Happy Pi Day! What’s that exactly? Remember geometry and learning about finding the area and perimeter (aka circumference) of circles? To get your calculation correct, you need Pi in your equation. You might also see pi as the Greek letter “π”. It’s the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter — which is always approximately 3.14159… (it’s actually been calculated to over one trillion digits beyond the decimal point!).
In the US and some other countries we write our dates in a MM/DD/YY format so today, March 14th, is 3/14 — Pi Day! And even though most other countries write their dates in a DD/MM format, today is generally accepted as Pi Day worldwide since there are only 12 months. If you’re nerdy like me, you can read more about Pi Day here. Yes, it’s a real thing. Yes, it has its own website.
In honor of Pi Day, here are 3 interesting uses of pie charts in iCarol.
1. A Bird’s Eye View
Use Pie Charts to give you a sort of broad overview of how the numbers or percentages are shaping up for a certain sub-category of your contact form. Or, use it as an overview of your location breakdowns.
In the Analysis tab of Statistics, when selecting Chart Type, you have two Pie Charts to choose from, either Caller Issues and Demographics (which will start by showing you all the Categories on your contact form) or Caller Location.
The resulting charts are below. If you selected the Caller Issues and Demographics chart you get this broad overview of your contact form Categories.
And if you selected the Location pie chart you’ll see a high level look at the geographic location entries.
2. Drill down to get more detail
Once you’ve got that high level pie chart available, you can click on pieces of the pie to drill into the data below. Drilling into a Category will then show you the sub-categories that are available. These sub-categories are the Groups or questions asked within each category on your contact form. On a location chart, drilling into the State or Province piece of the pie will show you the county level information.
If we take our Caller Issues and Demographics chart above and drill into the mauve colored “Issues” category, we’ll see the Issue choices of sub-categories.
If we click on the “Mental Health/Counseling” piece of the pie, we’ll drill down to the lowest available level, which are the field choices or answer options within that sub-category. These are the items you may find in the drop-down or list of check box choices on the contact form.
As mentioned, if you drill further down into the location pie chart, you’d get the counties breakdown. So if I click on Nevada, I’ll see the Nevada counties chosen.
Clicking on Eureka county shows me how the city numbers shape up for that county.
3. Percentage vs. Count
Remember if percentages aren’t really your thing and you’d like to see a count instead, just click the “Total Count” option for any of the pie charts shown.
Now that I’ve told you a bit more about pie charts in iCarol, I suggest you go celebrate Pi Day in the truly best way possible — enjoy a piece of real, edible pie.
You may have heard of something called the GDPR, which comes into force May, 2018, and might be wondering what it stands for, and what it means. While my personal favorite for the acronym is Grateful Dead Public Radio, an Internet station located in Baltimore, Maryland, in this context, GDPR actually stands for General Data Protection Regulation.
What is the GDPR? A regulation which will be enforced in the European Union (EU) starting on May 25, 2018. It will broaden the definition of personally identifiable data and will strengthen enforcement for its handling. It also gives individuals (called “clients” in this blog, in GDPR documentation referred to as “data subjects”) the power to request copies of any personally identifiable data you track about them, and the power to ask that it be removed from your system.
Before I move to specific details about the GDPR, let me cite a best practice, true for any country on the planet. If your organization doesn’t need your clients’ personally identifiable data for your business processes, don’t ask it and don’t log it even if it is offered. Use shredding (described later in the blog) to remove personally identifiable data after a set period if this practice aligns with your business process. (See the Data Minimisation section below).
iCarol customers own their data 100%. We, at iCarol feel very strongly that any organization should have the right to access their own data. We, as your data stewards, bear some responsibility in ensuring we process only the data to which your clients give permission, and that we both need to put processes in place to keep it secure. At all times, you have the ability to export your data and can delete or modify the personally identifiable data about your clients.
Locations affected: Some have asked us if they are affected by the GDPR even if they are not in the EU. If you work with clients in the EU, then yes, you must adhere, even if your organization is located in North America, or any other location outside the EU.
