A 15-year-old sat quietly listening to a talk on suicide prevention when she realized the presenters were describing people exactly like her.
As the presentation continued, she quickly got up and ran to a bathroom stall, where she called 2-1-1. This lifeline gave her what she needed most: someone to listen.
In an interview, Lisa Harper, director of development for HeartLine, which responds to 2-1-1 calls, answered questions about the nonprofit’s call lines and programs that connect Oklahomans to vital communication and resources.
Q:What is the history of HeartLine?
A:HeartLine was founded in 1971, Harper said.
“We were actually founded as Contact Oklahoma. The way we really came to be was a group of community members and faith-based members all came together and wanted to found a place where people could call and just receive compassionate listening.”
Harper said the 2-1-1 coverage area is split. HeartLine answers for counties in central and western Oklahoma, and the Community Service Council of Greater Tulsa answers it for those in eastern Oklahoma.
Q:What is HeartLine’s mission?
A:“We can sometimes be a difficult agency to understand because we do have so many services, which is why we have a pretty broad mission statement that tries to encompass the core of what we’re doing,” Harper said.
“Our mission statement hopefully sums up all that we do, which is that we connect Oklahomans to help, hope and information 24 hours a day. Any one of those things they are looking for, whether it’s help or some hope or information on how to connect to a resource, that’s what we’re here for.”
Q:What are some of the services you provide?
A:Harper said HeartLine’s program is split into two areas: help lines and suicide prevention outreach.
The help lines are phone and Web-based services, she said, and (405) 848-CARE was the first help line.
“Anybody who just needed someone to talk to — someone who was there to listen with compassion, without judgment — could call into that line 24 hours a day and receive that listening ear,” Harper said. “That’s the foundation of where we came from, and we’ve just grown in our 43 years of service and added to that core.”
She said 2-1-1 is for information and referral for health and human services.
“We all have basic human needs such as food, clothes, shelter, health care and mental health care. If anyone has trouble filling these needs, they can call 2-1-1, and we will connect them to the right resource,” she said.
The database used to respond to 2-1-1 calls is online, “so, if someone wanted to go to a website and search for resources instead of calling, they can go to our database online,” Harper said.
“1-800-273-TALK and 1-800-SUICIDE are two national suicide prevention lifelines, which we added in 1997. Anyone who is dealing with a suicidal crisis and wants to talk to someone, that’s what that line is there for. Again, like all of our lines, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, there’s somebody there to offer compassionate listening and ... to guide them through that crisis.”
Harper said HeartLine also has a chat program in conjunction with the suicide prevention lifelines.
“Especially for teens or younger adults who feel more comfortable chatting than calling on the phone, our chat is available from 4 p.m. to midnight Monday through Friday,” she said.
Also available is (800) 522-4700, the Oklahoma Problem Gambling Helpline for people or family members of people who are dealing with gambling issues and related emotional and financial effects.
The other area of HeartLine’s service is suicide prevention outreach, using a program called HELP, or Healthy Education for Life Program, she said.
“The program goes to middle schools, high schools and any youth-serving organization and presents information on the warning signs of suicide and how to get help. With that program, we see around 5,000 students a year,” Harper said.
“We answer the ReachOut help line in partnership with the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. It’s a line for mental health and substance abuse issues. So, people dealing with either of those can call the ReachOut help line.”
Q:How is HeartLine benefiting Oklahoma as a whole?
A:“I think there are lots of reasons why an agency like HeartLine is really important and beneficial to our community,” Harper said. “Mental illness is one of those things that’s kind of taboo. It’s got this stigma around it that keeps people from talking about it, and it also can keep people from reaching out for help. Stress, negative thoughts and depression really build up over time.
“We provide a confidential place where someone can come and call in and talk to us. That can be really hard for friends or family, because we want to help each other and we want to fix things. Sometimes, people just really need to talk. They just need someone to be there and listen and hear why they feel the way they feel, and that’s what we’re here for.
“Another reason we are important is that people can be in situations where they are struggling to make ends meet. They can’t feed their family, they’re struggling to pay rent and they don’t know what agency to call. The reason for 2-1-1 is so we can connect them to the right community resource and save them a lot of stress and difficulty trying to find the right place for help.”
Q:What are some of your recent successes?
A:“An accreditation we received at the end of last year that was really important to us and just speaks to the quality of service we provide is an accreditation with the American Association of Suicidology,” Harper said. “What that accreditation is really about is looking at our best practices and (making) sure we are providing the best service possible to people who call in for a suicidal crisis. We’re really glad to see we are following those industry standards.”
She said HeartLine also received the Online Emotional Support accreditation through ContactUSA. That was based on an evaluation of the chat service, she said.
“Both of those are long processes where they look at everything we are doing and investigate our services,” she said.
She said HeartLine recently released HELP Prevent Suicide, a suicide prevention phone app for iPhones and Android users. “It provides easy access to crisis intervention resources such as warning signs, steps on how to talk to someone in crisis,” she said.
Q:How can people volunteer or get involved?
A:“All of our staff and volunteers who answer the phones go through over 80 hours of training and learn important things like the suicide intervention model and active listening skills,” she said. “We have a lot of quality standards in place. The majority of the people on the phones are staff members because of the training and certifications they have to receive.”
She said the youth program, HELP, is run by volunteers. Also, most of the people who visit schools to speak are volunteers, she said.
“There’s an opportunity for people to connect if they are interested. It’s a one-day training program where they come in and learn how to present to students,” she said.
Q:What are some of your needs?
A:“There are always a few areas that we could use help in. One of those is definitely with the youth program. We are going to lots of presentations, and that can be really taxing on a small base of volunteers,” Harper said. They also need help with the Festival of Hope fundraising event, she said.
Q:What is the Festival of Hope?
A:Festival of Hope, in its 13th year, is HeartLine’s largest fundraising event, she said. The goal is to raise awareness and funds for HeartLine’s programs.
“We want people in the community to learn about the different services we have as well as raise funds to support what we do as a private nonprofit organization,” she said.
“We have a lot of fun with the event. We have live music, a silent auction, a full dinner, as well as an honoree program, where we honor three members of the community each year who are providing hope to the community beyond material benefits. The whole evening is a lot of fun and gives people the opportunity to meet other people who support HeartLine.”
Festival of Hope is set for Aug. 15 at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.
Q:What are your goals for the near future?
A:“Our goals as we’re moving forward are that we want to continue fulfilling our mission,” Harper said. “Every year we’re trying to improve the service that we’re offering. Sometimes that means taking on new certifications or seeking out new accreditations to ensure that we’re following those quality standards as well as taking on new call lines.
“Just in the last year, we have served more than 205,000 Oklahomans. That’s a mix of people coming in through help lines or chat or through the HELP program. While a lot of people may not know about us, we have a big impact.”
HOW TO HELP
For more information about HeartLine, including how to donate or volunteer, go to heartlineoklahoma.org.
Call specialists are available around the clock answering HeartLine’s various helplines, including: 2-1-1, 848-CARE, the Oklahoma Problem Gambling Helpline at (800) 522-4700, and two national suicide prevention lines, (800)-SUICIDE and (800)-273-TALK.