Archive for Saturday, November 21, 2009

Four decades in crisis mode

Headquarters Counseling Center has become a Lawrence institution

Headquarters Counseling Center director Marcia Epstein closes her eyes as she listens to a Wichita caller routed through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2009, at Headquarters. The center recently received a $1.4 million federal grant for statewide suicide prevention efforts.

Headquarters Counseling Center director Marcia Epstein closes her eyes as she listens to a Wichita caller routed through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2009, at Headquarters. The center recently received a $1.4 million federal grant for statewide suicide prevention efforts.

November 21, 2009

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40-year celebration

An open house to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Headquarters Counseling Center will be 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Dec. 16 at the Watkins Community Museum of History, 1047 Mass. It is open to the public.

“We Never Close.”

That was the short but clear slogan for the Headquarters Counseling Center in central Lawrence when a small group started it in November 1969.

Four decades later it’s a Lawrence institution.

Headquarters opened at the rented home of two Kansas University students, Brian Bauerle and David Nutt.

Headquarters Counseling Center has become a Lawrence institution

“We Never Close.” That was the short but clear slogan for the Headquarters Counseling Center in central Lawrence when a small group started it in November 1969. Four decades later it’s a Lawrence institution. Enlarge video

“We just had this idea about starting a center or a place where people could call or drop by to receive advice about services that were available in the community,” Nutt said.

In the early days, people would show up at the house on the northeast corner of 15th and Massachusetts streets seeking help at all hours. Today the center at 211 E. Eighth St. always has someone available for counseling services, including a 24-hour suicide prevention hot line.

“Although it started as a drug abuse center, they started with this idea that we need a place where people need to have an easy place to get help when they need it,” said Marcia Epstein, the executive director who first volunteered there in 1975. “That theme has continued through all of our 40 years.”

Others who helped Bauerle and Nutt get Headquarters going in 1969 said the evolution of the agency is consistent with why it was founded in the first place.

“It started as an awareness that there needed to be a way for people to be able to talk confidentially with someone about problems that they were having and get some guidance on where they could go to get some help,” said Robert Shelton, a KU associate professor of religious studies.

‘Wonderful support group’

Growing up in the area, Carol Latham had heard of Headquarters, but she said she never thought her family would need to use its counseling services.

The Lathams’ son, Christopher, committed suicide on Sept. 12, 2003, after he had wrecked a car. It’s a day that continues to haunt the family, including Carol, her husband, Carl, and their daughter, Ashley Causer.

“I wouldn’t be where I am without Headquarters,” Carol Latham said. “And the people that I’ve met, other survivors, it’s just a wonderful support group. Every community ought to have a Headquarters.”

The group has helped with the grieving process, and Latham still attends when she can.

Epstein, who lost her mother to suicide six years ago, said it’s important to provide bereavement support to families and prevention efforts through outreach to students at schools in Douglas County.

A Headquarters brochure from the early 1970s shows photographs from when the agency served primarily as a drug abuse counseling center.

A Headquarters brochure from the early 1970s shows photographs from when the agency served primarily as a drug abuse counseling center.

Like most nonprofit organizations, a major challenge for Headquarters today as it aims for the future is its budget. It has about a $200,000 budget with funds from the United Way, Kansas University Student Senate, the city’s alcohol tax fund and fundraising efforts.

It also relies on the 30 volunteer counselors, who undergo training before they are able to start manning the center and its phones. Epstein said there were more volunteers 25 years ago, when the agency had about 90 helpers.

“They are small, but they have a big heart, with a big mission, filled with passionate people who are willing to go the extra mile to save lives,” said John Draper, director of National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Today, Epstein said, the need for counseling services in Douglas County is increasing. In 2008, the counseling and information services were used more than 18,000 times, a 15 percent increase from 2007.

“We are receiving even higher amounts of calls about depression and suicide, especially financial and job concerns,” she said.

The future

Even with the challenges, Epstein said the fact that Headquarters is one of the oldest centers of its kind in the country emboldens the center’s mission.

There is still plenty of work to do. Douglas County Coroner Dr. Erik Mitchell has ruled that 11 people committed suicide so far this year with other cases still under investigation. The yearly national rate is 11 suicides per 100,000 people.

Douglas County’s suicide rate is traditionally about equal to the national rate.

“Even if it’s at the national average,” Epstein said. “That’s not something for us to accept as OK.”

The next major project for Headquarters is trying to form a connection with health care providers. Headquarters leaders want to have counseling services available at clinics like Health Care Access, which serves the uninsured.

