Kingsport Times News Friday, July 25, 2014

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Local Contact-Concern volunteers honored for their hours, years of service

April 7th, 2014 5:26 pm by Leigh Ann Laube

Local Contact-Concern volunteers honored for their hours, years of service

John Ben Pectol and Patty Fletcher were recently recognized as members of the Mary R. Brown Society, a national recognition program that honors the long-term commitments of volunteers in Contact USA. Photo by Ned Jilton II.

As a teenager, Patty Fletcher called Contact-Concern of Northeast Tennessee, the local crisis helpline founded in 1976. She has never forgotten the help she received from the volunteer who took her call.

Today, Fletcher is herself one of those who answers calls from people needing help. And recently she was one of two Contact-Concern volunteers recognized as members of the Mary R. Brown Society, a national recognition program that honors the long-term commitment of volunteers in CONTACT USA. The other volunteer so honored is John Ben Pectol. Membership is open to any volunteer who has served for 25 years or given 2,500 hours of service through a local Contact-affiliated group.

Fletcher joined Contact-Concern as a volunteer in 2006. In 2010, she was hired as the organization's volunteer coordinator.

"It spoke to me," she said of that phone call she made all those years ago. "I remember very well, very vividly the assistance I got. Once I started [volunteering] and got into it, I realized that it's a calling. It's not a money maker for me. That's not what it's about. My job is to assist as many people as I can to better themselves."

Pectol and Fletcher are the sixth and seventh recipients of the recognition program from Contact-Concern of Northeast Tennessee. Previously recognized volunteers are Verlin Overbay, who retired with more than 4,000 volunteer hours; Rodney Rowlett Sr., Clara Hasbrouck, Mary Gordon and Jerry Jackson.

Pectol began his service at Contact of Chattanooga in the 1980s and continued in Kingsport when he relocated to his hometown. A 1965 Dobyns-Bennett graduate, he has served on Contact-Concern's board of directors and served as board president in 2005 and 2006.

"I did lots of divorces as a trial attorney and saw the need for someone to talk to anonymously," Pectol said. For two years in Chattanooga, he worked the night shift answering the helpline. When he moved back to Kingsport in 1991, he retook the training and started his volunteer tenure here. Retired now, he volunteers about 10 hours a week. He's logged more than 2,800 volunteer hours for Contact-Concern of Northeast Tennessee.

"I enjoy being part of an institution that allows some anonymous contact between people in sensitive situations and who cannot talk to other people face to face," he said.

Contact-Concern was chartered as a Christian listening service. About 70 percent of the callers are seeking referrals; the other 30 percent just need someone to listen to them, he said.

"Each phone call is important. Those are the calls we really feel like we've done some good," he said. "We're here for them 365 days a year, whether it's a referral or simply listening, and we hope we can help them."

A year after Fletcher began as a Contact-Concern volunteer, she was hired as a staff person through AmeriCorps VISTA. In 2008, the funding for her position was cut, but she continued as a volunteer until summer 2010, when she was hired as the volunteer coordinator. Not long afterward, Fletcher took a month off to travel to Morristown, N.J., to meet and train with her new guide dog, Campbell, at The Seeing Eye Inc. The Seeing Eye is the oldest existing dog guide school in the world.

Fletcher's blindness is a result of her premature birth and too much oxygen in an incubator. She briefly attended elementary school in Kingsport before enrolling in the Tennessee School for the Blind in Nashville for fifth and sixth grades. She returned to Kingsport and spent seventh and eighth grades at Ketron Middle School before returning to Nashville to start her ninth grade year.

As volunteer coordinator and a volunteer herself, Fletcher manages about 40 volunteers. That's about 10 less than Contact-Concern needs to make sure the phone line is always answered.

"You can't have too many volunteers," she said. "There's lots that needs to be done in here. I don't have a set schedule. I'm always available, unless I tell them otherwise, which I don't do very often because I love my job.

"It's a mission. It's my mission to reach out to the community, to give them the tools they need to live as productively as they can," she said.

Mary R. Brown was a long-time supporter of Contact USA (CUSA), a network of crisis intervention centers across the nation. Conceived in 1967 as a response to the growing social issues of a changing nation, Contact has grown and evolved into a network of more than 50 centers in 20 states. Since its founding in 1976, Contact-Concern of Northeast Tennessee has been affiliated with Contact USA.

Contact-Concern recently received accreditation by Contact USA for the years 2014-2018. In 2013, helpline volunteers handled 16,148 calls. Incoming calls totaled 8,737. Most of the incoming calls were for basic needs — food, clothing, financial assistance — and mental and physical health issues. The 7,411 outgoing calls were reassurance calls — checking on elderly clients who live alone.

Contact-Concern is always in need of volunteers. For more information, call 2-1-1 or 246-2273 (CARE).

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