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Posts Tagged ‘online emotional support’

Join Our Summit in St. Louis

Right now the information and referral industry is in the midst of transformation. In a time where there are varying challenges facing our communities, help-seekers need the expertise and hands-on guidance of information and referral specialists now more than ever. And, in an ever-evolving mobile and connected world, consumers are hanging up their phones in favor of the convenience of communication via texting, live chat, and simply finding the right resources on their own via the web. Meanwhile, stakeholders desire access to data about the needs of the clients served by helplines, the efficacy of the services, and the gaps between human needs and the availability of services to meet them. These changes, and the need to adapt to them in order to stay relevant, can understandably overwhelm members of the industry, from visionaries and leaders to helpline staff.

AIRS Summit quote for blog

Coming from helpline backgrounds ourselves, we’ve always been passionate about creating tools that make helping people even easier. We want to share our insights with you, and that’s why this year we’re holding a special day long intensive training summit just before the AIRS conference in St. Louis. Whether you’re a long-term customer or are considering iCarol for use in your I&R center, please join us to focus on best practices using iCarol, led by our staff of Certified Resource Specialists. Focused on 2-1-1 Directors, Call Center Directors and Resource Managers, you’ll learn about:

  • Strategies for getting the most out of the software
  • Cases studies from our clients using iCarol for innovative solutions
  • Serving clients by phone, web, chat and text in one integrated system
  • Applying the AIRS Standards and using the taxonomy well
  • Advanced training on existing iCarol features and a peek at features coming soon

This day long event will be conveniently located at the same hotel as the AIRS conference, and lunch will be provided.

Learn more and Register

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ONTX releases six months in review data

These past six months, the Ontario Online and Text Crisis Services program has been in a soft launch phase, and on Monday in their monthly newsletter they released some initial data for that period.

Some key findings:

  • Total chats and texts through January 31: 4,700
  • 73% of visitors are under 25 years old
  • Interpersonal and mental health issues were the most common topics of discussion
  • Visitors are reporting a decrease in distress following their chat
  • 55% of visitors said they wouldn’t contact someone else if they couldn’t reach ONTX

For a full look at the released findings click here, and for future updates be sure to sign up for Distress and Crisis Ontario’s newsletter by emailing your request to .

We thank them for sharing these findings — we are often asked by others looking to add online emotional support to their service what they can expect. Data like this is very helpful as other prepare to make the critical shift of bringing their services online.

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9-1-1 texting continues to gain ground

We’ve talked before about how sometimes the need for silence will influence people to use texting instead of a voice call. Sometimes silence isn’t preferred, but necessary, such as in this recent instance of a deaf woman who texted 9-1-1 after she noticed some children left unattended at a shopping mall. Luckily texting to 9-1-1 was enabled in her area.

Texting to 9-1-1 is continuing its expansion throughout the United States and Canada. The Canadian Wireless Telecommunication Association has set up an extensive and detailed website giving overview of the Text-to-911 process in Canada.

In the United States, it seems like each month more and more jurisdictions are adding on texting capabilities. A quick scan of recent news articles about texting 9-1-1 in the US produces alerts about the greater Kansas City area, Minnesota, areas in Texas, and northern California. Note that each of those articles was published this week. It all points to rapid expansion of that technology.

Just another sign of the times as we continue to see just how convenient, efficient, and often necessary texting can be when reaching out for help. We hope helplines will take note as this capability expands and explore texting for the helpline service to follow suit. If you want to learn how Texting works in iCarol, please join me for a Messaging webinar sometime!

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Computer simulations offer no additional benefit over traditional therapy, study finds

Mental Health Professionals concerned that automated self-help programs will put them out of business can take some comfort in a new study — it found that when it comes to mental health care for depression, computerized self-help simulators offered no additional benefits over traditional therapies one might receive from their primary care physician. In fact, the study found that nearly 25% of participants dropped out within four months and failed to engage with the self-help program.

