TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — 2-1-1 Big Bend needs help as more people turn to the agency for support during this pandemic.
Call volume to 2-1-1 Big Bend increased by 43 percent in November compared to last year. The center is now fielding nearly 2,000 calls a month.
"Volunteering for 2-1-1 has been one of the most rewarding and exceptional experiences of my life. I have learned so much and have been honored to be able to give so much back to the community as well and help so many people in a variety of ways," said 2-1-1 Big Bend Outreach and Education Coordinator Paulina Lewis.
2-1-1 currently has about 50 volunteers, but with the increase in calls, there comes a need for more volunteers.
"We've been getting more calls. Our calls more complex like our kind of needs are more complex because they might have multiple needs all kind of intertwined and connected back to the pandemic," said Lewis.
Volunteers usually put in about 200 hours answering both the local hotline and the national suicide hotline.
Because volunteers are taking calls in a time of crisis, there is extensive training.
"So it's 10 weeks, two nights a week in the evenings. And then that's when they learn all the kind of theory and how to counsel, and they get a lot of practice," said Lewis. "In fact, they have supervised phone shifts, where they have someone next to them, who's giving them feedback, helping them through real calls. Then after that, they become what we call it cleared counselor."
Training begins in January over Zoom. Topics covered include suicidal callers, domestic violence, how to deal with emotional crises, and more.
Volunteers refer callers to more than 1,000 resources. The Kearney Center is one of the thousands of resources and connections that 2-1-1 Big Bend provides for the community.
"We have seen a lot more referrals from them. As far as them being of higher volume, it has been more related to cold weather shelter. We've seen a lot more requests from people who normally wouldn't request help," said Kearney Center caseworker Kayla Towle.
2-1-1 Big Bend says housing is the biggest need this year. Towle says the center is currently housing about 400 people, yet more continue to come in for help.
The Kearney Center is accepting donations and for more information, visit their website.
To volunteer with 2-1-1 Big Bend, you have to be 18 or older. You can find that information here.