Yet those who operate Switchboard of Miami Inc. are still little known to many county residents after 45 years of existence.
Switchboard’s staff and volunteers often make a profound difference between life and death, and that is why a description of the non-profit agency’s mission captured the attention of a West Kendall audience on Feb. 29.
“While primarily known mostly for suicide prevention, we do many other services, as well,” said Trudy Krasovic, a Helpline counselor who noted a total 226 suicides in Miami-Dade County during 2011. “When I joined the service 24 years ago, the average was about 4,000 calls each month,” she recalled. “Now we average 15,000 calls per month for many reasons besides the desperation of a suicidal-inclined individual.”
Krasovic assists in training staff for 24- hour answering shifts at Switchboard’s newly occupied quarters in a former parking authority garage at 190 NE Third St. in downtown Miami.
Increased call-ins during her years of service, however, more directly point to the agency’s extended outreach, rather than a surging population with suicidal tendencies, she added.
That is because Switchboard maintains 24/7 lines that answer general information queries about where to find specialized help while providing referrals for free individual and family counseling and prevention assistance for high-risk youth and families through local schools.
Operating on a yearly budget of $4.1 million, additional funding to keep Switchboard in operation comes entirely from contributions, grants and government subsidies that allow its Helpline services to log an estimated 168,000 calls yearly in addition to crisis counseling.
Besides federal, state and county subsidies, major private donors who contribute regularly include United Way, Miami Foundation, AmeriCorps, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Kidside Solutions Inc., Roxy Bolton Rape Treatment Center of Jackson Health System, and Alphanet Inc.
“Caring, multilingual, professional staff members and volunteers are available around the clock for anyone in need of help, even if just to identify the right agency to call for a particular problem,” Krasovic said, noting Switchboard maintains the only comprehensive countywide Community Resource Directory.
Its Prevention and Clinical Services Department provides both school and community- based education and prevention programs (in English, Spanish and Creole), designed to identify youths with alcohol, tobacco, drug abuse, an inclination to violence, early pregnancies and other high risk behaviors.
A Senior Services program provides a daily monitoring call, mostly to seniors who live alone, “to see that they’re okay and have a meal for the day,” Krasovich said.
“We get about 700 calls a month just from seniors who need direct help or just a comforting word. They can’t always find a friend or relative to help with a personal problem.”
Current Senior Services program for residents of 65-plus years resulted in 69,798 outgoing calls from problem-solvers last year. Prevention and Clinical Services provided education and information to 2,382 teens and individual or family group counseling to 354 families last year.
An 18-member, all-volunteer board of directors governs the non-profit agency with its staff composed equally of employees (74) and volunteers (75), aided by nine AmeriCorps members and 10 interns.
“We encourage people to find out about volunteering,” Krasovic urged, adding that a special “Gatekeeper” program provides free community outreach training the second Tuesday of each month from 9 to 11 a.m. The session includes a light breakfast. Information for upcoming Apr. 10 or May 8 sessions is available by calling 305-358- 1640, ext. 156.
For other program details, visit online at <www.switchboardmiami.org> or call 305- 358-HELP (4357).