SOURCE: Help Line of New York

March 20, 2008 12:55 ET

The Help Line of New York Is Coming Back

NEW YORK, NY--(Marketwire - March 20, 2008) - Thousands of New Yorkers were affected when Help Line, a 37 year old all-volunteer telephone crisis hotline was closed at the end of December 2006. In continuous operation since 1970, Help Line of New York is a volunteer nonprofit New York City institution which has taken more than 2 million calls assisting New Yorkers over the years. Help Line was temporarily deactivated at the end of 2006 due to financial pressures on its sponsor. A group of former Help Line volunteers and public-spirited individuals are now well advanced in the process of reviving and re-launching Help Line as a freestanding public organization.

What is Help Line? Help Line of New York is a nonprofit crisis telephone service offering emotional first aid and information to any caller about any problem. Although a number of hotlines exist to service specific niches such as suicide, child abuse, gender issues and the like, Help Line has been the only general hot line that will assist any person in crisis who seeks the attention of a caring voice. Free, anonymous and confidential, its phones are staffed by trained volunteers with listening ears and caring hearts supervised by a certified social worker or licensed certified mental health professionals and experienced senior volunteers. Help Line's purpose is to help callers with any problem, such as domestic violence, suicidal thoughts, loneliness, depression, interpersonal relations, etc. Volunteers are trained to be nonjudgmental and to listen with empathy in order to help callers focus on their problem and move forward toward an appropriate course of action. A database for appropriate referrals to specific agencies and other sources is maintained. The volunteers are trained in-house by senior volunteers and staff social workers. Their relationship with the callers is anonymous and restricted to telephone contact.

Considerable progress has been made toward reestablishing Help Line. With the assistance of the pro bono program of Clifford, Chance, a major New York law firm, Help Line of New York has been incorporated as a New York not-for-profit member corporation. Officers and directors have been selected. Joseph H. Levie, a retired partner of Rogers & Wells, a predecessor law firm of Clifford, Chance has been elected president. Amy Bonderow, a retired agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, has been elected Treasurer. An application for tax exemption status under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code has been approved and contributions to the Help Line will be tax exempt. The new corporation has joined the Nonprofit Cooperative Committee of New York. The larger body of former volunteers has been advised of the intention to revive the Help Line and their response has been good. A web site is in development.

The first goal is to recommence service on a limited basis, as soon as sufficient funds have been raised and planning completed. The initial hours of operation will probably be in the evenings and on Saturday morning. Historically, these have been the busiest times for calls received. Enough ex-volunteers have indicated that they are eager to go back to work to make this practicable. To increase service to as close to 24/7 as soon as possible, additional volunteers will have to be recruited and trained. All present volunteers have passed through a rigorous 54-hour training in the "Active Listening" technique pioneered by psychotherapist Carl Rogers in the 1950s and regularly put in four-hour shifts where they offered information and referrals, calmed people in crisis and helped callers to assess the situations affecting them and consider options for actions. The volunteers are not therapists and do not do therapy. No untrained volunteer ever goes on the line. New volunteers will be asked to commit for at least two years.

Confidentiality prevents callers from giving testimonials, but every volunteer has testified to what a profound experience working at HelpLine was for them. "Volunteering for Help Line inspired me to make some of the most meaningful connections of my life -- with total strangers. It had a deep and lasting impact on me and I miss having it in my life": Kendra Levin, Help Line volunteer.

Progress to date has been good, but we still have further work to do before we can go operational again. We are in the process of developing appropriate software and, of course, the volunteers' training will have to be refreshed. We need to raise funds and if possible, find space. A "virtual" hot line with supervised volunteers working from home with proper supervision and control is an alternative which we are exploring. We need additional volunteers to be trained.

For 36 years, Help Line has supported the New York community. Now it needs the community's additional support to bring it back to life. The former volunteers and friends of the Help Line are determined that will happen.

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