News : Crisis Call Center Expands Texting Services in Reno
June 30, 2014 -- From stressed-out parents trying to control their children to teens with suicidal thoughts, the Crisis Call Center in Reno receives every type of call for help imaginable.
But in the past four years, volunteers and staff have even been helping people through text messages, call center director Debbie Gant-Reed said.
"At the time, nobody would fund us because (texting) wasn't as popular of a method for communication," Gant-Reed said.
That has dramatically changed since the center — the first in the nation to offer help via text — first was funded for expanding its texting program in 2010 through a grant, Gant-Reed said.
"We needed to reach out to more teens, so we started looking at how they were communicating," she said.
Although staff and volunteers aren't professional counselors, many seek their help in a crisis and are able to obtain names of additional resources.
The center also refers callers to local services that help protect children and victims of domestic violence and abuse. The center takes more than 3,300 phone calls a month, a jump from the 2,400 calls per month it received in 2009.
"We became inadvertently a national texting service, and people just find us on Google," Gant-Reed said.
Many of those calls and text messages come from around the country, including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Gant-Reed said.
"We're listed on over 4,000 websites," Gant-Reed said. "We started out small, and as soon as we put our information on our website, we immediately started getting text messages from around the country, and it has never stopped."
"It just continued to grow and grow and grow," she said.
If someone out-of-state needs help, staffers look up other centers and resources near the caller's location.
Reno-based volunteers also text or talk with out-of-town people who need immediate advice.
The number of clients who text the center has grown 43 percent in over the last year, with more than 80 percent between 12 and 22.
With the number of calls and text messages spiking, the center is searching for more volunteers, preferably teens, Gant-Reed said.
"They are naturals at it because they're communicating with people their own age and in a language that we can't even channel," she said, referring to their technical savvy.
The ideal volunteer is someone who can quietly listen, Gant-Reed said
"With the texting, you have to slow down and really read what they're saying," Gant-Reed said. "If you don't pay attention, you're going to lose a lot.
"We already don't have voices or background noises," which can offer possible clues about texters' circumstances, she said.
"We need to ask those hard questions like 'Have you thought about suicide' or 'Do you have a plan?' " she said.
As of 2011, Nevada was among the top six states with the highest suicide rates in the West, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Training is provided to call center volunteers so they can recognize a suicidal person, said Kayla Ortiz, program assistant and former volunteer.
The center has 60 volunteers ages 17 to 90, with half consistently volunteering, Gant-Reed said.
Some volunteers come off as parents, something that most teen callers or texters don't want, she said.
"They're not looking for parents or teachers or counselors," Gant-Reed said. "What they want is somebody they can talk to as a peer and say whatever comes to mind."
The center gives its clients a confidential place to talk, while also giving volunteers "life changing" experiences, Ortiz said.
"We need more volunteers before we can really push it because it's getting to the point where we don't have enough manpower," she said.
"We have so many people of different fields, different backgrounds, different age groups and different religious beliefs," Ortiz said. "We're a melting pot here, and it's so valuable because now we have all these people who can give us different viewpoints."
Volunteers spend their shifts in front of computers chatting with clients who send text messages.
Gant-Reed monitors every conversation, making sure volunteers properly address situations.
Sometimes, the call center contacts police if a situation turns serious, Gant-Reed said.
"When's the time they're most in need?" Gant-Reed said of distressed teens. "Sometimes it's 2 o'clock in the morning, and they're sitting their bedrooms with their cell phones, and nobody even knows they're sitting in there thinking about suicide."
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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About Crisis Call Center:
About Crisis Call Center• established as an outreach program of the University of Nevada, Reno in 1966 in response to the high rate of suicide in Nevada.• added in 1979 an advocacy program for victims of sexual assault, and later, services to address situations such as domestic violence, substance abuse and child/elder abuse or neglect.• became an independent not-for-profit agency in 1985
Published: Wednesday, July 2, 2014
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