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Happy Anniversary to North Carolina 2-1-1!

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Our friends at United Way of North Carolina/NC 2-1-1 are celebrating their first anniversary with iCarol in the best way possible — snacks and cake shared amongst their hardworking staff! We think our logo looks pretty delicious as a cake decoration.

North Carolina 211 United Way iCarol anniversary

It’s been quite an eventful year for their team, including navigating the challenges that came with Hurricane Matthew and the subsequent flooding in their region. Through it all the dedicated people at NC 2-1-1 were there for the community, connecting them with resources and logging over 12,000 interactions into iCarol during that disaster. Wow!

NC 211 anniversary quote

We just love that they took the time to recognize the milestone and we couldn’t be happier to count them among our users. “Happy Anniversary” to the entire team in North Carolina! We appreciate the great work you do and are thrilled and honored to have you as a part of the iCarol family!

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Save the date: National Crisis Centers Conference registration now open

iCarol Webinars

We’re excited to announce, on behalf of our friends at the National Association of Crisis Organization Directors (NASCOD) and Contact USA, that registration for the 2017 National Crisis Centers Conference is now open!

The conference will take place from October 18th through 20th in beautiful Buffalo, NY. The event kicks off with a tour of world-renowned Niagara Falls and a welcome dinner Wednesday evening, and concludes with a closing banquet on Friday evening. In between kickoff and closing will be tons of educational and enlightening workshops and sessions aimed at enriching your staff and improving your ability to serve your community. To make sure you don’t miss out on any of the fun, the conference organizers encourage you to schedule your departure for no earlier than Saturday morning.

If you are a manager or director of any sort of crisis, supportive listening, counseling, or suicide prevention helpline or similar service, then we strongly encourage you to attend this conference. We have personally been attending for a number of years — in fact it was the very first event we began attending when iCarol was created so many years ago! Over the years we’ve developed treasured relationships with the organizations that organize and attend the conference, and we deeply value their service to their communities as well as their committment to increasing the impact of crisis centers everywhere. The workshops and sessions presented at this conference each year are NOT to be missed!

But you don’t have to take our word for it. According to the conference website, the event promises:

  • To enhance your Vision and Leadership skills to aid your success
  • Workshops that focus on management and leadership skills that will cultivate your effectiveness as a program Director/Manager
  • National networking opportunities available with experts in the crisis center field
  • Information on specific issues and challenges that you are facing as a Director/Manager

For more information, or to register you and your staff, head over to the conference website. We hope to see you in Buffalo this October!

National Crisis Centers Conference 2017

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iCarol Webinar: Introduction to Assisting LGBTQ Help Seekers

lgbt pride month gay lesbian bisexual transgender

On June 20th at 1pm EST iCarol will host a webinar with Dustin MacDonald of Distress Centre Durham, aimed at providing helplines and other non-profit organizations with helpful information and insight on best practices for serving the LGBTQ community.

Dustin will discuss a range of topics including:

  • Suicide ideation and suicide rates among LGBTQ individuals
  • Common issues and topics to be aware of
  • How to best provide emotional support to LGBTQ individuals
  • And much more!

We hope you’ll join us for this special event in celebration of Pride Month. You can learn more about this webinar and register by clicking the button below.

Learn More and Register

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New funding opportunities from SAMHSA

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The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recently release information on new funding opportunities for addressing the opioid crisis and suicide prevention. Below is information provided by SAMHSA:

iCarol to attend the National Sexual Assault Conference

iCarol Webinars

iCarol is thrilled to attend the National Sexual Assault Conference (NSAC) in Dallas, TX, June 7-9, 2017. Over the past few years, iCarol has helped more and more agencies working in the sexual violence support space, especially as the need to offer chat and text to survivors increases. We couldn’t be more honored to help these agencies in their missions, and make the work these vital agencies do easier, and save them time and money along the way.

For some, like the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, the agency is focused on sexual violence prevention and survivor support. For many other iCarol clients, sexual violence support work is part of a multi-faceted agency.

In particular, providing survivors options for texting and live chat during the crucial hours following a sexual assault ensures they have options other than calling on the phone to reach out to the supporting agency. Many survivors have questions about getting a SANE nurse exam, or need support. Some agencies even explain how an advocate can meet the survivor at the hospital and explain the processes over text messages or live chat. In many states, the sooner evidence is collected in an exam (often within 72 hours), the better. The support work for survivors surely does not end there.

Here are a few other highlights of iCarol’s work with sexual violence support agencies:

    Ensure hours/funding are accounted for and seamlessly administer and track:
  • Advocate/SANE hospital & mobile responder activities
  • Outreach/presentations at schools, events, training
  • Case worker/advocate follow-up — no one gets missed

  • Instant reporting for funders:
  • Advocate and staff training hours & certification (also with expiration alerts to staff)
  • Monthly & quarterly reporting of interactions (calls, chat, text, in person), stats built right in

  • Better volunteer/advocate/staff shift attendance:
  • Clear and web/mobile accessible organized schedules
  • Seamless tools for volunteers to get help to fill a shift
  • Text and email reminders about upcoming shifts

The conferences is “A Conference for People Who Want to End Sexual Violence,” according to their website. It also states: “The purpose of the conference is to provide a national training opportunity for 1,500+ workers from rape crisis centers, state sexual assault coalitions and other allies (medical professionals, law enforcement, campus rape crisis programs, public health department workers, and others) from across the United States and its territories.”