Location for data storage: Does the GDPR require personal data from clients in the EU to stay in the EU? No it does not. There are no new restrictions on the transfer of personal data outside of the EU. However, there should be more central coordination in place to oversee data activities, and there are rules regarding the following areas:
Consent: You must explicitly, in a very clear manner, ask for consent to track any data about the client. You’ll need to explain what you’d use the data for. We strongly recommend you add a question to your contact forms, also referred to as call report forms, if you don’t today indicating the client has given consent. Since you can add guiding language to a contact form, you might consider wording the question as your legal team specifically suggests, and make sure your volunteers and staff ask it exactly as worded. If you use chat or text, use the pre-chat or pre-text survey to explicitly ask the question.
Data Minimisation: Organizations can collect only the personal data that is adequate and relevant to the intended purpose. As we stressed above, if you do not need personally identifiable data from your client for your process, do not ask it or log it. For instance, if you do not need a social number or other uniquely identifiable data, don’t ask it and log it thinking you might need it later.
Accuracy: The data about a client must be accurate, which means it must be kept up to date if it is retained. Your client has the right to ask for changes if they feel data is inaccurate. Rights to edit submitted contact forms, also known as contact records, can be granted to iCarol volunteers and staff, or your iCarol Administrator(s) can edit the record. Administrators also have the right to edit client profiles, as can volunteers and staff if you grant them the rights.
Retention of data: Personal data must be kept only for as long as it is needed to fulfill the original purpose of its collection. Since iCarol provides a “shredding” feature to remove personally identifiable data within your logged records, we strongly suggest considering deploying that feature. If you’re unfamiliar with the feature, please see the section below on it.
Security of the data: There are a variety of ways to secure the data. iCarol takes the security of your clients’ data very seriously. While the GDPR does not require encryption, personally identifiable data is encrypted within iCarol “in transit” (when it is traveling from a volunteer or staff member’s device to our servers in the data centre), and “at rest”, when it is saved in the database. A number of other security provisions are also in place to protect the data. Should you need more information on this area, please contact me at to schedule a conference call.
Data Access: As noted above, your clients have the right to ask for transcripts of any of their personally identifiable data which is logged in iCarol. You may print out logged records and print them to PDF. We strongly suggest sending them in an encrypted email, or storing them on a secure FTP site for your client to log into to retrieve them. Later this year, iCarol will release the ability to password protect the PDF. You’ll also want to share with them any profile data you may have stored about them, which is accessible by exporting client profiles, which is available to any Administrator of your iCarol system.
Right to Erasure: Your client has the power to request erasure of their data in your system. It’s important for you to devise a business process on how to handle an erasure request from a client. Using iCarol’s shredding feature can assist in ensuring that very little personally identifiable data exists in your system, and using the search feature for contact forms and profiles can enable you to find it very quickly. iCarol Administrators have the right to delete submitted forms and client profiles.
What is Shredding? Shredding is a feature within iCarol which removes personally identifiable data within contact records. Phone numbers, addresses, names, and any data in a text field is removed from the database when it is shredded. An example of what appears in place of the data is shown below:
iCarol Administrators can turn the feature on in the Admin Tools/Calls tab of iCarol, which schedules the automatic shredding. We already have a range of timeframes you can select in order to shred the data, based upon the age of the contact record. Shredding allows you to maintain the data in dropdown and checkbox questions in your submitted contact forms for reporting purposes, while protecting data privacy for your clients.
As mentioned above, we at iCarol take the security of your data very seriously, as we know many of you work with subject matter that is highly sensitive and which must remain private. We provide the tools you’ll need to protect that data for your clients, to give both you and them peace of mind.
“Net neutrality” is a term you’ve likely heard in recent months, but did you know that the repeal of these regulations could directly and negatively effect crisis services, suicide prevention, and other aspects of this industry’s online presence and serving consumers on those channels?
