December 11, 2010 11:46:00 PM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
For three and a half decades, the staff and volunteers of Contact Helpline have been the collective caring voice at the other end of a 24-hour crisis telephone line. The United Way agency based in Columbus and serving eight counties -- Lowndes, Oktibbeha, Clay, Choctaw, Monroe, Noxubee, Webster and Winston -- celebrated with a luncheon Tuesday.
Lindy Thomason has been Contact''s executive director for the past seven years.
"We are a 24-hour helpline, a listening service and information referral, trying to help people in crisis situations, whether it be suicide, domestic violence, family problems or loneliness," she said.
Chris Harmon of Columbus received her certificate as a trained volunteer in 1979. She served on Contact''s board of directors until recently.
"I have a heart for Contact," said Harmon, who for years took a shift answering calls every other Monday night from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.
"I never left that office without being thankful to God for this ministry in our area; there were so many people who needed someone that cares to listen to them," she stated.
Contact''s mission expanded about 20 years ago to include the Reassurance Program.
"We call about 300 seniors or disabled residents in the Reassurance Program daily to check on them," explained Thomason.
"The average age of call recipients is late 80s, and we have quite a few over 100," said Esta Hayden, who has been the reassurance coordinator for 10 years, and a Contact volunteer for 30. "It''s primarily to make sure they''re OK every day, and because they often want to talk. Sometimes it''s the only contact they have for the day."
Unlike Contact''s trained crisis call listeners, who are anonymous to the caller, reassurance volunteers can make daily checks from their home phone and often develop friendships with their clients.
A well-oiled system is in place should the reassurance client not answer, including back-up contacts and, if necessary, wellness checks by police or sheriffs'' departments.
"The Reassurance Program really allows people to stay in their own home longer and be independent," Thomason said.
Volunteers are currently delivering Christmas gift boxes to reassurance clients, filled with personal items and a few cozy things such as hats, scarves or gloves.
"Each client gets a visit when their box is delivered, and it gives volunteers an opportunity to meet them in person," Hayden said.
Near the top of Contact''s Christmas list is a wish for more volunteers, for both the helpline and the reassurance calls.
"We always need more; we need about 75 and currently have 40 to 50," stated Thomason, adding it''s not unusual to see a spike in calls during the holidays. "Sometimes it''s more loneliness and depression, because you''re reminded of family more, and you can''t always have family around."
Training for helpline crisis call volunteers is offered three times annually. The next sessions are Feb. 5, 12 and 19, 2011. An applied suicide intervention training class will be offered Jan. 14-15 in Columbus. For more information, call the Contact office at 662-327-2968.
Contact also hopes a few generous elves in the communities it serves can volunteer to deliver Christmas gift boxes to reassurance clients. If you can help, please call the number above.
Those in need of a listening ear or possible referrals to other agencies who may help should call the helpline at 662-328-0200 or 800-377-1643.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.