MEETING THE NEEDS OF THE COMMUNITY WITH COMPASSIONATE SUPPORT
From an agency that deals with some of life’s hardest experiences, we get a glimpse of the best in people. CONTACT of Burlington County is an organization that runs two vital services for the region: a suicide and crisis helpline and 24-hour support for victims of sexual assault. Those who reach out to the agency are in dire need, and those responding to them are quiet super-heroes dedicated to rescuing lives.
CONTACT of Burlington County is part of CONTACT USA, and organization started by a Texas minister in 1965 based on a clergy-initiated program in Australia. By 1971, a national CONTACT USA office was established with 18 centers in operation. CONTACT of Burlington County was initiated in Moorestown in 1972. Today CONTACT USA has expanded beyond its religious-based roots to 54 centers across the country, with thousands of paid staff and volunteers responding to over 2.5 million calls/chats/texts per year. It is the only accrediting entity in the U.S. devoted solely to establishing best practice standards of service for crisis helplines.
Though the Moorestown office has moved several times, CONTACT of Burlington County has always remained in the township and has continuously provided emotional support to individuals ages 13 and up in crisis. In 1998 the center expanded to include a second helpline dedicated specifically to assist victims of sexual abuse.
“Anyone in the region who calls the National Suicide Prevention or National Sexual Assault helplines will be routed to volunteers at CONTACT Burlington County,” notes Executive Director Theresa Tobey. “And it’s important for people understand that all of our services are completely confidential and free of charge to the community.” CONTACT of Burlington County also offers outreach and education seminars to small and large groups, providing the community with violence and suicide prevention education.
A phone bank supported by specially designed computer programming operates in the CONTACT Burlington County office. It is staffed by carefully trained volunteers who assist a diverse group of callers ranging from those suffering from mental illness to those in suicide crisis, to those undergoing homelessness or abuse. The volunteers respond with emotional support, information, and assisted referrals to a variety of organizations designed to help specific needs, and have historically answered approximately 25,000 calls a year.
When victims of sexual abuse dial the national helpline, local volunteers for CONTACT of Burlington County, on call from their homes 24 hours a day, promptly respond. They not only provide support over the phone, but act as advocates coordinating with health care and law enforcement professionals and will meet with victims at any time of the day or night at hospitals or police stations. Free, short-term professional counseling sessions are offered to those who request a longer support period, and are provided in a soothing environment at the CONTACT of Burlington County office. Last year the organization provided over 100 accompaniments to hospitals and over 275 training sessions.
CONTACT of Burlington County averages 100 volunteers on the Crisis Helpline and serving as Sexual Assault Advocates. The volunteers are trained and certified according to national standards, which involves a series of training sessions, classroom work, and a period of apprenticeship. The intensive training equips volunteers to confidently assist people in crisis, and the experience can be lifechanging for those answering the calls. The next volunteer training session will be conducted this fall, with a registration deadline of October 4. For more information, people interested in becoming a trained volunteer can call 856-234-5484, ext. 101, email [email protected], or visit the organization’s website: www.contactburlco.org .
Although CONTACT of Burlington County is financially supported by United Way, the Burlington County Board of Chosen Freeholders, and the State of New Jersey, the organization also depends upon contributions from local churches, organizations, individuals and special fundraising events for its services to thrive.
Everyone is invited to attend the organization’s fun and entertaining autumn fundraiser on October 18, “The Godfather’s Italian Friends Dinner.” The evening includes an interactive theater production including comedy, music, dancing and more, as well as a gourmet meal. Sponsorships and individual tickets are available now; for more information call 856-5484, ext. 200 or email [email protected].
Moorestown Business Association established its Spotlight program to highlight member businesses and organizations who contribute to the community in a meaningful way. CONTACT of Burlington County not only exceeds that criteria though its assistance and support to thousands of people, the Moorestown-based center has been doing so for almost half a century. Tobey, who has served as Executive Director since 2002, considers her work with the organization a privilege. “It gives those of us who work and volunteer here an opportunity to improve our corner of the world. And there is so much need.”
Photo: (L to R): MBA President Steven Pazienza, MBA Treasurer and CONTACT Board Chair Kathleen Hiltner, MBA Vice President Craig Dennin, CONTACT Executive Director Theresa Tobey.