Beau Pinkham, Director of Crisis Intervention Services at the Crisis Center of Johnson County, recently penned an article on this topic on his organization’s blog. If you attended our recent webinar you know that Beau is well-versed in providing services online, and the technological hurdles crisis centers must navigate in delivering these services. He writes, in part:
Volunteers at The Crisis Center answer about 30,000 crisis contacts each year. About half of those are calls to the 24-hour hotline and half are chats. Soon, chat will surpass phone calls as the primary mode by which people in crisis get help. Demand is at an all-time high but nationally, only 9 percent of chats are answered.
At IowaCrisisChat.org, we are just beginning to find new, innovative ways to close the gap; but the FCC changed the rules and we are losing control.
What we built over the last decade is under threat. This entire system, like much of the web, was built with the assumption of open, equitable Internet in which everyone can participate. The FCC tearing net neutrality apart literally puts lives at stake.
Our next webinar is coming up on Wednesday, March 7th at 1pm EST. Traditional competency frameworks are very much based on employment and paid career opportunities. But what if these frameworks could be applied to volunteer work that could help volunteer coordinators, managers, and others identify the best potential volunteers for a position?
That’s the topic that our presenters, Laura Mayer and Liz Barnes, will discuss in our webinar. They created a volunteer competency framework that helps identify and define a high performance volunteer, and refines the recruiting process to predict which candidates will perform successfully and stay with the agency for a long time. The framework helps take that “gut feeling” you may have about who will be a great volunteer during their interview, and put its into a measurable format.
About Our Presenters:
Laura Mayer, Director, PRS CrisisLink
Ms. Mayer is the Program Director at PRS CrisisLink, a 24-hour crisis hotline, textline and telephone reassurance program serving northern Virginia and the District of Columbia. PRS CrisisLink is a program of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services, Inc. and exists so that individuals living with mental illness, substance use disorders, mild intellectual disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, and anyone who faces life crises can achieve safety, personal wellness, recovery and community integration. Ms. Mayer is a graduate of George Mason University’s Community and Global Health program and has brought cost effective and evidence-based suicide prevention programming to the local community. In 2014, Ms. Mayer partnered with the local public mental health system to provide crisis texting to the Fairfax County Public School System and the surrounding communities. Ms. Mayer is a member of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Steering Committee, Suicide Prevention Alliance of Northern Virginia, the Fairfax County Youth Suicide Fatality Review Team and mental health promotion workgroups in several jurisdictions. Ms. Mayer is a certified Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Trainer, Suicide Survivor Support Group Facilitator and holds certifications in suicide risk assessment, domestic violence danger assessments and mental health first aid. She has been interviewed and featured by Comcast Newsmakers and NBC4’s Changing Minds Campaign.
Ms. Liz Barnes is the Assistant Director, Plans and Policy at the Department of Defense Suicide Prevention Office. Her portfolio responsibilities include developing suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention policies, guidance, and strategic planning, as well as the Department of Defense lead for the Veterans/Military Crisis Line and BeThere Peer Support and Outreach Call Center. Ms. Barnes served in the United States Army for nine years in the Ordnance Corps and Adjutant General Corps and had a variety of assignments at the installation level, National Guard Bureau, and Army Staff. Since 2009, Ms. Barnes has worked in the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness in a variety of positions focusing on personnel policy, human resources, and congressional affairs. In 2012, Ms. Barnes was selected to assist in the integration efforts of the Department’s recommendations with the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission. Ms. Barnes is a Board member at Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services (PRS) Inc. and a volunteer hotline and textline crisis worker and core trainer at Psychiatric PRS CrisisLink, in northern Virginia. Ms. Barnes established and co-leads a suicide bereavement support group that fills a gap in services for suicide loss survivors ages 18-24 years old in the Washington Metropolitan area. Ms. Barnes is also an Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) Trainer. Ms. Barnes holds a Bachelor’s Degree from McDaniel College in Sociology and a Master’s Degree from Georgetown University in Human Resources Management.
