Contact Ministries is a nonprofit, faith-based, telephone help line that has been assisting callers in four local counties since 1978.
Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the agency became a part of the national 211 emergency service that works in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency through the national United Way organization to refer people in crisis situations to resources available in their communities. Last year, the ministry assisted more than 25,000 callers in Washington, Carter, Unicoi and Greene counties.
Contact’s volunteers are trained to provide callers with three primary services: crisis intervention through compassionate, non-judgmental listening and referrals for people who are struggling, lonely, confused, hurting or in need of prayer or support; resource and referral information for people in need of food, shelter, clothing, health and mental health care and other basic human services; and reassurance calls for people who are elderly, disabled, ill or in fragile health who are alone and in need of regular human contact to assure their well-being.
Executive Director Marian Raml said Contact’s reassurance calls also are available to people with conditions such as diabetes or epilepsy and to those who are recovering from surgery, up to four times every day.
In addition to daily safety checks on the clients’ well-being, she said the calls provide many people who are alone “a moment of human interaction” with volunteers who are sometimes the only the person they speak to all day. The reassurance calls also saves lives. Like all of Contact’s services, they are provided at no cost to the clients.
A Contact volunteer told of a 93-year-old woman who lived alone and had been on the reassurance call list for many years and had no family. She relied on Contact volunteers to check on her each morning and enjoyed their daily opportunity to chat.
The woman was always punctual in answering the phone at her scheduled time but one morning she did not answer. After 45 minutes of repeated calls without answer, the volunteer called the woman’s emergency contact, a neighbor who found her lying on her carport where she had fallen. With Contact’s help, the woman received prompt medical attention. Otherwise, the volunteer said, “no telling how long she may have had to lay there until someone found her.”
While Contact works with people in crisis situations on a daily basis, the volume of calls that came following the tornadoes that struck the region in April was exceptional. Contact provided the storm victims with information, including phone numbers, locations and operating hours for agencies that were there to help with their needs. Contact volunteers directed the storm victims to FEMA offices set up in their areas and also assisted those who were referred to Contact by FEMA for assistance FEMA could not provide.
“During this time we were also taking calls from people wanting to donate clothing, food, equipment and supplies to the storm victims and we were able to give them information on agencies and locations where their donations could be distributed directly or do the most good for people who were in need,” a volunteer recalled.
Through its 211 partnership with United Way and FEMA, Contact is there to assist when a crisis such as this strikes. But more often its volunteers are on the phone with people experiencing personal crises that call on their training in “active listening” as well as their link to local resources.
Raml said the call that will always stick with her came last spring from a young mother with two very small children who came home one afternoon to find her fiancé had stripped her apartment and left with everything she owned, “down to the light bulbs in the sockets.” He also stripped her checking account just as efficiently and, having no family to turn to, the woman called Contact.
“We talked for a while about her options and what she absolutely had to have for that evening, and what she had to have for the rest of that week,” Raml said. “I gave her the referrals to the agencies she needed to contact and our conversation ended. But I remember her saying, ‘I was so lost and now I have a path to follow.’ I will always remember that and I was grateful we could help her find her path.”
For those in need of help, local Contact volunteers can be reached Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. by dialing 211 or 926-0144. “Many people have never heard of us. But we have the contact numbers for everyone who can help them,” Raml said.
With annual assistance from United Way agencies in each of the counties it serves, Contact Ministries receives about 35 percent of its annual budget from United Way campaign contributors.
More information about the ministry can be found online at www.contactministries211.org â€‰ or may be obtained by calling Raml at 926-0140.
More information about this year’s United Way campaign and the agencies and programs it supports can be found online at www.unitedwayofwashingtoncâ€‰ uontytn.org â€‰ or obtained by calling the United Way office at 282-5682.
Editor’s Note: Over the next four months, the United of Way of Washington County will campaign to raise $1.725 million to supplement the work of 17 local nonprofit service agencies and programs, asking area employers and their workers for contributions to help the agencies in their work to assist local residents in need. Today’s story on the Contact Ministries 211 telephone help line is the first in a series of stories about the services those agencies provide, the people they assist and how United Way donations help.