When a tornado strikes Douglas County, the Emergency Management Department responds. While the department helps survivors put their physical lives back together, it relies on Headquarters Counseling Center to help victims deal mentally with the trauma.
When a gunman held up a bank, staffers from the center were on the scene quickly to help employees discuss and analyze the experience.
And when a student is feeling suicidal, the 24-hour center's phone counselors are ready to help.
"The unique thing about Headquarters is we are able to look at a need in our community and find out how we can meet that need," said Chad Sublet, Headquarters director of children's programs.
After offering services more than 30 years in Douglas County, Headquarters is known for its crisis counseling, information services, suicide intervention and children's safety programs. Less well-known is the work it's doing in other areas.
When dealing with a mental-health emergency or issues rising in concern nationally, Headquarters gets in touch with specialized research-based institutions. It gathers information and finds a way to deal with the issue locally.
Roots in the '60s
Headquarters began as a resource for people with drug problems. In the early '70s, the center was a place where people could crash after a bad drug experience or find out which drugs floating around town were not what they claimed to be.
"People who used drugs weren't encouraged to do so, but had a place to go if things went bad," said Gay, a Headquarters volunteer. Headquarters volunteers are identified only by their last names.
By the late '70s, the center began focusing on issues underlying drug addictions and slowly became the advocate of general mental health that it is today.
Volunteers at Headquarters train for two months and are able to provide counseling and support for any personal dilemma. They also lead callers to other resources. Counselors tell people who to call if their electricity is cut off or where to go if they are ready to deal with a drug addiction.
Since March 2001, Headquarters has been part of the national Hope Line Network, and receives calls from people across Kansas who have concerns about suicide.
Headquarters was contacted by 14,500 people last year, both by phone and walk-ins. The biggest category of calls came from people who were simply lonely and felt isolated from society.
"They call just to make sure someone is out there," said Gay.
In 1985, Headquarters began a children's program that sends volunteers to schools to educate about the danger of strangers.
|¢ Attend the informational meeting at 6:30 p.m. today at Plymouth Congregational Church, 925 Vt.¢ Participate in an interview with Headquarters staff.¢ Complete training, which begins June 8 and lasts to July 27. Training sessions are every Sunday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., plus three hours a week of observation shifts at the center.¢ Commit to a year of work, volunteering at least eight hours a week.¢ For more information, call Headquarters at 841-2345.|
"The children's program is representative of our expansion in general," Sublet said. "We know there are a lot of different people in the community that need help and support."
Last year, the center talked to 4,500 children in classrooms about strangers, Internet safety, what to do if home alone and other safety issues facing children. Children also have their own help line, called Phone-a-Friend, where they can talk with an impartial adult.
'A wonderful job'
In the past few years, the agency has formed a partnership with Douglas County Emergency Management to help with the mental health side of disaster management.
After the May 8 tornado that damaged and destroyed homes in southeast Lawrence, Headquarters was stationed at American Red Cross and Federal Emergency Management Assistance tents for two weeks. Its counselors also went door-to-door in affected neighborhoods offering assistance.
In emergency situations, the center aims to meet both mental health and practical needs, such as helping victims find storage for their belongings.
Headquarters also provided aid to employees at Central National Bank, 711 Wakarusa Drive, after the bank was robbed at gunpoint Feb. 7. Within hours of the robbery, the center held a group session with bank employees to discuss and analyze the experience. It followed up with several more group sessions the next week and offered personal sessions to interested employees.
"They did a wonderful job. I just can't say enough about the people at Headquarters," said Brad Chindamo, president of Central National Bank. "Their role was important in the healing process for that traumatic experience."