If you are going to be at the conference, please stop by the iCarol booth! Have questions or want to set up a time to meet? Please !

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Upcoming Changes to ‘Help’ Area in iCarol

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Are you familiar with the iCarol Help Library, where you go to watch video tutorials, recordings of training webinars, read help articles, and more? Even if you aren’t familiar with our existing iCarol Help Library, you aren’t going to want to miss the important, exciting news we’re about to share with you!

In recent years, iCarol has continued to evolve and grow to best meet the needs of our clients. With that growth, we recognize our Help Library needs to be updated to reflect the evolution we’re sure you’ve all seen.

That is why our team at iCarol is working hard to redesign the entire Help Library as you know it today. The following are some important changes we’d like to highlight that you’ll be seeing in the coming months:

    New Guides: Some users may already be familiar with the ‘Get started!’ menu, which contains Guides that walk you through different tasks that you need to complete in iCarol. Our team is working to develop these Guides to help with your training needs. Watch out for more details in future blogs!

    Update existing training materials: Some training material you may be used to accessing could be unpublished for a variety of reasons. The biggest reason is because we are re-evaluating our existing style guide and making changes to the way information is presented to you. So if you find yourself unable to locate training material you previously had access to, simply have a designated Support Contact from your organization go to Help in the left side menu to submit a case requesting information.

    Overall Redesign: In addition to the changes outlined above, the entire look and flow of the Help Library is being updated to incorporate the same growth you’ve seen in other areas of iCarol. This means if you are used to searching the library a certain way, you will need to be aware of the changes so you can know how to still search for the information you need to find. Watch out for more details in future blogs!

This blog is the first in a series that we will be releasing throughout the year to keep you informed of the changes you’ll be seeing throughout our Help Library; so, make sure you keep an eye out for more details!

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iCarol response to WannaCry Ransomware attack

Security and Reliability

On Friday May 12, 2017 we were notified by Infrastructure Engineers that a massive global attack was underway which had already infected hundreds of thousands of computers and servers worldwide. This attack was known as the WannaCry virus and it targeted a vulnerability in Windows-based operating systems by encrypting the contents of a hard drive and any shared drive that computer was provided access. To decrypt the contents and return the hard drive back to a normal state, users were presented with a message demanding a ransom payment in Bitcoins, a virtual online currency that is difficult to trace.

Microsoft had recently released a patch to secure this vulnerability, which we had scheduled to deploy with our next patching cycle on June 11, 2017 after validation in our labs. However with news of this attack and following the recommendation from Microsoft Support and our Infrastructure Engineers, we acted swiftly and began the patching process of our external perimeter servers, considered to be at the highest risk of being targeted. By the end of the day Saturday May 13th, our exterior perimeter was secured in our production environments. We continued the process Sunday May 14th to secure our Disaster Recovery sites and by the end of the day Monday May 15th we completed the securing of our desktops, internal application and database servers. Following these actions, we can confidently say that all servers have now been secured in the iCarol infrastructure against the WannaCry virus.

Guidance for our users

We advise all of our users to be sure you stay up-to-date on browser and operating system updates on your machines. If you are running a Windows-based operating system please be sure to run the latest updates (Control Panel > Windows Update > Check for Updates) to make sure you pick up the latest patches and protect yourself from WannaCry and other viruses.

We take our role as stewards of your data, including sensitive information about the people you serve and the important work you do, very seriously. Should you have any questions about system security in the wake of the WannaCry Ransomware attack, please do not hesitate to reach out to our Support Team.

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iCarol to attend the 2-1-1 Leadership Summit and United Way Community Leaders Conference

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I’m excited to be attending the upcoming United Way CEO 2-1-1 Summit and Community Leadership Conferences next week in Orlando! Of the many big ideas and opportunities we can advance collectively, some of my favorites are those that contribute to 2-1-1’s operating as a coordinated national network, and that increase our relevance in key areas like social determinants of health. I’m looking forward to formal presentations and “hallway talks” about:

  • Deeper engagements with medical and behavioral health entities
  • Technology standards to harmonize the distribution of social and human services data to trusted partners
  • Coordination of the National Texting Platform
  • Greater use of “syndromic survellience” (love that term) to alert our leaders to emerging crises and issues

If these topics are of interest to you too, please let’s make sure we connect in a session or during a break to explore how we can advance 2-1-1’s overall, and your 2-1-1 network in particular, in the near term.

