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Need to talk to someone? Call SURE

November 15, 2001|By STEFANIE GREENBERG, Staff Writer

Going to school, many students learn to combat dangerous situations through things such as "say no to drugs" anti-drug programs, "stop, drop and roll" in the case of a fire and not to talk to strangers.

What is unique to the Imperial Valley, however, is SURE Helpline Center Inc.

SURE is a private, nonprofit organization that provides 24-hour crisis intervention, information and referral services for people of all ages. It serves both walk-in and phone service and deals with problems ranging from drugs to abuse, depression, suicide and pregnancy.

SURE includes a 24-hour rape crisis line, advocacy, peer counseling, community education and support groups for victims of sexual assault (past or present).

Funded through different county sources, Imperial Valley service organizations and donations, a board of directors governs the organization and is made up of health care, social services and education professionals.

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SURE Helpline Center started in the early 1970s to help teens with drug problems. At that time, lines were only open for a few hours in the evenings and were answered by volunteers.

The "no bust" policy of not having to give a name was implemented from the beginning.

"It just kind of evolved to information and referral," said Nancy Chadd, the group's executive director.

While SURE is for anyone, it is especially important youths know about the service.

"We do crisis intervention for people of all ages, but the majority of calls we receive are from kids ages 10-19," said Christy Cassius, community outreach coordinator.

"Our calls are for suicide intervention, eating disorders, domestic violence, etc. … we also go out to the schools to speak to the teachers and counselors about different issues to try to educate them on warning signs and how to get the kids to talk about the issues that may be affecting them."

Chadd said SURE tries to stay visible in the community as it is the only 24-hour, seven-day service with live operators.

"It gives them a safe place to call and ask questions," said Chadd.

"They have questions and some of them are afraid to ask — some are having problems in their own homes and they don't know where to turn."

As community outreach coordinator, part of Cassius' job is to visit schools and make presentations.

She said she usually takes one topic into the presentation to explain "they (students) can call us at any time — we're going to be here if they have homework questions, if they have any type of question that they're afraid to talk to their parents about."

She added, "If it's an older group then we get into contraceptives, family planning — it just depends on the age group."

She said she tells students the first thing they should do is tell their parents. But if they think the parents will not be supportive or the student is afraid to talk to the parents, then call SURE.

Cassius said she may get a call from a teacher saying one or more students are suicidal and parents have already been contacted.

In that type of situation, she would go to a parent-teachers association or parent-teacher meeting as well as to the specific classroom for a presentation to the whole class. That way, if the suicidal child didn't want to get help, a close friend may learn why it is important to tell someone else about the problem.

While she does get calls for presentations, Cassius says she doesn't think SURE is as emphasized as in the past.

"Parents and teachers assume that the kids already know all this because they see it on TV," she said.

"Seeing it on TV isn't real for them. It's kind of make-believe, so it doesn't help them in real-life situations. So when they do come across a problem, they don't know how to deal with it."

Cassius says she is trying to get back into schools and start from the bottom up.

"Obviously the kids don't realize or don't understand or know how to deal with issues because we're getting the calls, you see it in the newspaper, you see it everywhere," she said.

"So obviously they're not being educated as much as they should."

Five staff members and about 20 volunteers make up the SURE office. Apart from any schooling, a 24-hour crisis intervention certificate for the helpline and 50-hour training for the rape line is required.

The office hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday at 395 Broadway, Suite 2 in El Centro. Phone numbers are: 352-SURE (352-7873), 877-780-7776 and 352-RAPE (352-7273) for the rape crisis line.

SURE helps callers by first listening to the problems, then giving advice, options from which to choose and making appropriate referrals.

When answering a call that involves any type of abuse or a situation that may be endangering the life of any caller, SURE asks the caller to hang up and dial 911.

The following are statistics about calls, based on the last six months, in the Imperial Valley.

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