Dr. Christopher Dowrick of the University of Liverpool wrote an accompanying editorial in which he commented, “It’s an important, cautionary note that we shouldn’t get too carried away with the idea that a computer system can replace doctors and therapists . . . We do still need the human touch or the human interaction, particularly when people are depressed.”

Such simulators have been around for awhile and have increased in popularity as access to technology increases and the stigma surrounding mental health treatment continues. These programs are run purely on artificial intelligence, that is to say there is no human being at the other end giving their feedback or any empathetic response.

So, while it seems looking online for help is a growing trend, taking the human element out of that interaction may not be the best way to go. This is good news, however, for helplines, counselors, and others looking to offer live chat capabilities to their service. Clearly people want to take advantage of the anonymity, and desire a less-threatening way of asking for help, but connecting with a human being on the other end of the online conversation is an all-important element of that process.

NPR published an article about this study which you can read here, or read the study itself here.

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4 staffing strategies to help you weather the storm

blizzard snow storm

Ample staffing at your non-profit helpline is always a top challenge, but bad weather brings with it a whole new set of staffing hurdles. Snowy and icy conditions* can especially spell trouble for seamless shift coverage. Particularly powerful storms not only disrupt travel for days, but they have the potential to impact essential infrastructure like electricity and running water. These weather events take strategy and pre-planning to work through them successfully.

Depending on the severity of the storm, you may have no special plan at all except to tell your specialists that they are expected to be there for their shift or find a substitute to cover for them. In many snow storms, travel is possible so long as precautions are taken, such as driving at slower speeds and being extra vigilant. Call centers in urban settings may also benefit from having volunteers living within walking distance or taking public transportation.

But sometimes travel conditions can become extremely hazardous or even impossible. What then? Here are some methods we’ve commonly seen:

  • The show must go on – Shifts go on as scheduled no matter what. Workers who can’t make it in must give ample notice and find substitutes who are able to travel. iCarol’s shift scheduling tools support you and your staff throughout this process; automatic substitute request emails greatly improve the visibility of your needs and the chances of pick-ups from others.
    • Pros: Little to no prior planning or change to your normal operations.

      Cons: The absence of any back up plan can spell trouble, so you should have some alternative options in mind just in case. Your volunteers may have the best intentions of making it in, but the reality is that Mother Nature can easily stop us in our tracks and there’s only so much a person can realistically do when faced with heavy accumulations and impassable roads. You won’t want to be faced with the scenario where the previous shift is stuck with no relief. Take a moment to also consider the consequences of a potential road accident and injury to your volunteer when traveling in dangerous conditions, and the emotional and potentially litigious repercussions of demanding that volunteers travel in unsafe conditions. Further, when a State of Emergency is declared, it often requires that road travelers have their vehicle outfitted with special equipment, and drivers disobeying the order may even be fined.
  • Transfer your calls – In some instances there may be a partner agency, satellite office of your program, or a back-up center in an area unaffected or less affected by the weather, and they can take the lead on operations for a period of time. Our Call Report form sharing functionality makes it easy for you to pass your service delivery on to other centers, while they use your preferred form(s) to log the interactions they’re taking on your behalf. This also ensures your data collection and the resulting reporting can be seamless regardless of who is actually providing the service.
    • Pros: Less direct impact on you, your volunteers, and staff during the event. Being able to simply forward your service to someone else is very convenient.