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Faster delivery of your data exports

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One of the most common challenges faced by non-profit human services agencies is taking all the data that they generate each day and finding ways to use it to tell the story of their impact. Every day in iCarol systems across the world, thousands of pieces of data, are recorded. There are the calls, chats, texts, and other interactions where specialists record detailed information about those contacts, what they need and what services were directly provided, or the referrals made. Each referral record may contain over a hundred fields of information updated by resource specialists on an ongoing basis. There’s shift information, who worked and when, and how many hours each volunteer logged in a given period of time. Speaking of volunteers, in addition to hours worked there are the trainings and certifications they’ve achieved, new skills obtained, contact information, and the list goes on. That’s just a small sampling of the kinds of information being captured, and when you multiply just the things listed so far by nearly 70,000 users worldwide, it really adds up!

Much of your storytelling can be achieved through the dozens of charts, graphs, and other tools available in the Statistics area of iCarol. All of the most common data points our customers require are typically found there, and especially once you add in the available standard filters like location or time frame, or more custom filters from your call report fields, the information produced from these in-system reports is very powerful. Still, there are reasons you may need to dig deeper and export detailed files. Some take the raw call report data and place it into external programs for further manipulation or cross tabulation, or prefer to write their own queries. In the cases of fields where a text answer is provided instead of selecting from a dropdown or checkbox list, an export is needed to review the information that can’t be quantified.

Using iCarol you can export much more than your call report data. Detailed information on your shifts, volunteer information, client profiles, and your full database of resource records are all available to be extracted. Some centers have policies or contracts that require local copies of contact data or a hard copy of the resource database be downloaded on a regular basis. These are just a few of the instances where a data extract may be required.

Of course we take great care to ensure that this data is secured and protected, but also accessible to you when you need it. While we act as its caretakers, the data is owned by our clients and it’s important that they be able to download it for offline use outside of iCarol when needed. As you can imagine, these large amounts of data take time to retrieve and process. Our systems also contend with multiple simultaneous requests from various organizations across the globe. As iCarol grows and more and more non-profit agencies use it and add to this mountain of data, it’s our job to ensure that our high performance standards continue to be met.

Early this year, members of our technical team endeavored to apply a fresh approach to the processing of this data. We made changes to the service that generates those data exports in an effort to reduce the wait times between making the request and receiving the data. The team was able to accomplish this by optimizing queries, re-architecting the exporter service being used, deploying additional services, as well as making changes to the exporter schedule.

So with all this talk of data, it’s time to share some of our own. Following these changes to our export service, we decided to compare some numbers occurring in February of two different years: 2016, prior to any changes, and February 2017 after the new approach had been put into place. The table below shows this comparison. The “Time to complete” accounts for the number of minutes that elapse between when the extract request is made, and then the email notification of completion gets emailed. It’s also worth noting that there were over 100 more exports requested in February 2017 than in February 2016, and yet as you can see our average time overall and for the individual types of exports all decreased by significant percentages.

Data export comparison

As time goes on we’ll continue to monitor this performance and look at comparisons using a larger sample size to get a fuller picture of the progress. This first look, however, is very promising and we’re hoping this has had a noticeable positive impact on our clients as they request these exports.

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May is Mental Health Month

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May 1st marks the beginning of Mental Health Month. It’s a fitting time for all mental health advocates to recommit ourselves to spreading awareness and education, and opening ourselves to our own further enlightenment on the subject.

A number of well-known organizations are celebrating the month with valuable information on their website and social media feeds. Here are just a few:

Mental Health America has a Mental Health Month Toolkit available for download on their website. Their theme this year is “Risky Business” which encourages people to be aware and mindful of habits and behaviors that may increase the risk of developing or exacerbating mental illness.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reminds us of the prevalence of mental health conditions, affecting 1 in 5 Americans, and how those conditions impact friends and family as well. Their #IntoMentalHealth campaign encourages discussion and advocacy for awareness and reduction of stigma and prejudice.

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) urges us to #GetLoud as they celebrate Mental Health Week from May 1st through 8th. Going further than just reflecting on one’s mental health, CMHA encourages Canadians to demand the services, programs, and respect necessary to be well by getting loud and writing to members of parliament, speaking out on social media and in public, and donating time and money.

The National Council for Behavioral Health is promoting three key topics through infographics available on their website. These include Women’s Mental Health, Super Skills to Help a Friend, and a graphic that helps decipher whether a teen’s behavior may be part of their normal development or a warning sign of mental illness.

Undeniably one of the hottest topics in the field of mental health and suicide prevention right now is the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” which has generated some praise and a lot of criticism for its portrayal of teen suicide. While many argue that it’s doing a good thing by bringing the topic out into the open in such a huge way, others worry that its methods are unethical, that it discourages teens from seeking help from adults and professionals, and that it romanticizes suicide and presents it in a harmfully graphic way. School systems across North America have sent home letters advising parents of the series’ popularity and are encouraging adults watch the show to assess its appropriateness for their teen and to protect youth who may be particularly vulnerable to its content, as well as watching it with teens to prompt discussion and processing of the content. For its part, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention held a webinar on the topic, which quickly booked up. They’re promoting awareness of risk factors and warning signs as a part of Mental Health Month and have made the webinar recording available for viewing.

We hope these resources will help you spread the word about Mental Health Month. Is your organization holding an event or do you have your own content to share? We’d be happy to help you spread the word, just leave us a comment below!

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