History of CONTACT
Dr. Alan Walker launched Lifeline in Sydney, Australia in 1963 after a call from a distressed man who later took his own life. Lifeline came to the United States a few years later as “Contact.” CONTACT Care Line in east Tennessee received its first call in November 1973.
The story began with a life-changing experience near midnight one Saturday night for Dr. Walker, a minister, when a young man named “Roy” called him and told him he had written a letter to him. Roy said by the time Dr. Walker received the letter, he, Roy, would be dead. He gave no address and hung up. (And there was no caller ID in 1963.) The next morning Roy called back and said that his name was Roy Brown, but he still refused to give his address. This time, after a long conversation, he agreed to meet with Dr. Walker. A few minutes before he was to leave for the appointment, Dr. Walker received a phone call from the police. They had found the body of Roy Brown in a gas-filled apartment. On his body was a letter addressed to Dr. Walker.
A few weeks later about 30 people from a cross section of the community (a teacher, a laundry man and his wife, an office secretary, a legal officer, a carpenter, a nurse, a student, a policeman and a deaconess of the church) gathered to talk about starting a telephone counseling center. It would be staffed by trained volunteers, backed by volunteer professionals, and available to people in need via the telephone. Three years later, after much planning and groundwork, on March 6, l963, the first Lifeline Center opened in Sydney, r. Subsequently, the Lifeline organization of Australia spread to the rest of the world becoming CONTACT in the United States.
In 1972, a collaboration of ministers from the Oak Ridge Ministerial Association began to lay the groundwork and carefully plan for such a program in Oak Ridge. Early in 1973 the first training classes were held: one in the morning and one in the evening every week for two hours a session for 26 weeks. Four hundred people of all faiths signed up for the training. Some 120 people completed the 26 weeks of training and on November 3, 1973, CONTACT sent its first telephone volunteer from a very moving commissioning service to answer the CONTACT Care Line for the very first time with “This is CONTACT, may I help you.” There was a community pioneer spirit, vitality and energy that was exciting, contagious and synergistic. Working together with folks from all over the city of Oak Ridge and throughout Anderson County, volunteers provided services to meet the needs of the area. Lee Morris, a speaker for the first training class, and several other members of that first class have continued their support of the program through these many years.
There is no doubt that the foundation laid by the steering committee and early board members has had a profound effect on the outstanding service and longevity of CONTACT. Through many years of service, CONTACT has maintained full accreditation with CONTACT USA, the national organization.
From November 1, 1984 to January 1, 2009, CONTACT operated an after-school helpline called TeleFriend for latch-key children before there were after-school programs to meet this need. In 2001, CONTACT started a new program called Reassurance Contact. Trained volunteers call clients every day at an agreed-upon time to check on their well-being. At its inception, this program was somewhat limited in scope since all calls were made by volunteers on the crisis lines.
In January of 2008, CONTACT extended the area of service from primarily Anderson County, to all of area code 865: Anderson, Blount, Grainger, Jefferson, Knox, Loudon, Roane, Sevier, and Union Counties. As with most social service organizations, fundraising is an important and ongoing process. Support comes from the United Ways of Anderson County and Roane County, the Anderson County Commission, churches, individuals, businesses and fundraisers.
On August 4, 2014 CONTACT joined the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and began answering calls to the Lifeline (primarily those originating in East Tennessee). Our volunteers began receiving additional training in suicide response though the evidenced based ASIST program (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training). In 2016 CONTACT added a small call center in Knoxville so crisis line specialists can work from either the Oak Ridge or Knoxville locations.
In March 2016 CONTACT began expansion of Reassurance Contact thanks to the generosity of the CNS Y-12 Community Investment Fund and United Way Anderson County, who provided funding to enlarge this existing service into a full program designed to help isolated and disabled seniors maintain their independence.