The mission of the Helpline Center is making lives better by giving support, offering hope and creating connections all day, every day. All calls or texts are free and confidential, and our agency is a 24 hours a day / seven days a week service. We believe that everyone deserves help when they need simple answers, community resources or hope during difficult times.
My name is Janet Kittams, and I am the president of the Helpline Center. I first came to the agency as a call center volunteer in the ’90s. But after about a year and a half, an opportunity presented itself to work at the agency full time, and I’ve been here for more than 20 years. I not only felt a calling to work in the nonprofit sector, but a passion to help people.
When you run an organization as diverse as the Helpline Center, there are always new challenges and new opportunities. Because I am more removed from the hands-on work these days, I focus on inspiring and supporting our staff and am always doing whatever I can to make their lives easier. But together, helping people is our ultimate goal.
The Helpline Center first began in 1974 under a confluence of events that was happening in our Sioux Falls community. First, the Wounded Knee trials were taking place and were moved from central South Dakota to Minnehaha County to achieve a more neutral jury. And because a lot of news about the trial was simply traveling through word of mouth, rumors were started that would incite violence and protests. So to help the community better understand the facts about the trial, a call center was created as a rumor control hotline. During this same time, a national grassroots effort was also under way to build a common phone number that people could call for information on social services, so as the hotline grew, the Helpline Center naturally became the community information and referral spot in Sioux Falls that it is today.
Three words that best describe the Helpline Center are connections, support and hope, and we offer that through three core service areas.
The first service is our 211 Helpline, a three-digit phone number available 24/7 for people who want information on community resources, social service programs or government agencies. We also answer questions on financial assistance, housing, child care, transportation, mental health resources, support groups and disaster response. If you have a need and you aren’t sure where to go, dial 211 to get connections and referrals.
More than 70 percent of people in South Dakota can dial 211 — 20 counties across the state participate. All of our staff are cross trained to handle crisis and information / referral calls, texts or emails, and our resource data base includes over 3,000 programs and agencies.
Within 211, we offer the Health Navigator Program, which sends a caller with any medical concerns to a health navigator nurse who can get them connected to a healthcare provider. It’s important to us that we make healthcare a priority because we know that if someone is healthy, they will be better equipped to meet any other needs in their life.
Another program within 211 is the Helpline Network of Care, a collaborative effort to build a social service system that connects local agencies so they can communicate and share basic need information with one another on a shared software platform. Not only does this electronic infrastructure make it easier and more efficient to see what type of services a client has already received in the community, it benefits the client, too, because they are no longer having to tell their story over and over again. We currently have 12 agencies participating in the Helpline Network of Care and continue to add new partners.
The second service we provide is suicide and crisis support. The Helpline was not originally intended to serve as crisis hotline, but people just started calling, and today, the Helpline Center is South Dakota’s leader in suicide prevention and response. People can call 800-273-8255 anytime, day or night, if you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts. We also provide a crisis texting service for high school students to reach out for help with relationship problems, family issues or if a friend is suicidal, and we offer grief support as well for those who have lost a loved one to suicide. We are an accredited suicide prevention, intervention and after-care organization that offers outreach calls, support groups and survivor information packets.
The third service offered by the Helpline Center is volunteer connections, a program that connects people in our community with volunteer opportunities at non-profit organizations when they want to give back. Our updated list of opportunities lets people match their interest and the time they have to give to the right cause, and these opportunities can either be found on our website or by calling 211.
What I love most about the Helpline Center is that we are here, 24/7, confidential and anonymous, to talk to people and give people hope. Out of all the phone calls I’ve taken over the years, I can see now that people are just in need of a human connection. No matter what they have endured—and people have endured some pretty horrific experiences—they simply need a caring person on the other end of the line listening and offering support without judgment. What makes a really great staff person here is someone with an innate sense of caring, compassion and empathy—someone who is willing to listen and meet people where they’re at. At the Helpline Center, there is no judgment here. We just want to help people.
I’ve also learned that every single one of us — no matter where we are at in our walk of life — we all need help at some point. We might not need it today, but we may need it tomorrow, and that is why it is so important that the Helpline Center continues to be here in our community, ready to help whenever people need to talk about anything. We are here for you.