News : Care Line Reopens Knoxville Call Center
Knoxville, TN, USA, May 26, 2016 -- Contact Care Line closed its Knoxville office at the end of 2007, but it never really went away.
The agency — then known as Contact Helpline, part of the national Contact USA organization — simply rolled Knoxville calls over to the only Contact line left in the region: Anderson County's, which has operated more than 40 years.
But having an office only in Oak Ridge was inconvenient for volunteers, on whom the nonprofit depends to answer callers who need suicide or crisis intervention, information and referrals, reassurance or simply a sounding board for problems they're working through. That's what led the nonprofit to again open a second call center in Knox County, said executive director Bruce Marshall.
"The Interior Design Society of East Tennessee has volunteered to help us renovate and decorate the space," Marshall said. "It'll be very professional and attractive," welcoming to what Contact hopes will be an influx of new volunteers.
Marshall said the call center's location will remain private to protect the volunteers answering the crisis line — who also use pseudonyms to protect their identities — but that it will be convenient to the University of Tennessee.
Four years ago, the UT Department of Psychology began offering a course, Psych 399: Supervised Field Work/Research, through which students gain academic credit for going through Contact's "active listener training" and volunteering on the crisis line.
Now, students — who must be at least college juniors and always have more experienced volunteers as backup — answer a fourth to a third of calls to the crisis line. The office has been able to expand its hours to 8 a.m.-11 p.m. daily.
"With the Knoxville office, we're hoping to extend back to 24-hour coverage," as Contact originally had, Marshall said.
When Contact is closed, the lines don't go unanswered. Calls roll over to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
But "with UT being on summer break, we really need about another 20 volunteers to come and get us through the summer," Marshall said.
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Crisis line volunteers must take Contact's 16-hour "The Art of Active Listening" training, a combination of lectures and role-playing, which the nonprofit offers several times a year, on either Tuesdays and Thursdays during business hours or evenings over four weeks, or over three consecutive Saturdays. All volunteers must have the training, which costs $25, but going through training doesn't commit one to volunteering — and Marshall said many people take the training simply to gain skills to help with work or relationships. The next training session starts May 31 and will be at Concord United Methodist Church.
Contact also needs volunteers for its Reassurance program, which offers daily safety checks, social calls and medication reminders for seniors and homebound individuals in the 865 area code. Those volunteers take four hours of training, part of which can be done online. There's a form to apply for the program on Contact's web site.
Marshall said the crisis line now has close to 80 volunteers and fields around 10,000 calls a year, although some are repeat callers. Volunteers work to establish a rapport with callers, help them explore their problem, then help them work toward resolving it — by listening and referring to other resources, when applicable.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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