      Cons: This does come with a few sacrifices. First, your service delivery is being entrusted to others for a period of time. Necessary MOU’s and other contracts should be in place well in advance to ensure that same or acceptable level of service will be provided by the back up center. Consider any financial compensation that must be paid out as well. And you’ll want to have understandings about proper data collection, call handling policies, and more.
  • Work from home – Technology has made it easier than ever to turn any setting into a call center, even your workers’ homes. Calls could get forwarded to that worker’s personal phone or a phone loaned to them from the office. Chats or texts can be taken from virtually anywhere as well. Special tip for iCarol users who might employ this method: You must either turn off ‘Restriction’ (the feature that makes it so your workers can’t see call reports from a personal computer outside the office) or give your staff and volunteers permissions to install the iCarol Certification Tool on their computer. You can read more about this here.
    • Pros: You’re unlikely to get much push back from your volunteers or staff about this plan; the idea of staying warm, cozy, and off the roads will send many a helpline worker to their happy place. Plus, you won’t have to worry about people physically making it in to the call center for their shift. Worried about productivity? The term is referred to as “shirking from home” — the concern that your employees won’t actually get anything done and left to their own devices will shirk their responsibilities. The good news is, numerous studies have discovered that this is a generally unfounded fear. A Stanford University study of call center workers found home work resulted in a 13% performance increase, people took fewer breaks and sick days, and 4% more calls per minute handled thanks in part to a quieter and more convenient working environment. Home workers also reported improved work satisfaction, and their attrition rate was cut in half. These days there are plenty of communication methods available making it so that remote workers won’t feel disconnected. Keep in mind that with iCarol your supervisors can remotely silent monitor chat and text conversations, leave feedback on logged interactions, put out News alerts, send instant messages to your workers via Internal Chat, send emails and SMS messages, and more. Technology has made us more connected with one another than ever before, even if we’re physically separated by many miles.

      Cons: Most modern phone systems have many remote controls that allow you to sign in remotely and forward calls as needed, but some might require you to be on-site to activate the call transfers. If there are no remote capabilities for controlling where the calls are landing, then that means someone has to make it into the office to flip the switches, possibly rendering the work-from-home scenario moot. You’ll also want to consider home office digital security, and whether or not having employees work off-site violates the terms of any of your contracts. There’s also the matter of assuring your volunteers and staff have a suitable work environment free from distraction or disruptive noise or potential confidentiality violations. They also won’t be able to take advantage of some of the infrastructure that may be available at your center, like battery backups or generators in case of a power outage.
  • Camping out – Marshmallows optional. When the forecast calls for dangerous weather and snow accumulations that might make travel impossible, make a decision ahead of time to suspend the usual schedule, and instead have a crew arrive prior to hazardous road conditions developing. This crew will stay for a period of time until travel is safe again and shifts can resume.
    • Pros: Again, you’ll be free from having to worry about workers traveling or one shift getting stuck because relief didn’t arrive. The whole idea here is that they know they’ll be stuck for awhile, and they’re (hopefully) okay with that. This is a policy you could develop long before winter weather strikes, so that you aren’t faced with a chaotic scramble for a solution just before a blizzard hits. You may even cultivate your list of willing participants ahead of time as well. Being able to make these decisions in advance without the storm bearing down on you is certainly a benefit, simply activate the plan when needed.

      Cons: Directors, Managers, and other decision-makers will want to stay in close contact and clearly communicate expectations, especially concerning staff arrival time and decisions about when normal operations should resume. Volunteer or staff health and well-being is a concern. Does your call center have adequate facilities to keep them comfortable for an extended stay of 24 hours or more? Think about bathrooms, bathing and personal hygiene, and food access and preparation. Mentally and emotionally, how will your staff deal with being at the office for a long period of time? They’ll need to have regular breaks and take time for uninterrupted sleep, which means this plan usually requires at least two participants. You’ll also want to review labor laws in your area to be sure your policy doesn’t violate ordinances relating to a worker’s right to ample breaks, and whether or not additional financial compensation is required.

    How do you keep your helpline operating in spite of dangerous travel conditions for your volunteers and staff?Do you employ one of the strategies above, or do you handle winter storm scheduling some other way? We’d love to hear about it! Leave us a comment!

    * While this article refers specifically to blizzards and other winter weather conditions, these strategies could be employed during any disaster scenario, natural or man-made.