Helplines Partnership (HLP) is an important membership body for organizations that provide helpline services in the UK and around the world. They facilitate high quality service delivery to callers by providing training, a Helplines Quality Standard, and tailored support. HLP also raises the profile of the helpline sector by representing their members’ interests and influencing the social policy agenda. For over 25 years, Helplines Partnership has supported its members to deliver a quality service to vulnerable people when they need help the most.
HLP held their Annual Conference on November 30, 2017. The Conference this year was themed around “Life’s Journey” and held in London. It provided an opportunity for helpline professionals to network with one another, find inspiration and rejuvenate purpose and energy from the speakers and seminars presented. The conference also served as the place setting for Helpline Partnership’s Annual General Meeting, and Awards Ceremony recognizing achievements of member helplines in several categories. More than 120 people attended the conference this year, representing 40-50 helplines from HLP’s membership.
Following a welcome by Chair Sophie Andrews, the day began with its first ever International Member Showcase featuring Wida Yalaqi, founder of Afghanistan Capacity Development and Educational Organization (ACDEO). ACDEO is a helpline in Afghanistan, which works to improve the well-being of all Afghans by developing social welfare and promoting a better quality of life. Despite the great work done for women’s empowerment in Afghanistan, the vast majority of the Afghan population remain unaware of the rights afforded to women within the Afghan constitution. This prompted Wida, (an Afghan native who received her higher education in the UK before moving back to Afghanistan in 2005), to found the organization. They offer counseling, mental health support, advice on self-protection, consultation with a religious scholar if desired, and referrals to ground-based service providers. In the few years since its 2013 inception, ACDEO has helped more than 56,000 families with legal advice and counseling, and connected more than 2,000 callers with legal, protection and health services. Among their key accomplishments is the improvement of community perceptions of women’s rights.
For many attendees, the international showcase proved to be one of the most fascinating and awe-inspiring parts of the day. Hearing about the unique challenges faced by this helpline’s staff, and the high quality of services delivered by them in the face of some seemingly insurmountable odds was admirable. In addition to the typical challenges all helplines face, ACDEO must overcome obstacles like making connections with people, particularly women, who live in extremely remote and rural provinces. They are often illiterate and completely cut off from resources the rest of us take for granted, such as Internet access. Because their work is considered controversial within the framework of local culture, the staff face threats to their safety and must take many precautions just to carry out their work each day, navigating bomb threats and evacuations. Taking all this into account, it’s clear to see just how courageous and committed these helpline staff are in carrying out their work to improve the lives of Afghans.
With the conclusion of the international showcase, it was time to move to the seminars. Debbie Sadler spoke on behalf of Unlock, a national charity that provides a voice and support for people with convictions who are facing stigma and obstacles because of their criminal record, often long after they have served their sentence. Debbie spoke about the evolving ways in which clients wish to reach them, often dependent upon demographics. This discussion gave a chance for members to reflect on how much they are also seeing demands for alternative channels, which helps to inform Helplines Partnership of the training needs of their members as well.
The second seminar was presented by Emily Hodge of Coaching Emily. Emily is an ex-NHS and charity professional health psychology specialist and coach, and cancer survivor. She supports people moving forward from cancer and places a focus on gentle living and well-being. Emily’s seminar was particularly suited to the “Life’s Journey” theme of the conference. It was very helpful to attendees as far as the discussion of resilience and self-care needed to be effective helpline workers, given some of the vicarious trauma and personal toll that helping others can have on helpers and carers. Group exercises and discussion were a key part of Emily’s presentation.
