24-hour hotline, text help open for suicide, financial assistance

Published 12:12 am Saturday, April 9, 2016

LAPLACE — Listening, understanding and connecting. That’s what VIA LINK is all about.

The non-profit organization, funded through United Way, offers services to residents in 10 parishes including St. John the Baptist Parish.

Counselors answer calls from people needing crisis intervention, suicide prevention and referrals for emergency housing, food, rent and more.

Victoria Schwandt, contact center director, said VIA LINK is a 24-hour-a-day contact center.

“We answer calls for our hotline 2-1-1,” Schwandt said. “We provide information and referrals to Human Resources and Social Service agencies through that help line. We have a lot of different programs for sure.”

One program is the Crisis Teen Text Line.

“It launched in July,” Schwandt said. “We serve youths ages 14 to 24. We provide emotional support over text because they normally don’t call in on the hotline. There is more of a sense of anonymity by reaching out via text.”

The program has grown from just being available in 10 parishes to covering the state of Louisiana.

For those ages 14 to 24 that need someone to talk to, Schwandt advises they reach out to one of the VIA LINK counselors by texting 504-777-3273.

VIA LINK also takes calls from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

“We provide crisis counseling over the phone, and it’s there to help someone who is thinking about suicide,” Schwandt said. “We want to provide that open ear and listen to what has brought them to that point and let them know it’s a safe place to talk about suicide and what they are going through. We try to connect them to resources, but mostly we listen then create a safety plan toward the end of our call.”

Those thinking about suicide can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Director of Community Outreach and Development Donna Bliss encourages any resident in St. John Parish that needs assistance to take advantage of the services VIA LINK offers.

“VIA LINK’s contact center receives an average of 60,000 calls per year to meet a wide variety of community needs,” she said. “Call volumes increase significantly in times of disasters; however, our robust technology infrastructure, strong partnerships, national accreditations and contingency planning allow VIA LINK to provide uninterrupted services.”

Bliss advices St. John residents to take advantage of the free programs VIA LINK offers because they truly help.

“I would think that our most used service is the 2-1-1 services,” Bliss said.

“It’s information and referrals. We have a lot of individuals that will call seeking their local food pantry, asking how they can get assistance with rent or utilities. St. John residents should call because it’s an opportunity for them to avoid the mess of one phone call after the other trying to get information. It’s like a one-stop call.”

By calling 2-1-1 Bliss said residents can speak with an individual trained in crisis intervention, information and referrals, and an expansive a resource database.

For more information on VIA LINK or the services the organization provides, log onto vialink.org.