CONTACT of Burlington County provides help to BurlCo residents in need

Over the past four decades, CONTACT has responded to more than one million calls for help.

CONTACT of Burlington County picked up its very first crisis call on July 9, 1972. To this day, the organization remains open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Over the past four decades, CONTACT has responded to more than one million calls for help.

CONTACT, which is based in Moorestown, is the designated provider in Burlington County for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. CONTACT’s Crisis Helpline provides immediate support and crisis intervention, whereas the Community Resources line provides access to information and referrals. Both lines serve all types of crises including suicide, abuse, financial difficulty and homelessness, as well as all ages, genders and social and economic backgrounds.

Last year, CONTACT received 26,504 calls, performed 233 life-saving interventions, accompanied 97 sexual assault victims and made 4,225 “care calls.”

“It has always been my passion from the day I walked through the door,” said Theresa Tobey, Executive Director of CONTACT. “I just kind of knew.”

Tobey, a Medford resident, started as a volunteer 40 years ago before taking over as director in 2000. She estimates more than 90 percent of calls the organization receives are from Burlington County residents.

“The volunteers provide emotional support and non-judgemental listening, but they also can provide emergency intervention if that becomes necessary,” Tobey said.

CONTACT is volunteer-based and most of the 120 volunteers work out of the organization’s call center. The volunteers go through training on active listening, suicide, community resources, dealing with difficult callers, depression and mental health.

Tobey says many of the CONTACT volunteers have either received help at a point in their life and it stuck with them, or they didn’t receive help when they needed it and don’t want to see that happen to somebody else.

“I still remember the first call I ever received that was a suicide call, and that was many years ago,” Tobey said. “It touches you in a way that you just understand the need for somebody to be there when people reach out.”

Tobey says the hope is that after a suicidal person calls CONTACT, they will garner the resources to get the help they need.

“I do believe that most suicides can be prevented if there is someone to talk to,” Tobey said. “We try to work with the part of the person that wants to live.”

Pat, a Palmyra resident, was part of the original CONTACT steering committee. When she read about CONTACT in a local newspaper more than 45 years ago, she noticed the entire committee was made up of men. She gathered up the courage to make a phone call and requested to be part of the process.

“I thought it was fascinating,” Pat said. “It was very successful from the very beginning.”

Pat has retired from the call center and now works with the organization’s Reassurance program. The program provides daily “care calls” to homebound people in Burlington County who live alone, often senior citizens.

“I talk with a reassurance client, making sure that she got through the night, that she has taken her medicine and that she is positive throughout the day,” Pat said.

Tobey says the Reassurance program is a great way for disabled persons to volunteer without ever having to leave their homes.

CONTACT’s TeenLine is made up of high school volunteers who provide support to other teens in regards to daily stressors. The KidsLine is designed for elementary school students to call when they are sad, scared or lonely. PetFriends, CONTACT’s only state-wide service, provides grief support for those mourning the loss of a pet and is supported by the New Jersey Veterinary Foundation. The Sexual Assault Service program sends advocates to hospitals, police stations and courthouses to accompany sexual assault victims. All services are confidential and free of charge.

“I want people to know that help is available,” Tobey said. “Somebody is willing to listen. All they have to do is call.”

To learn more about CONTACT, visit www.contactburlco.org.

The CONTACT Crisis Helpline phone number is (856) 234–8888.

*CONTACT has requested last names of volunteers remain confidential for safety reasons.