Speaker Elizabeth Burton-Phillips MBE, who doubled as awards presenter, is the founder of DrugFam, an organization providing support to families of those struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. Elizabeth shared her personal journey as the parent of twin sons addicted to heroin, and the painful loss of one of her sons to the addiction, while the other is now in recovery. Elizabeth told her story, which many who have loved someone struggling with addiction, particularly parents, could identify with. As a secondary school teacher working in a nice community whose sons went to a private school, she never imagined drugs or addiction would be an issue. She spoke about the fact that addiction can touch any family, regardless of income, class, race, or other factors. As her sons’ substance use progressed, Elizabeth found herself making decisions out of love and wanting to provide her sons with comfort, but realized that in the end her actions were not what was truly best for her sons and actually enabled them instead. Her book Mum, Can You Lend Me Twenty Quid? What drugs did to my family explores the impact that drugs have had on her family, and serves as a reminder to families battling addiction that they are not alone. She founded DrugFam in order to help families going through similar experiences, and her charity work earned her the award of Member Of The Most Excellent Order Of The British Empire.
Elizabeth also hosted the Helpline Awards ceremony where six charities received honors in six different categories. iCarol sponsored the award for Best Innovative Use of Technology. You can read more about that here!
Chrissy B aka Christoulla Boodram, television personality and mental health advocate, participated in the conference by speaking alongside several of the guests including Dr. Audrey Tang, resident Psychologist on her program. Chrissy B’s show is dedicated entirely to mental health and wellbeing and is the UK’s only TV show with this as its sole focus. Chrissy B and her guests lead the conference participants in her signature Mental Health Dance Challenge providing all conference goers with the chance to have a little fun while being reminded of the importance of good mental health. The show was recorded and aired on Sky 203 on Monday 23 January 2018. You can watch the show featuring the HLP conference below, or visit Chrissy B’s YouTube channel.
The day ended with a keynote by Claire Lomas MBE. Claire was working as a chiropractor and had reached the highest level in the equestrian sport of eventing when a tragic accident left her paralyzed from the chest down. The adjustment after this drastic and life-alerting event was obviously an immense challenge for Claire, and it was hard not to dwell on all she had lost. While there were many dark days, she managed to dig deep to find the strength and courage to completely rebuild her life with renewed goals and focus.
Claire became headline news worldwide in 2012 when she walked the London Marathon in a pioneering robotic suit, which took a grueling 17 days and raised £210k for Spinal Research. She became the first owner of a robotic suit and used it when she had the honor of lighting the Paralympic cauldron in Trafalgar Square. In 2013 Claire completed a 400-mile hand-cycle around parts of England, visiting schools on the way to inspire students, and raising another £85k supporting the Nicholls Spinal Injury Foundation.
Claire is a woman who never stops reaching for the next achievement. Believing that there will soon be a cure for spinal paralysis, in 2014 and 2015 she organized a series of events that took the fundraising total to over £500k, securing her place as one of Britain’s most inspirational women. She completed the Great North Run in 2016, and last summer she became the first paralyzed female with a motorcycle racing license.
Though a split second altered the course of Claire’s life forever, she emerged from the darkness to find new and immeasurable ways to contribute to the world. Claire’s keynote address left the audience emotional and inspired.
As you can hopefully see from this recap, the day was considered a resounding success by organizers and attendees alike. Feedback included praise such as:
“Very relevant and inspiring” “This is the best Conference I have attended” “Fantastic, funny and moving”
To learn more about Helplines Partnership membership and other information, you can visit them online, and follow them on social media:
Adding on new communications channels people can use to reach your helpline is a critical element of providing effective service to your community in the 21st century. But, while the addition of such contact methods is important, it brings with it a unique set of challenges that crisis centers must be ready to address. Online emotional support, particularly Live Chat, can be extremely anonymous. In fact, that’s part of the appeal for users — the ability to confide in someone without revealing one’s face, voice, and identity sets exactly the stage that many people prefer or need in order to truly open up and reach out for help. In instances where emergency rescue might be needed for a person in imminent danger, the same exciting technology that allows so many in need to access help in the way they prefer can create anxiety and headaches for crisis workers who want to help.
Join us for our next webinar where we’ll delve into the topic of active intervention in the online space, and how this aspect of crisis intervention continues to evolve.
