In 1970, HelpLine was created by a group of women who took calls in their own homes. Today, the nonprofit now answers 17,000 calls a year and provides services to eight counties.
HelpLine Executive Director Susan Hanson said Wednesday the founders of the organization intended for it to be a support line for single pregnant women, but they broadened the scope to anyone in need of help.
“They very quickly broadened the support line to basically anyone who needed emotional support or some kind of connection to help in the community,” said Hanson, who has been with the organization for 25 years.
Hanson added the organization now takes calls related to large variety of things, including mental health, suicide and addiction, as well as people seeking connection to an organization for a service or people who generally need “a compassionate listening ear.”
According to Hanson, suicide and suicide prevention tend to be HelpLine’s primary focus, and the nonprofit does programming in schools about suicide, while also hosting a support group for survivors of suicide loss.
One of HelpLine’s most used services is its 2-1-1 line, which helps people get connected with community resources.
“We maintain a detailed resource database of community resources so we can link people appropriately to the help they need in our community,” Hanson said.
HelpLine directs calls for a variety of needs, which include clothing, food, shelter, unemployment and job training, she added.
Hanson said while HelpLine primarily serves Delaware and Morrow counties, the organization also provides 2-1-1 service to Union, Shelby, Logan and Miami counties. The nonprofit’s Sexual Assault Response Network program, she added, works in Delaware, Morrow, Crawford and Wyandot counties.
Hanson said she’s proud the organization has grown to its current size, adding keeping up with technology has been a big factor in the organization’s operation.
“Technology has really helped us to increase the availability and access to our services to folks,” she said.
Helpline now has three numbers — 740-369-3316, 419-947-2520 or 1-800-684-2324 — in operation 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Calls are answered by live information and support specialists.
Hanson said a new feature at the organization is the ability to converse over text by texting “helpline” to 898211 for help.
Another change is the organization is more focused on being proactive.
“We’re also doing more outreach than we used to do,” Hanson said, adding the organization will now make follow-up calls in some circumstances to make sure everything is okay with a previous caller. “We are being more proactive about reaching out to people who are struggling.”
Hanson added the organization has come a long way since it first got off the ground 50 years ago.
“(I’m) really proud and privileged to be part of an organization that has served the community for as long as it has,” she said. “Community members saw a need and stepped up, and the rest is history. I’m proud that we’ve been responsive to the changing environment and changing needs in the community. As people’s situations have become more complex, as partners have stepped up and other agencies and groups have said, ‘Let’s partner.’”
Hanson added the organization is primarily funded by the Delaware-Morrow Mental Health and Recovery Services Board and the board’s tax levy.
“That’s what makes these services possible,” she said. “(I have a) huge amount of gratitude to the community for supporting that. We’re working with other great organizations to really make an impact on some of these issues and do a better job of serving people. I’m really proud of our ability to be responsive.”
Hanson said HelpLine’s flexibility has never been more apparent than the changes it was forced to make this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We did not miss a beat in March,” Hanson said. “We had to move people home quickly to ensure safety and health of our staff, and we were able to do that. I’ve been privileged to work with so many great people over the years, but the staff pivoted and they did what they needed to do and were adaptive and cooperative. It’s been really something to be a part of that. We met the moment, stepped up, and continued to provide services.”
Looking to the future, Hanson said she hopes to continue to grow the organization and the services offered.
“As Delaware County continues to grow, we want to be able to continue to respond to the needs that are out there,” Hanson said. “Our hope is that we’ll be here for another 50 years, doing what the community needs us to do, in whatever different forms that takes.”
More information about HelpLine and its services can be found at https://helplinedelmor.org/.
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.