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    Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline to launch texting in 2016

    The Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline is joining the growing list of helplines bringing their service online, as reported by their local media. Read more…

    They’re taking on the task of providing online emotional support to the people of Idaho, particularly youth who tend to prefer texting as a way to reach out for help on sensitive topics, and we hope you’ll join us in wishing them much success with this endeavor. Many helplines are facing the realization that these electronic means of communication are not just the norm these days, but increasingly necessary to reach help seekers, and ultimately a channel that’s assisting hotlines in saving more lives.

    ISPH is just the latest of so many helplines that are taking this step. Thinking about taking your services online? To find out why this is so important, and the ways in which iCarol can help you meet this challenge head on and be successful, join one of our regular webinars about offering Online Emotional Support using iCarol.

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    Looking back on our trip to Detroit

    Last week Eliisa, Jackie, and I spent time in Detroit at the annual conference held jointly by the National Association of Crisis Organization Directors (NASCOD) and CONTACT USA (CUSA).

    The conference was held in the Renaissance Center, which is an incredible complex of several buildings right on the Detroit waterfront. The complex contains the Marriott Hotel, a number of restaurants and a food court, business offices, a GM showroom, and more. It’s a bustling center filled with activity and industry and a pretty cool place to visit.

    GM Renaissance Center Detroit
    Photo shared from the Marriott website

    Attending these conferences serves a couple of purposes for us. It gives members of our team a chance to meet in person to work on projects that we’re otherwise working on virtually together. While working through online meetings is very productive and has its perks, there’s something to be said for changing it up periodically and getting to nail out some stuff together in the same room. I’m happy to say we had a couple great work sessions that are going to result in some pretty awesome stuff for iCarol.

    Jackie, Eliisa, Dana (photographer) and Britt (joining us virtually from Germany!) all working together on marketing and business development activities

    Of course one of the other reasons we attend these conferences is to meet up with members of the helpline industry, whether it’s getting some facetime with the clients we know and love, or getting the chance to talk to new friends about iCarol. On Wednesday night we went out to dinner with several leaders of both NASCOD and CUSA for a fantastic meal at Andiamo in the Renaissance Center.

    Our dinner was delicious but what was really great was the chance to catch up with the members of these groups, hear about what’s going on at their crisis centers, and discuss all the wonderful and difficult things about operating a helpline. Plus it’s so nice getting to know everyone a little better and just relaxing a bit. Oh and the chocolate tuxedo cake. I mean, for real you guys, it was incredible. So life changing I had to tweet about it.

    Thursday presented the opportunity to tour two local organizations, Common Ground and Neighborhood Services Organization.

    Our first stop was at Common Ground. This organization is located in Pontiac, Michigan and provides numerous services to the community. Just a few services they offer include: Mobile crisis, face-to-face assessment, crisis intervention and stabilization, crisis residential units, shelter and residential counseling to runaways, victim assistance program, mental health first aid training, and 24-hour helpline that responds via phone, chat, and text. And that really just scratches the surface, I encourage you to explore their website to learn all about their wonderful programs.

    We got to tour most of this facility and I found it to be such a welcoming, safe space. You could tell that a lot of care is taken to make the center feel warm and comfortable, for instance the residential unit did not feel at all cold or sterile or “hospital-esque.”

    art exhibit
    A traveling exhibit featuring art by consumers was on display.

    One interesting stop we made on the tour was to one of the recreational rooms which also housed a beautiful kitchen. The executive chef was preparing a special birthday dinner for one of the consumers, and noted that in addition to providing nourishing meals there were components to his work that involved teaching their consumers about food prep, healthy eating, and also providing some counseling services.

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    The meal being prepared smelled very enticing!

    A personal highlight of the tour was getting to see Common Ground’s 24 hour call center. We’re honored to have these guys in the iCarol family and it’s always a treat to see the space in which these hardworking crisis professionals are providing their services. Common Ground provides 24 hour phone support, but they also use iCarol to provide chat and texting to their community. In fact, they’re one of several clients who have gone the way of text-enabling their existing helpline number, which means people can text into the same number that they call. We’re glad to hear that this is going great for Common Ground, and other clients are loving it, too. We’ll be bringing you some success stories around text-enabling in another blog at a later date, but for now you can read more details about text enabling here.

    common ground 24 hour call center staff
    Eliisa with the staff of Common Ground’s 24 hour helpline.