When: Thursday, January 25, 2018 Time: 2:00pm Eastern
Director of Crisis Intervention Services
The Crisis Center of Johnson County
Beau has been part of the crisis intervention/suicide prevention field since 2002, when he started volunteering at his local crisis line. Subsequent experience being a flood recovery outreach counselor after the devastation of 2008 and working with the homeless population after that led him to a staff position with The Crisis Center of Johnson County, where he currently directs crisis intervention and suicide prevention services. He is a current board member for Contact USA, an accrediting body for crisis centers across the United States, and is part of the American Association of Suicidology’s Strategic Media Response Task Force. He has been involved in panel discussions on the intersection of video games and suicide at SXSW and other conferences, and has presented on how tech trends have affected and will continue to affect crisis intervention services.
By now many of you have read about the recently discovered security vulnerabilities named Meltdown and Spectre. We are closely tracking the availability of patches for different systems, and many of our systems in our data centers have already been patched. We’ll continue to monitor this on a daily basis and apply high confidence patches to our systems expeditiously.
We encourage iCarol users to be vigilant in monitoring for patches and updating your own PCs, laptops, mobile phones and other devices, to ensure the highest possible security. This includes paying close attention to available operating system updates (Windows Update, for example) and installing these updates promptly. Browser security is key as well, so be sure to check for and install the latest updates to your browsers of choice. Note also that as new security patches become available more updates may be necessary, and so fully securing your local tools from Spectre and Meltdown could be a multi-stage process.
Protecting and securing your data in iCarol is our top priority, which means we continuously review and audit our security protocols to continue offering the security you need and expect from iCarol. A recent audit has directed us to end support for TLS 1.0, TLS 1.1, SSL 2.0/3.0, and only to support TLS 1.2 and above. This means, that as of January 27, 2018, if you are accessing iCarol using a browser such as MS Internet Explorer 10, you will need to upgrade or switch to a supported browser to securely log into iCarol. Microsoft themselves ended support for IE10 almost two years ago and discourages its continued use.
You can visit https://www.howsmyssl.com/ to check your current browser security. If your SSL client is anything less than “Probably Okay,” then we strongly recommend you consider updating your browser and/or switching to another supported browser when accessing iCarol. Users attempting to log into iCarol with an insecure browser will be displayed a message on the login screen instructing them to upgrade by January 27, 2018 to prevent log in disruptions.
We thank you for your understanding as we make this change to continue offering the secure service you know and trust.
The end of a year is typically a time for introspection as we look back on what we’ve accomplished and begin to plan for the future. This past year has certainly been challenging for a variety of reasons, but you, our clients, have been a consistent source of inspiration throughout it all. You have repeatedly stepped in to assist the most vulnerable in their time of greatest need. Whether it was responding to those at risk during and after hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, helping survivors in the aftermath of a violent attack and addressing the surge in awareness and discussion around those topics, assisting those struggling in their day-to-day environment, or handling countless other problems and requests, you have stepped up to make a positive difference in the world.
They say there’s strength in numbers, and you demonstrated it this year with creative partnerships to aid each other in your respective missions. In the interest of brevity, I’ll cite just two examples: first, a California 211 who on very short notice agreed to back up a Florida crisis center as Irma grew close, utilizing iCarol’s ability to share contact forms and resource data. The plan ensured help seekers would still have someone to assist them even as the Florida center lost its power and telephone service. The California 211 logged over 1,100 call reports during that crisis.
In another powerful example of strength in numbers, a group of crisis centers across Canada banded together to form the Canada Suicide Prevention Service (CSPS), agreeing on a common process and technology standard in order to provide a seamless network of assistance to those in crisis. The vision of a unified national service was first championed by Karen Letofsky, and began providing service in late November of this year. CSPS uses iCarol for logging contacts, chat and texting. Their very first interaction, a chat, resulted in an active rescue of a teenager. Countless other stories could be told of the valuable services you’ve all performed throughout this year, and of the powerful network you’ve built to assist each other in times of need.
