Contact crisis line to end in Chattanooga area

Contact crisis line to end in Chattanooga area

June 5th, 2013 by Clint Cooper in Local Regional News

Gary Paul

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

CONTACT ORIGIN

Contact began in Chattanooga on Sept. 2, 1969, two years after its start in the United States and six years after its founding by Sir Alan Walker, pastor of Central Methodist Church in Sydney, Australia.

The Rev. Curt Schofield, then pastor of St. Paul United Methodist Church (a forerunner of Christ UMC in East Brainerd), was its first director.

WHERE TO CALL

• Contact of Southeast Tennessee: 423-266-8228 (through June 15)

• Contact of Knoxville: 865-584-4424

• Contact of Oak Ridge: 865-482-4949

• Contact of Johnson City: 423-926-0144

• Contact of Kingsport: 423-246-2273

• Contact Life-Line of Bedford County: 931-684-7133

• Contact Life-Line of Coffee County: 931-455-7133

• Contact Life-Line of Franklin County: 931-967-7133

• Contact Life-Line of Moore County: 931-759-7133

• Respond (Parkridge Valley Hospital crisis line): 423-499-2300 or 800-542-9600

• National Suicide Hotline: 800-SUICIDE (800-784-2433)

Sandee Jenkins

Photo by Staff File Photo/Times Free Press.

Contact of Southeast Tennessee, a longtime 24-hour telephone crisis line, is ending its service in the Chattanooga area after 44 years.

The agency's board of directors voted unanimously last week to shut down calls on June 15. Volunteers were informed of the decision in a letter.

"We really just had no choice," said board member and former board chairwoman Sandee Jenkins.

She said the organization, which used volunteers "to console and assist troubled individuals," could not meet its payroll, owed taxes and has seen its volunteer ranks dwindle.

Since 1969, the free local service, originally called Contact of Chattanooga, has assisted more than 700,000 people, according to its website. In the early 1980s, volunteers answered 22,000 calls a year; in 2011, they answered 7,300 calls. The Contact offices are on Vance Road.

However, with the advent of crisis lines for various issues such as domestic violence and suicide, most callers today "are just plain lonely," Jenkins said.

The Rev. Fate Thomas, who was Contact's director from 1981 to 1999 and later its interim director, said technology has supplanted the concept of a telephone ministry.

"[Most] all communication is through the Internet, iPads, Facebook," he said. "People are not picking up the phone and calling as they once did."

Gary Paul, the agency's executive director who was laid off when the board voted to close it, said he and longtime administrative assistant Barbara Thomas had been answering many of the recent calls.

"I personally appreciate the supporters, donors and volunteers who stuck by us, and the board," he said.

Officials said they would not be giving callers specific numbers to call in the future, but several Contact offices in Middle and East Tennessee remain open.

Chris Delaney, president of Joseph's Coat Ministries, said his agency worked with the local Contact line for many years, and he is sad to see it go.

"What made [it] so special," he said, "was when a caller reached out for help, not only did they receive a referral from a trained volunteer, but they also received a person on the other line whose voice was full of compassion and the love of Christ for their fellow man or woman."

Jenkins, who has been involved with Contact as a volunteer, board member or board chairman for 17 years, said nonprofit agencies must have a base of support to continue.

"If they want these organizations to hang around," she said, "they have to support them with money or volunteers. Otherwise, they will fall away."

Thomas said he saw it years ago, too, when volunteers began to decrease through attrition or death. Contact could have the money and callers, he said, but couldn't make a go of it without enough volunteers.

Contact began in Chattanooga on Sept. 2, 1969, two years after its start in the United States and six years after its founding by Sir Alan Walker, pastor of Central Methodist Church in Sydney, Australia.

The Rev. Curt Schofield, then pastor of St. Paul United Methodist Church (a forerunner of Christ UMC in East Brainerd), was its first director.

Thomas said he doesn't look on the end of the ministry locally as a defeat but prefers to look at what was accomplished.

"I think of the tremendous people who have contributed to Contact," he said. "I think of all the lives we have touched, the lives we have saved. It's phenomenal."

Jenkins said the staff and board tried to do everything they could.

"I'm sad that this has happened," she said. "But everything has a season."

Contact staff writer Clint Cooper at ccooper@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to his posts online at Facebook.com/ClintCooperCTFP.