CONTACT Helpline Board President Nettie Mae Long, left, and agency Executive Director Linda Thomason unload school supplies donated by East End Baptist Church in Columbus for the Back 2 School Bash at Trotter Convention Center Aug. 3. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
July 28, 2012 10:54:03 PM
For 37 years, CONTACT has provided a 24-hour helpline for those in crisis situations, in need of information referral, or simply hoping for a caring, nonjudgmental ear. As a new school year gets underway, the nonprofit agency wants to remind youth and teens that this community resource is not only for adults.
CONTACT's iListen campaign will be just one of the services emphasized at a Back 2 School Bash at Trotter Convention Center Friday, Aug. 3, from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.
"We wanted to join with other organizations, churches, youth and parents to present this event for all Columbus and Lowndes County students and their parents," said Lindy Thomason, executive director of the agency.
The Bash will feature music, skits and dance routines, as well as games, face painting and a giveaway of free book bags filled with school supplies, while they last. Registration for book bags will be taken from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
"We're asking businesses, organizations and churches to help provide school supplies to fill the bags," stated Thomason. Monetary donations of any size to purchase supplies are also welcome. CONTACT's Stuff the Bus drive in Columbus Saturday provided a boost to the school supplies campaign.
There is no charge to attend the Back 2 School Bash, but everyone participating is asked to bring at least one canned food item per person, to be donated to the Helping Hands food pantry.
Free booth space
The county-wide Bash offers an opportunity for other organizations and agencies, such as 4-H, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and Boys & Girls Clubs, to let students and parents know what they offer, said Katrina Sunivelle, administrative assistant at CONTACT and a lead organizer of the event.
"We want the whole community to come together to do this," said Sunivelle. "We've had great support from the City of Columbus, the Mayor's Office, and the Police Department, and we're drawing in as many people as we can to make this fun and entertaining. We hope to build this into an annual youth explosion."
Before schools let out for summer, CONTACT began taking its iListen message to students at Columbus High School and Columbus Middle School, thanks to funding from the Columbus Exchange Club. After meeting with parents and school staff, educational psychologist and CONTACT board member Dr. Donna Gainer presented a PowerPoint program to students. She designed it herself.
"It touches on issues they may face, from bullying to social networking, and we invited them to talk about what concerns them," said Gainer, who is a faculty member in the Educational Psychology Department at Mississippi State University.
Through iListen, the agency strives to make students aware of the community resource at their disposal.
"It's a free call, 24/7, you don't have to give your name, and it doesn't have to be only when things have reached a crisis," assured Gainer. "We just let them know that, in uncertain times, when they may feel they have no one to talk to, there are caring adults ready to listen."
The agency plans to take the iListen presentation into more and more schools this fall, as funding permits.
"We want to reach kids to let them know we're there for them 24 hours a day," Thomason stated. "The Back 2 School Bash and iListen help us get that message out."
The telephone crisis hotline based in Lowndes County also serves Oktibbeha, Clay, Choctaw, Monroe, Noxubee, Webster and Winston counties.
For more information about the Bash, donating school supplies, or about iListen, contact Thomason at 662-327-2968.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.