At iCarol we have always strived to provide the best possible software and service we could to empower you further. After listening closely to your feedback last year, in 2017 we focused most strongly on overall service stability, product quality and in the addition of critical functionality to iCarol. We also wanted to ensure we built in additional feedback loops from you to help us continue to improve. So, you might ask, how have we done?
I’m pleased to say that for 2017 thus far, we’ve achieved our best “up time” in the past 10 years, exceeding 99.972% system availability, per our third-party monitoring service. To put 99.972% in context, it averages out to only 24.2 seconds of down time per day, or a total of 2 hours, 27 minutes and 15.9 seconds for the entire year. We’re feeling especially good about the percentage given that this year our customers logged over 10 million contact forms in iCarol, doubling the number of forms entered just 3 years ago. Your need for access to iCarol stretches ‘round the clock, and our relatively small company has delivered this year with up times comparable to industry giants like Salesforce and Amazon, ensuring you have access to your systems as you provide vital services.
We are constantly looking for ways to improve product quality. iCarol contains almost 300,000 lines of code, which implies a significant amount of work to continually test its feature functionality. In late 2016 and throughout 2017, we’ve been investing in automated testing as a way to ensure more ongoing, consistent testing. To date we’ve created 220 automated test cases, which will be kicked off nightly as the codebase is updated with new bug fixes or features. Our plan is to grow the number of automated cases to cover more and more of iCarol, thereby relying a little less on manual testing, which can be subject to human error. The more product defects we can capture before a release, the better iCarol will perform for you. This will also help us to speed up our release cycle in 2018, releasing an update on average every two weeks throughout the year, delivering feature functionality to you more quickly. As always, check the iCarol Dashboard for news on upcoming releases and any features it may contain.
The iCarol Ideas Portal was launched this February as a more formal feedback loop for you to suggest improvements, and to vote on Ideas of fellow customers. It also enables the ability for Q&A, allowing our Product Management team to gather more detailed information about selected Ideas. We’re thrilled that you’ve jumped in and begun logging your Ideas, enabling us to see trends in your voting. We’ve implemented multiple Ideas this year, and plan to add more in 2018.
In 2017, 2,769 code changes were made to iCarol, which translates into over 790 features and bug fixes added throughout the year, as we strove to improve iCarol per your feedback. Some of the most notable enhancements this year included a new release of Messaging, which incorporated the text or chat conversation into the call report form, the massive Field Visibility enhancement for resource database managers, and an updated Public Resource Directory 2.0, with its configurable Guided Search, among other features.
Smaller enhancements can also provide a lot of value for our clients, as you reminded us through your suggestions on the Ideas Portal. These included enabling a custom date range for the Summary Report, receiving an email notification when a resource is flagged for review, requesting email outcomes from an Automated Verification campaign, receiving notifications for bounced email from an Automate Verification campaign, and initiating an Automated Verification request when editing a resource record.
Finally, we’ve also begun formalizing focus groups on particular areas of functionality we’d like to improve. If you are a “Power User” of a particular area of iCarol, meaning you use it heavily, and have strong opinions on how it could be improved, we’d love to hear from you so that we can add you into a focus group. Each group will be small, but will hone in on specialized functionality so that we can obtain very detailed feedback on what works, what doesn’t, and the special requirements and limitations you run into in your environment. As I hope I’ve conveyed throughout this note, your voice and expertise is a valued part of our business, especially as part of our product management process.
All in all, it’s been quite a year. We hope you’ve weathered the storm well in both your personal and professional life, and we wish everyone a safe, secure and happy new year. Everyone at iCarol continuously marvels at the fine work you do and your life-changing and life-saving contributions to our world, and we’re excited to see your continued positive influence in the new year. We remain honored to serve you, our clients, and look forward to another year of service and giving in 2018 and beyond.
