.

“Technology and AI are critical tools to empower the special person-to-person connections between our crisis counselors and LGBTQ youth,” said Amit Paley, CEO & Executive Director of The Trevor Project. “We also know that nearly 70% of our digital crisis counselors volunteer on nights and weekends, indicating a need for more training options outside of typical business hours. Adding the Crisis Contact Simulator into our counselor training program offers significant flexibility for our trainees, which creates a better experience for our volunteers and enables us to scale our crisis services to reach even more LGBTQ young people in crisis.”

Developed by The Trevor Project’s AI, engineering, and product team, the Crisis Contact Simulator is the culmination of the organization’s multi-year collaboration with Google.org through the Google AI Impact Challenge. The collaboration included $2.7 million in grants and the support of nearly 30 Google.org Fellows who worked alongside The Trevor Project’s staff to introduce machine learning and natural language processing into The Trevor Project’s platforms. In addition to the Crisis Contact Simulator, the collaboration also resulted in an AI-powered Risk Assessment tool, which helps the organization assess suicide risk and facilitates connections between the highest risk youth and a crisis counselor more quickly.

“The Trevor Project’s mission sits at the heart of what Google.org stands for: solving society’s biggest challenges through technology and innovation,” said Jen Carter, Global Head of Technology and Volunteering at Google.org. “Through funding and support from our Google.org Fellows, we’ve seen first-hand how a human-centered approach to technology can help those in their most critical time of need, and I hope that the Crisis Contact Simulator is a model that other crisis and front-line public health organizations adopt in the future to support their training methods.”

The Crisis Contact Simulator will allow staff to focus their time on training even more volunteers and improving the training experience with regular training updates. In addition to the Crisis Contact Simulator and Risk Assessment tools, the organization continues to scale its operations and grow its impact by innovating its crisis services and making strategic investments in staff, technology, and infrastructure.

Paley continued, “When I joined The Trevor Project as CEO and Executive Director in 2017, after serving as a volunteer Lifeline counselor for years, I sought to improve our technology platforms to further our mission to end suicide among LGBTQ young people. Through the tireless efforts of our growing teams and our unique partnerships over the last few years, I’m proud to say that our technology infrastructure is more sophisticated than ever before and a key part of the reason we are helping far more LGBTQ youth than ever before.”

Due to COVID-19, the organization underwent a rapid, massive tech transformation in 2020 to move its Lifeline’s physical call centers in NYC and LA to completely remote operations for the first time ever, ensuring its crisis services remained 24/7 and uninterrupted for LGBTQ youth in crisis. In 2019, the organization received a $6 million grant to revamp its Volunteer Management System, streamlining the technology and processes around volunteer recruitment, training, and retention. In addition, the organization’s training team implemented an asynchronous training model, allowing trainees to learn via interactive video modules and exercises from anywhere in the U.S. and at times that work best for them. The organization also innovated its chat and text counseling services, expanding the digital crisis services’ technological infrastructure to 24/7 availability.

The Trevor Project currently employs a technology team of more than 20 full-time staff dedicated to product development, AI and machine learning, engineering, UX, and technology operations.

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ABOUT THE TREVOR PROJECT

The Trevor Project is the world's largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people. The Trevor Project offers a suite of 24/7 crisis intervention and suicide prevention programs, including TrevorLifelineTrevorText, and TrevorChat as well as the world’s largest safe space social networking site for LGBTQ youth, TrevorSpace. Trevor also operates an education program with resources for youth-serving adults and organizations, an advocacy department fighting for pro-LGBTQ legislation and against anti-LGBTQ rhetoric/policy positions, and a research team to discover the most effective means to help young LGBTQ people in crisis and end suicide. If you or someone you know is feeling hopeless or suicidal, our trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386 via chat www.TheTrevorProject.org/Help, or by texting START to 678-678.

ABOUT GOOGLE.ORG

Google.org, Google’s philanthropy, brings the best of Google to help solve some of humanity’s biggest challenges combining funding, innovation, and technical expertise to support underserved communities and provide opportunity for everyone. We engage nonprofits and social enterprises who make a significant impact on the communities they represent, and whose work has the potential to produce meaningful change. We want a better world, faster — and we believe in leveraging technology and applying scalable data-driven innovation to move the needle.

MEDIA CONTACT

Kevin Wong
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212.695.8650 x407
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