“A lot of people aren’t going to go a mental health provider, but they are going to go to their primary care physicians,” Epstein said.

Staff members and volunteers also want to keep spreading the word about the success of the first 40 years.

As leaders with Headquarters look toward future decades, the two KU students who started it at a house they rented are happy to hear about new goals. They’re also glad that someone is answering the phones 24 hours a day.

“My motivation for doing it?” Nutt said. “Personally, it was to hopefully see it grow into what it has become today.”

Comments

kujayhawk83 6 years, 5 months ago

Pogo has missed the point. Again. Just because every call is not a unique visitor doesn't make that caller illegitimate. You could argue that some of those repeat callers are ABLE to call again because of Headquarters.

And if the center is so poorly run why hasn't someone else stepped in to fill the void in service? And why do folks in Johnson County that need support end up here?

Sounds like Pogo just doesn't like Headquarters.

lori 6 years, 5 months ago

Thanks Headquarters! I called you several times in the late 90s for assistance with a depressed, unstable friend. Your help was invaluable. Thank you!

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 5 months ago

I don't really know that much about Headquarters, but I'm curious where you get your information, Pogo.

BrianR 6 years, 5 months ago

Pogo, you are obviously a non-profit and fundraising genius so can the criticism and bring your vast knowledge and resources to bear on finding solutions to this agency's fiscal issues. You sound more like a jilted lover than a competent critic.

Kyle Chandler 6 years, 5 months ago

Almost all charity work could be viewed as 'resume building' i guess.

Lets just close all charities

tomatogrower 6 years, 5 months ago

If the volunteers, who use this to build their resumes, save a few people from suicide or ease the pain of those left behind when suicide happens, then more power to them. Sounds like a win/win situation. What do you have against people having a place to call when they need help? We have a hospital that no longer has facilities for those in crisis. Bert Nash does good work, but, I cant imagine they would want to get rid of Headquarters. Maybe Pogo was considered unfit to be a volunteer, and is angry he didn't get to build his resume.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 5 months ago

"When a not for profit operation uses well over 50%+ of the budget for salaries and benefits,"

Aside from rent, utilities, phone, office supplies and salaries and benefits, what other expenses would an organization like this have? Over half for salaries and benefits doesn't sound that out of line.

lainey 6 years, 5 months ago

I was a volunteer there for over 10 years and it was the best experience of my life. I not only felt like I helped others, I made life long friends. So what if half of the budget is for salaries- the paid staff have to fill in whenever the place is short staffed (which is almost always) or if someone can't make their shift. That is in addition to their regular hours which is usually over 40 anyway. I am very proud to have been a part of their history. Congratulations on 40 years HQ!

ebyrdstarr 6 years, 5 months ago

Yeah, it's really outrageous, isn't it Pogo, that people who come together, go through intense training, so they can all be ready to answer a suicide call anytime the phone rings would lean on each other, support each other, and form life-long friendships. And it's equally outrageous that this center whose mission is to man a crisis hotline only spends money on rent, phone lines, and staff salary.

Of course not all of the calls that come in are suicide calls. But a suicide hotline isn't a failure if it doesn't get that many calls. A suicide hotline is only a failure if it isn't open when that one call does need to be answered. In that sense, HQ hasn't failed the state of Kansas in 40 years.

JayhawkLori 6 years, 5 months ago

Marcia does an amazing job as do the staff both paid and volunteer. Face it, Lawrence is not friendly towards mental health issues. We do not have a mental health unit at our “community” hospital and a staff at that hospital who are not open to it. Bert Nash is great if you do not have enough money to use them but if you have health coverage you are not likely to get help there. The professionals in Lawrence are few and far between. I’ve volunteered there and utilized their services and have been fulfilled by both and I’m not a psych student, I am a member of the community.

Ask yourself this and provide your answer and if you cannot please stop: If you had a family member contemplating suicide and they had no one else to talk to and HQ was not around and they ended up completing the suicide (which could have been prevented by possibly calling HQ) would you complain with the same enthusiasm that HQ is not around?

OldEnuf2BYurDad 6 years, 5 months ago

I'm not criticizing Epstein because I'm sitting here on my butt instead of answering calls.

I'm not criticizing Epstein because her $21,000 raised is $20,998.50 more than I raised when I did the Walk-a-thon.

Hey Pogo, why don't YOU apply for her job?

kumart 6 years, 5 months ago

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