If you want to witness one of the most challenging yet also most rewarding aspects of helpline work, look to the major holidays. Centers that operate 24/7/365 experience the challenge of staying open all the time and being there for help seekers even on major religious and civic holidays. It can be tough to staff these days, and hard for staff and volunteers to spend a special holiday away from friends and family, but ultimately knowing that you helped someone in their time of need makes the hard work and sacrifice worthwhile.
So what kinds of calls (or chats or texts!) do helplines receive on these major holidays?
Hello from a familiar voice
At any given hotline it’s fairly common to have a population of people both in and outside their communities for whom the helpline is a part of this person’s support network. These folks rely on the helpline as a support system for a number of reasons; limited social and familial relationships, daily coping with mental illness or disabilities, loneliness, or someone simply had a very successful interaction that keeps them coming back for support. Regardless of the reason, helplines should take this caller loyalty as a compliment and endorsement. And you’ll likely hear from these same people on the holidays as well, either to check-in and talk like they normally would, or often with an added “Thank you for being there.”
More than a handful of times I can recall answering the phone on a major holiday and the person on the other end was baffled by the sound of another human voice. “Oh…hello? Are you a real person?” or “Oh wow, you guys are there today!” Often they were prepared to have to leave a message or were just testing the line. It was nice to hear someone pleasantly surprised that they could speak to another person on a day where so much was going on and so many other services are closed, and it usually made me feel like I was in the right place that day.
I need a meal/toy for my child/counselor/shelter/etc.
These calls can be a challenge because for many situations, the help seeker isn’t going to be able to get help that day. As mentioned above, many services are closed and it can be tough to give a person referrals but know that their situation may remain in limbo until the holiday has passed. Thankfully in my experience there were at least a handful of non-profits or religious institutions who were open and providing things like hot meals on many holidays, and even those who had last-minute toy giveaways for families with children who hadn’t signed up for such programs in advance.
Crises don’t take a day off
For many people, holidays are more stressful than they are delightful, and actually present a recipe for crisis. Tensions that were simmering below the surface can easily rise up when a person is under stress. And while for most people family gatherings are a happy occasion, for others these get-togethers can easily result in outbursts or even violence. Of course this can happen in a group setting or to someone who is alone. After all, a holiday is just another day, presenting all the same hardships as the day before. There is nothing special about a holiday that can create a foolproof barrier against a crisis or suicidal thoughts — making it all the more critical that someone be available to help talk things through or intervene in some way.
I want to help
Holidays that put a focus on gratitude and generosity will bring out the best in people. For many, the spirit of giving is coursing through them so much that they’re looking for a last minute opportunity to volunteer somewhere so they can give back to others in need. Unfortunately for these generous people, most organizations have long since filled their need for volunteers on the actual holiday, plus there are application processes and/or training that make it infeasible to accept these spur of the moment offers of volunteerism. Luckily these folks are usually willing to accept referrals to the many organizations in their area that need volunteers year ’round, not just on the holidays, and would hopefully follow through with their plan to help after going through the proper processes.
Holidays are a painful reminder
For many people the holiday itself can be a cause of negative feelings, and they need someone to vent to. Perhaps they have a particularly bad memory associated with the day or time of year, and pain surfaces as a result. This may be a memory from long ago or something that happened much more recently, but anniversaries tend to make us recall these past events and relive the emotions experienced, good or bad. Some people are grieving a lost loved one, and holidays remind them of the empty seat at the table. For others, seeing people enjoying get-togethers with family and friends shines a painful spotlight on their own loneliness or broken relationships. Being the person that was there for them when they needed it most can be very rewarding.
Perhaps the most heartwarming interaction you can have is with the person who calls just to say “Thanks.” Sometimes they’re people who have used your service in the past. Or, it may just be a person who finds out you’re there on a major holiday and recognizes that by sacrificing some of your time, you’re making a positive impact on others. A simple “Thank you” goes such a long way.
During the holidays we know many of you out there will be spending some time apart from your families as you work at your helplines serving your communities. On behalf of all of us here at iCarol, thank you for all you do and we wish you a happy holiday season and bright new year!