It was a coming-out party of sorts for this emergency lifeline that works anonymously and confidentially with its clients, flying under the radar of community notoriety.
By its very business nature, the Crisis Clinic fights an uphill battle raising money and sponsors, and this was the first time the staff and board members have had such a public celebration. Much to the organizers’ surprise, the 240 tickets sold out well in advance. The evening at Indian Summer Golf & Country Club raised $20,000, which is enough to fill a deficit in their $150,000 annual budget, noted Crisis Clinic board president Kelly Olson.
But there will always be challenges ahead to maintain the clinic, which started in an empty dormitory room at The Evergreen State College in 1972.
Maybe the strong turnout was prompted by the guest speaker, noted author and retired TESC professor Stephanie Coontz, whose myth-debunking work on the American family has earned her quite a reputation across the land. That’s what Crisis Clinic board member and Olympia clinical psychologist Sherwin Cotler suggested somewhat facetiously.
Dig a little deeper and I suspect the banquet room was filled with people who truly appreciate the work the Crisis Clinic has done seven days a week, 24 hours a day, since 1972, providing a caring, anonymous voice at the other end of the phone, carving out safe space for those who need to share their grief, stress, anger and loss.
It’s pretty amazing that a community service that relies almost entirely on volunteers has maintained operations for almost 351,000 straight hours. One reason is the dedication of the trained volunteers, including David Rauh, who since 1979 has logged 12,390 hours, typically overnight on Sundays.
Rauh, who is president and general manager of MIXX 96.1-FM radio station in Olympia, didn’t like being singled out for his contribution. When asked to stand and be recognized Thursday night, he sat down so fast, he was asked to stand up again.
As the night drew to a close, Rauh reflected a bit with me on his years of service in a modest, unassuming way.
“We’re just people helping people,” he said. “I’ve been very fortunate that my job has allowed me to pull those Sunday night shifts. I usually don’t have anything too strenuous to do at work on Monday.”
When he first volunteered, Rauh was asked to make a commitment of six months, which seemed to him to be a long time. Flash-forward to today and he’s exceeded that request 66 times over.
“I like being dependable and making that kind of contribution,” he said as he warmed up to our conversation. “This is a community-based service by total amateurs just like me.”
David Lazar was there at the beginning 40 years ago, an Evergreen student serving an internship at Behavioral Health Resources, an Olympia-based mental health nonprofit.
“Like any family or group or organization, we’ve gone through some warm and fuzzy years and some insane years,” Lazar recalled. In 2002, finances were so strained, the clinic was housed temporarily at the office of BHR. Again in 2009, the Crisis Clinic phone line was about to shut down, only to be rescued again by BHR. But as the economic recession deepened, BHR cut ties with the Crisis Clinic in 2010, plunging the clinic into another financial crisis it weathered through an infusion of donations and grants.
Meanwhile, demand for services continues to climb, from 5,000 calls in 2006 to 9,000 in 2011, Olson said.
Coontz spoke of some of the disturbing statistics that tell why the clinic phone lines will keep ringing:
• One in 5 families lives with hunger.
• The United States ranks near the bottom on measures of family well-being among industrialized nations.
• The number of children living in poverty in the U.S. rose by 4 million since 2000.
Thursday night was a night to celebrate 40 years of unbroken service to individuals and families in crisis in South Sound. Now it’s back to the demanding work required to keep the phone lines open.
For more information on the work of the Crisis Clinic and what you can do to help, go to www.crisis-clinic.org.John Dodge: 360-754-5444 email@example.com