    Next up was a visit to Neighborhood Services Organization back in Detroit. Housed in former Bell Yellow Pages facility, as soon as you arrive you can tell that this $50 million community investment was a real labor of love for all involved. You can check out photos of the renovation here and a video on the building’s history and renovation here.

    NSO bell building yellow pages mural front entrance
    A beautiful mural depicting the Bell Building greets visitors and residents at the entrance.

    One program of NSO found in the Bell Building is their Emergency Telephone Service and Suicide Prevention Center (ETS/SPC) which has provided free, 24-hour telephone crisis intervention, suicide prevention and information and referral services for over 37 years. According to NSO’s most recent annual report, in 2014 they responded to 65,743 callers including 750 who were experiencing a suicidal crisis.

    NSO LaNeice tour of call centerLaNeice Jones, Vice President of Programs for NSO and one of our conference hosts, gives us a tour of the call center.

    The building also houses NSO staff offices, and contains 155 furnished, one-bedroom apartments for adults who are working their way beyond their former homelessness. NSO provides a full spectrum of services for the residents, including case management, addictions and mental health treatment, and education on financial literacy and nutrition classes. Having all these services located in a single location and easily accessible to the residents helps address the root causes of homelessness and helps restore lives.

    At the Bell Building there is also a health care clinic which serves not just residents, but other members of the community. And the facility also includes amenities like a gym, fitness room with treadmills and other exercise equipment, computer lab, chapel, and recreation areas.

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    Indoor landscaping beautified one common area.

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    A gymnasium and rooftop garden were among the many amenities.

    If I had to pick one overarching theme or message as I walked through Neighborhood Services Organization it was “Home.” This place is so much more than housing. Yes, it puts a roof over someone’s head, but they are also treating the whole person and addressing the challenges that contribute to homelessness. And all this occurs in a beautiful space that brings dignity to their journey, a place where a true community is formed. So, yes, “Home” is such a fitting word. And ironically as I was writing this blog I found this touching video that perfectly sums up that sentiment.

    After our tours we headed back to the hotel, but LaNeice had a surprise in store for us first! We stopped at the original location of Motown Records! It was very cool to see this historical site where some of America’s greatest music hits were born.

    20151022_171237-1Stop in the name of love! Dana, LaNeice, and Eliisa pay tribute to The Supremes.

    The rest of the conference itself was filled with compelling and highly educational sessions, and we’re sure all the attendees left feeling energized. If you want to catch up on what it was like to attend, check out the hashtag #CrisisDir15 on Twitter. All of us tweeting throughout the conference included this in our tweets and by searching it you can follow along and feel as if you were right there with us (though I hope this blog also accomplished that, too 🙂 ).

    If you want to get in on all the fun for future conferences, we highly recommend NASCOD membership and CONTACT USA accreditation. Both of these organizations offer such great resources to their members and are of extreme value to any helpline.

    We’re so thankful to have been a part of this conference! Special thanks goes out to the Board of Directors for both NASCOD and CUSA, as well as our conference hosts LaNeice and Lisa who truly made everyone feel welcome and at home in Detroit.

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    TxtToday raises funds for national texting warmline

    It’s been awhile since we first told you about about TxtToday, a national texting warmline network spearheaded by CONTACT of Mercer County, NJ in partnership with other helplines across the country. We’re excited to share this update from Chris at TxtToday:

    TxtToday is proud to announce that we will be attending the NASCOD Conference in Detroit this year! We are a national texting warmline with the mission of listening to those in need before their problems become crises. We have so far raised over $26,000 towards our launch goal! We will be distributing more information at the conference so stop by – we are looking forward to seeing all of you!

