Twenty four hours a day, 365 days a year, people in the former living room of a 120-year-old house in a quiet Olympia neighborhood answer the phone and help people who are in crisis.
“We answer the phone every single minute of every single day for 43 years,” said Rowen O’Neill, executive director of the Crisis Clinic of Thurston and Mason Counties.
It’s the phones that are key to the nonprofit’s mission. Despite the name Crisis Clinic, no clients are seen in person. Instead, they are listened to when they call and helped to find resources, depending on what the caller is dealing with.
The Crisis Clinic took 8,669 calls in 2014, according to its annual report. About 23 percent of callers were given referrals to resources for food, shelter, rent, utilities, debt, legal aid, health care, substance abuse, domestic violence and more.
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O’Neill emphasizes that the call-taker’s role is to listen, to create a safe space for the caller to talk. “It’s a compassionate, nonjudgmental role,” she said.
Volunteers are trained what not to do: Don’t give advice. Don’t solve problems. Don’t do things.
“We hold the space for them and listen,” O’Neill said.
Call-takers are volunteers and get 50 hours of initial training as well as continuing in-service training. Training is offered four times a year; the next training is Jan. 8-10.
It takes 80-100 volunteers to keep the lines comfortably staffed, O’Neill said. The agency has fewer than that now, and, although every call is answered, “we’re getting tired,” O’Neill said.
Volunteers are community members, mental health professionals and students. Internships are also available. Volunteers commit to 100 hours or one year. A typical shift is four hours.
Keeping volunteers is crucial, but if the nonprofit gets caught short, the King County crisis line will fill in as a safety net.
“Never once has the phone gone unanswered,” O’Neill said.
The Crisis Clinic receives public funds and private donations. The list of supporting organizations and private donors is pages long in the annual report.
One of those supporters is Capital Medical Center. Marketing director Julie Leydelmeyer said the hospital and its employees support the Crisis Clinic with fundraisers, such as the $5 jeans Fridays, which employees voted to benefit the Crisis Clinic. The event raised $3,300 because the hospital matched the first $1,500, Leydelmeyer said.
One of the resources the Crisis Clinic provides to the hospital is what Lesli Scharbrough, Capital Medical’s director of case management, calls the green sheet. It’s a list of community services that the hospital keeps in stock on every floor, especially in the emergency department.
“If we can’t find something for people, we call Crisis Clinic staff to help find resources for patients,” Scharbrough said.
Paul Knox, executive director of United Way of Thurston County, said the Crisis Clinic has a long history in the community and plays a key role in providing support for people in need — and doing it largely with volunteers.
“That’s what I’ve been impressed with,” Knox said. “Our review panel saw this as a key community service that needs to be supported.”
Funding not only supports the volunteers, six to seven interns and three paid staff, it maintains the aging house.
The agency bought the house from the county for $1 in 2014, and with it came the need for paint, a new roof and a new furnace, in addition to myriad other maintenance tasks and repairs. This year, the interior was painted during the United Way Day of Caring. A new roof is the most urgent need, O’Neill said.
O’Neill is a mental health counselor but is not acting in that capacity. She is relatively new on the job and to the community. She started this summer after visiting the region and finding out about the open position.
“I fell in love, not only with the role, but with the agency and the board and the mission statement,” she said.
Call 360-586-2800 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Call 360-586-2888. The next training is Jan. 8-10.