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Contact 211 of Northeast Tennessee seeks more volunteers ahead of holiday season

Holly Viers • Oct 29, 2018 at 9:26 AM

KINGSPORT — As people become immersed in holiday activities, volunteerism at Contact 211 of Northeast Tennessee is on the decline.

At the same time, the organization’s call volume is increasing as people begin struggling with seasonal affective disorder, sometimes called “the winter blues.”

This combination of fewer volunteers and increased call volume puts the organization in a tough spot. That’s why Lydia Blackwell, the organization’s volunteer coordinator and community relations director, is calling on more community members to volunteer, even if it’s just for a few hours a month.

“We have 391 calls for the month of October, as compared to a month like April, which is a springtime month where we only had 200 calls,” Blackwell said. “So we’re looking at almost a double increase in calls, and we are also looking at the volunteers dropping off. So it sort of makes the perfect storm, so to speak.”

About the organization

Contact 211 of Northeast Tennessee offers information and referrals, a mental health helpline and reassurance calls — all of which are free and confidential — to eight counties in Northeast Tennessee. Though the organization employs some staff, its calls are monitored by volunteers.

Why is call volume increasing?

Blackwell said one reason for the increased call volume this time of year is seasonal affective disorder, which affects millions of Americans each year. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, it is “a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons, typically starting in the late fall and early winter and going away during the spring and summer.”

“With seasonal affective disorder, you’ve got people who are experiencing depression due to their circadian rhythm changing in the wintertime, and you’re not getting exposed to much light. You’re not outdoors, and so all of your levels, like serotonin and things like that, are going to drop off and be depleted, whereas the rest of the year, they’re going to be at a normal, functioning level,” Blackwell said. “So a lot of people will need light lamps, and they will need more crisis support during that time.”

Information and referral calls are also increasing as people face higher bills due to the falling temperatures, Blackwell said.

“We’ve got a lot of people that have very poor insulation in their house, and so their heating bill is just out the roof, and then also poor insulation for their pipes,” Blackwell said. “So we get a lot of calls about people who have had their pipes burst, and that’s an unexpected expense.”

How to volunteer

Before answering calls, prospective volunteers must complete a training process, which is usually offered in three sessions and lasts two and a half hours. The training focuses half on crisis mitigation and half on information and referrals.

From there, volunteers are asked to serve a minimum of two times a month. They can answer calls at the organization’s call center, or they can have the calls forwarded to their home.

“We are open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday,” Blackwell said, “so even people who work … until 5 o’clock still have the opportunity to volunteer.”

For more information on how to become a volunteer, email [email protected], visit www.contact211netn.org or call (423) 530-6339 or (423) 246-2273. If you need assistance from the organization, dial 211.

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