    If you’re interested in finding out more about this exciting project, make sure you connect with Chris at the CUSA/NASCOD conference in Detroit, or . We’re thrilled at the progress of TxtToday and have enjoyed working with them as they use iCarol Helpline Software to build this network. We’re eager to see how this awesome service continues to grow and develop!

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    5 Ways to Improve Your Disaster Response

    September is considered the peak of hurricane season in the Atlantic, but disaster can strike all year ’round and in all regions. Earthquakes, wildfires, blizzards, tornados, floods, super storms – all areas have seen their share of destructive events.hurricane rita eye storm satellite

    Non-profit helplines play a large role in any community’s disaster plan. Local governments often partner with these helplines and advertise their contact information during disasters as a place to contact for non-emergency information and referral. Information about shelters, emergency food or water drops, road closures, and shelter-in-place tips, are just a few examples of the information that these helplines can relay to the public in a local emergency.

    The availability of such services in times of disaster is crucial – they serve as a way for residents to get much needed information and listening support, while also reducing the burden on local government and diverting non-emergency calls away from 9-1-1.

    Providing this service presents unique challenges to helpline staff, but iCarol offers a number of solutions to reduce the stress of being there for your community during emergencies.

    Benefit from Partnerships

    During a disaster helplines in a region often need to work together to coordinate response. Some disasters may force one or more local helplines to close entirely, or at a minimum a helpline may be short staffed. Using iCarol you can easily share responsibility for managing call/text/chat volume and resource maintenance by using our collaborative options.

    We’ve discussed in previous posts how you can build chat or text networks using iCarol, and such a collaboration would come in extra handy if your center needs to shut down or simply offload some traffic during a disaster. And most phone systems allow for the easy transfer or forwarding of calls.

    With Call Report sharing capabilities, forms used by one center can be set up for use by another helpline in the event calls, texts, or chats are being routed elsewhere. By setting up these shared forms, the original call center can be certain that the center answering calls is filling out all the necessary information and collecting the essential data as if the call was being handled by the original center. You’ll still be able to review the forms and collect statistics on those calls handled by your partner.

    route chat text calls

    Collaboration is not just limited to call reporting forms, however. Helplines can also share a database of community referrals and resources with other helplines so that in the event of an emergency, these helplines can access resources not just in their own community, but elsewhere in the region. Further, helplines can partner together to not only access this database to give referrals to help seeker, but can also share in the responsibility of editing these resources.

    Collect Essential Data

    In the event of a disaster, helplines will likely have specific data they wish to collect on those disaster-related calls, as well as needing a way to separate those calls, chats, or texts from others that may ring through to the center. It’s also very common for local governmental and other agencies to request this data from the helplines so they can monitor the needs of the community and respond accordingly for this and future events.

    The key to collecting data in iCarol is found within the customizable report forms you fill out for each client interaction. Using the robust form editing tools, staff can add necessary questions and other fields for data collection when needed, so as soon as the disaster-related calls come in they are ready to collect the necessary information on the form. Staff can also use this capability to create a simple checkbox where call takers can note that the call was related to the disaster event, which will help identify these calls during statistical reporting later.

    form data collection disaster response

    When it’s time to report on the helpline’s calls, staff can run various spreadsheets, reports, and charts. Results are available in real-time and can be filtered based on whether or not the call was related to the disaster, making it easy to run reports specific to the event, excluding unrelated calls.

    disaster reporting

    Offer Alternative Channels

    Offering alternative channels becomes especially important during a disaster. Phone lines may be down or it may be easier for people in need to text you during these trying times. Plus the mobility of texting means that someone can reach out to you from anywhere, even if they’ve been displaced from their home.

    With iCarol you have complete control over when your messaging service is available, so you can very quickly create a shift and open up your channels as needed. You could even have a special portal specifically for disaster that has its own special report form that collects all the necessary information. And remember with Messaging you can offer all the same referrals and run the same statistical reports as you would for phone calls.

