Editor’s note: This is the second in a series about the Sandpoint Community Resource Center, its people and programs, continuing with details on the resource center and the specialists behind it.
By MARY MALONE
SANDPOINT — When someone is going through a crisis, asking for help is not an easy thing to do.
Some might be too embarrassed to ask, while others may be too proud to admit they can’t do it on their own. Some may even be afraid to ask for help. For that reason, trust and confidentiality are key when it comes to the relationship between Sandpoint Community Resource Center staff and volunteers and their clients.
“We hold that higher standard that you wouldn’t expect, I think, from such a small organization,” said Debra Townsend, SCRC resource specialist.
Townsend manages and trains volunteer resource specialists who serve as a connection between clients and service providers, and each one signs a confidentiality agreement. The most important thing the volunteers learn during training, she said, is that the client comes first, as well as how to interact with the client at the SCRC standard.
SCRC is a nonprofit with the goal of helping people locate resources for various needs within the community. The name is misleading because although the organization is based in Sandpoint, they strive to help those in need in both Bonner and Boundary counties.
A crisis can include anything from needing help with food, fuel or child care, to housing, mental health issues or substance abuse. Townsend said the SCRC specialists never define what a crisis is — they let the client define the crisis. There are no boundaries as to who they will help, she said. And when one thing happens — a car breaks down, someone loses a job — the crisis often begins to spiral, said Linnis Jellinek, SCRC executive director.
“When your world is falling apart, it’s not one thing, it’s everything,” Jellinek said, adding that it could be emotional or financial.
Housing, both standard and emergency, is the biggest crisis people come to SCRC for, though Townsend said the needs vary by season. Transportation is also an issue that SCRC clients regularly face in the area.
To help those in need, SCRC is regularly recruiting volunteers who are willing to come in and work a four-hour shift in the resource center. The volunteers can pick the day, or days, that work with their schedule, Townsend said. One volunteer, for example, works every Friday, while another works every other Wednesday.
“It just depends on what they are willing to take on, and even that has the potential to ebb and flow to meet their needs and what is happening in their life,” Townsend said.
For those who do volunteer, it is a commitment, Jellinek said, not only to answering the phone, but to enter client and provider data among other tasks. It is also rewarding, she said. A current volunteer told Jellinek on Wednesday that each time she leaves the office after her shift, she has a “helpers high.”
Townsend said the process of helping those in need starts with a phone call to find out what the specific needs of the client are, often asking a lot of questions. Jellinek said this is important because getting the client to talk helps the resource specialist make “the best” referral. The resource specialists then contact service providers to figure out which one would be the best to refer the client to. Once the client is referred to a provider, Townsend said they always follow up to inquire whether the client received the help they needed.
“If it didn’t help, then we are making more referrals, and sometimes if it did help, we then uncover a new need,” Townsend said. “We have clients from three years ago who are still active in our system, because we are still working with them ... so we are really building a relationship with them; we are not just turning out numbers. We are creating that relationship, we are building that trust, so that as they move forward and need more services, they continue to reach out to us.”
A “self help” button was added to the organization’s website as well, where those in need of resources can browse the list of service providers in each category. Jellinek said last year, more than 400 people took advantage of the “self help” button. This is helpful for those who may be fearful of asking for help, though Townsend and Jellinek said speaking with a resource specialist at SCRC can direct them toward the best service provider for their specific situation, narrowing down the list and making it more personal.
Prior to her being hired on last June, Townsend said the organization was 100-percent volunteer based in the resource center office. It is still about 90-percent volunteers, she said. While there are two more paid employees now, including Jellinek who was recently hired as SCRC’s first executive director, Townsend is the only paid employee on the front line in the resource center office.
“Everyone else that runs that office is a volunteer,” she said. “They do it purely out of the goodness of their heart, and I just think that speaks volumes to what we are doing at SCRC.”
Townsend said her background is in customer service, most recently with a five-year stint in banking, though she is often asked if she has a background in social work because of her keen ability to work with clients. Her background has helped her to be mindful, she said, and learn how to manage and work with those in crisis. Entering the nonprofit world with the “structural mindset” of a larger financial organization has been helpful as well.
In addition to running the office, as well as managing and training the volunteers, Townsend regularly reaches out to key providers in the area to stay up to date on all the services they are providing.
SCRC also oversees the Volunteer Idaho Panhandle program, which provides a central place where volunteers can go to get connected with volunteer opportunities in the community. The other program through SCRC is the Service Provider Information Network, which brings together the community’s service providers together quarterly to discuss different topics, such as housing, healthcare and more.
For information or resources, visit sandpointcommunityresource.com, call 208-920-1840, or visit the resource center at 231 N. Third Ave, Ste. 101, Sandpoint. Hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday-Friday.
Mary Malone can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.