CONTACT Care Line of East Tennessee is marking 40 years of service to neighbors in crisis with a fundraising concert, a new series of listening workshops, a new executive director, and a new look.
The Oak Ridge-based nonprofit fields some 10,000 telephone calls annually from people who are lonely, facing a crisis, and at times contemplating suicide. It is staffed almost entirely by volunteers, including a contingent of University of Tennessee psychology students whose time listening to callers provides valuable experience.
“A lot has changed since we started CONTACT in 1973,” said Betty Anne Domm, who has served as a phone worker since Oak Ridge churches formed the service and who now serves on its board of directors. “What hasn’t changed is that lonely people, people with mental illnesses, the elderly—all of us, really—need someone to talk to every once in a while. What CONTACT does here and around the country is to provide the simple power of a listening ear.”
Other CONTACT chapters in East Tennessee have closed, including the Knoxville office, and their calls have been routed to the Oak Ridge office. The organization hopes to find office space in Knoxville and to make it easier for Knoxville volunteers to serve.
This summer, CONTACT changed its name from CONTACT Helpline to CONTACT Care Line. “We didn’t want folks to think they could call us to fix their computer,” Domm jokes.
Several events are planned this fall in support of CONTACT:
- 40th Anniversary Celebration with the Ridge City Ramblers—Drinks and heavy hors d’oeuvres will be served. There will be games and activities for all to enjoy. For tickets, contact Deb Patterson at (865) 312-7451. Admission: $40 donation includes buffet and two drinks. Nov. 22, 7-10 p.m., Pollard Technology Conference Center
- Introduction to Mindfulness Meditation with Claudio Barrientos, Director, The Mindful Center Knoxville—RSVP to Patterson at (865) 312-7451. Free. Oct. 14, 6-7 p.m., Location TBA
- Intro Day Course to Mindfulness Meditation for Health, Healing, and Stress Reduction with Claudio Barrientos, Director, The Mindful Center Knoxville—To register, contact Patterson at (865) 312-7451. Cost $55 donation to CONTACT. Nov. 23, 9 a.m.-3 p.m., Location TBA
“Three of our volunteers have been with us from Day One,” said Deb Patterson, CONTACT’s executive director. “It’s going to be special to reach the 40-year milestone and to thank all our telephone workers. They provide an anonymous service to a lot of folks who might otherwise be forgotten.”
Volunteers receive 40 hours of training in listening skills. “It’s really a training session that’s of benefit in any area of your life,” Patterson said.
CONTACT urgently needs volunteer on-call support workers—clergy and mental health professionals who are available by telephone for one shift per month, between the hours of 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.—in case of high-risk suicide calls. These calls are rare, but phone workers will bring the support worker into a three-way phone conference for suicide triage and, if necessary, mobilization of emergency responders.