    Increase Your Bandwidth

    An emergency in your community means your volume could increase, so reaching your volunteers and staff is important. Inside iCarol you can promptly send out an email blast or mass text to alert your staff and volunteers of information they need to know, or ask for additional staffing. Quickly adjust your shift calendar to accommodate more open spots and assign your workers to shifts on the fly.

    extra shifts

    If you’d like to specifically track disaster staffing, consider creating new shifts and naming them accordingly for easy reporting. Analyze the hours worked for use in future planning, or to apply for future grants or compensation that may be offered by local governments and other organizations.

    Worker hours stats

    iCarol can be reached from any internet connected device, so you could explore work-from-home options for disaster staffing. You may wish to temporarily turn off any restrictions in place for which computers can access iCarol, or grant certain staff the ability to certify their home computers.

    Provide Critical Information and Referral

    During any sort of emergency, information could develop rapidly and change throughout the event. As your resource managers receive information from the various community agencies or collect information released by your local government, they can respond quickly. Update resource records accordingly, or create new ones with just a few clicks. Use the iCarol News area to post the most up-to-date information; it’ll be front and center when your volunteers first sign on so they won’t miss the latest updates.

    Much like we mentioned earlier with alternative channels, a disaster could mean that even more people are seeking information in alternative ways. Help seekers likely want self-service options to find resources. This is where your Public Resource Directory comes in. Visitors to your website can use an embedded search of your live resource database right on your website to find what they need.

    You can even quickly add highlighted resources during a disaster event to point your visitors right to the information and resources they need. You can also set up advanced, guided searches that are both visually appealing and direct your community to the right resources

    Public Resource Directory

    Our API is another option for referral sharing, giving you and your developers access to your resource data so it can be used in whatever ways you see fit, such as creating a home built web directory, mobile apps, and more.

    Providing assistance to your community during a disaster is a lot of work, but having so many time-saving tools integrated in your helpline software will take some of the stress out of the event, and your seamless response will prove that your helpline is an invaluable resource in your community. And even if your center doesn’t use iCarol, I hope this blog has sparked some ideas for how your helpline can plan ahead and more easily provide services when your community needs it most.

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    National Council on Problem Gambling Conference Recap

    Donna and I recently returned from the National Council on Problem Gambling‘s annual conference, and we had such a great time!

    This year’s conference was held in beautiful Baltimore, Maryland. Since I’m from Maryland and still live there, I was quite excited about attending this conference. It’s always fun when so many people from all over the country or world are visiting, perhaps for the first time, a place with which you’re quite familiar. I had a fun time all week sharing little tidbits about my home state with people from out of town.

    And, if you ever travel to Baltimore I highly recommend the hotel where the conference was held, the Baltimore Hilton right across from Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Perfectly centrally located for all sorts of fun activities in the city including baseball or football games, and the world famous Inner Harbor. Plus the conference rooms and all the accommodations for the conference were top notch.

    Check out this photo taken from my room as the sun sets over Baltimore.

    Baltimore at sunset room view

    In the center of the photo is the Baltimore Convention Center, just to the lower right of that is the famous Otterbein Church, and if you look just above the Convention Center you’ll see the Inner Harbor in the distance. Like I said, centrally located!

    We were invited to attend and present at the pre-conference Helpline Symposium. This was an exciting opportunity to show many of the NCPG affiliates all around the country how iCarol chat and text works. iCarol is the provider for NCPG’s national text and chat lines, so when a chat comes through that website or a text comes through that national text number, it will be routed to an affiliate center based on routing criteria like availability and location. So, as affiliates choose to come online and be part of that national chat and text network, we’ll be ready and delighted to help get them set up on iCarol. It’s another great example of the networks and collaborations that can be built using iCarol. We hope to bring you more information about this network and how it’s growing as time goes on.

    Here’s Donna presenting information about the national chat and text network. Special thanks to Robyn from the Louisiana affiliate and Amy from the National Council on Problem Gambling, who helped us do a live demonstration!

    iCarol demo live chat text helpline symposium NCPG

    The Helpline Symposium was a great chance to hear from affiliates about their experiences. A number of really interesting topics were discussed, such as marketing challenges facing the industry. Coming up with effective, consistent messaging, and increasing visibility and awareness of problem gambling issues, as well as promoting where people can get help, were all among the topics this engaged and energetic group discussed.

    We sure did have a great view from our conference room where the symposium was held, check out the beautiful scene just out the window of Oriole Park at Camden Yards where the Baltimore Orioles play.

    Oriole Park Camden Yards as seen from Hilton Oriole Park Camden Yards as seen from Hilton

    Throughout the conference the culture of Maryland was on display in the best of ways. We caught one of Maryland’s famous crabs hanging out with a volunteer during the symposium break!

    Maryland Crab center for excellence problem gambling

    Of course networking and spending time with friends is a highlight of any conference. We took in a delicious dinner at Dempsey’s located right across the street in the Camden Yards complex. Here’s Donna (center) with industry friends Robyn and Mary posing just outside the ballpark.

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    Before we knew it, it was time for the welcome reception. What a great event! The baseball theme was tons of fun, everyone was wearing jerseys representing their favorite teams. But it gets better — the food was ballpark themed too! Soft pretzels, popcorn, crackerjacks, a sliders station, and it wouldn’t be an event in Maryland without some crabcakes! We got to visit with so many wonderful people from various parts of the industry, too, since the exhibitor’s hall was all set up, where our booth was located.

    While we’re talking about the reception, I’ve got to give a huge shout out to the hosts of the conference, the Maryland Council on Problem Gambling and the Maryland Center of Excellence on Problem Gambling (University of Maryland School of Medicine). Every detail was so great, from the food to the accommodations to the conference rooms and session spaces and fun activities. What fabulous hosts they were!

    The conference kicked off the next day with a great keynote by psychiatrist Dr. David Mee-Lee, who has worked for years as an expert in addiction both substance and non-substance related, as well as co-occurring conditions. It was a really engaging keynote with lots of comic relief via Dr. Mee-Lee’s slideshow.

    The breakout sessions were highly informative. I attended sessions on a variety of topics including veteran gambling addiction, gambling addiction as it relates to mental illness such a schizophrenia, and new technologies being used in video gaming units at casinos. I plan to bring you more detail on those interesting topics in the coming months.

    Another fun networking event was the Friday evening trip to the American Visionary Art Museum in the Federal Hill area of Baltimore. Fun fact: Just two miles further down the street from the museum is Fort McHenry, where Marylander Francis Scott Key witnessed a battle in the War of 1812 and wrote a poem which would later become the lyrics to the United States’ National Anthem, The Star Spangled Banner! See, I told you I enjoyed peppering people with facts about my home state!

    While no photos were permitted within the museum, I encourage you to check out their website. It was an extremely unique, thought-provoking place unlike any art museum I’ve been to before!

    Next door to the museum was a reception area with more yummy food (four words: crab mac and cheese!) where we took in an exhibit specifically about problem gambling, with pieces of art by students, people in recovery, and family members of problem gamblers.

    This was a particularly powerful piece titled “Losing Hand” by artist Jennifer L. Walsh, who experienced the effects of problem gambling through her own mother’s addiction.

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    The caption reads:

    “Losing Hand: Why Gamble When You’ve Already Won” is an image of a losing hand of poker. The player’s hand in the foreground is holding five cards, each with an image of what they have accomplished or gained in their life and what they are actually losing when they gamble.

    The Ace of Hearts is the last card in the hand and is slipping out of the thumb’s grip, signifying the loss of family due to the habit.

    We had a fantastic time at the conference and enjoyed meeting so many of you in the problem gambling industry. If you didn’t get a chance to chat with us at the conference, please check out our website and contact us for more information on iCarol Helpline Software. Or, feel free to attend one of my regular webinars to get an idea of what we’re all about!

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