Helpline leaders refuse to give up

By Melissa Prentice

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Students who need someone to talk to during a crisis can no longer call the ASUA Helpline but leaders of the service are trying to keep it alive.

During the summer, a committee of Associated Students of the University of Arizona members decided to eliminate the crisis phone line after $100,000 was eliminated from ASUA's budget, said Anndi Kawamura, vice president of programs and services.

The money was eliminated from the budget because revenue from the ASUA Bookstore was less than expected, she said.

"Unfortunately, we decided that Helpline wasn't cost effective and wasn't serving enough people on campus," President T.J. Trujillo said.

The committee, comprised of Trujillo, vice presidents and members of the Undergraduate Senate and the Graduate and Professional Student Council, evaluated all ASUA programs and services based on the budget compared to the number of students served, Trujillo said.

"We were trying to determine how we could impact the most students with the money we have," Trujillo said. "We need to do a few things and a few things well. We can't be everything to everyone."

Last year, Helpline had a $3,159 budget and answered only 78 nonrepeat crisis calls, so about $41 was spent on each call, Trujillo said.

Trujillo also said he believes Helpline overlaps with other Tucson crisis lines and with ASUA's Student Advisory Health Committee.

Helpline Director Kimberly Hennigan said the crisis line shouldn't be eliminated because it provides a unique service to the campus and community.

"Although there are other crisis lines in town, the Helpline targets high school and college age students who often feel more comfortable talking to their peers," Hennigan said.

Locana de Souza, a Helpline volunteer and wildlife and fisheries science sophomore, also said Helpline's services are needed at the UA. "I know from working there that we do help people. We have people, especially a few repeat callers, who rely on us to help them through a crisis." She said she believes Helpline does not cost ASUA "a large sum of money" and does not take up much space.

Kawamura, who was elected last spring on a platform which included improving Helpline, said she has a $9,973 budget and could appropriate money for Helpline.

However, she said Helpline needs to reorganize and improve its services before she agrees to give it funds. "I need to sit down with [Helpline leaders] and figure out if the services are even necessary and what we could do to improve them."

Hennigan said Helpline's services suffered from a shortage of volunteers last year, which often left no one to answer the phone lines. However, she said Helpline leaders are planning a class which would offer volunteers more incentive to complete the more than 40 hours of training necessary to be certified to answer the phones. She also said many programs in ASUA, not just Helpline, had low volunteer participation last year.

She said she thinks the reasons Helpline was eliminated were more space issues than financial issues. Both the Escort Service and the ASUA treasurer's office moved into the offices in ASUA, where Helpline was formerly located.

Kawamura said even if Helpline was funded at this time, no office space would be available to accommodate the service's needs, since it would require a private office to provide confidentiality to callers.

Hennigan said she hopes Helpline can receive funding from Kawamura's budget and could operate from the previous Escort Service office in the Parking and Transportation building on East Sixth Street, which she said has not been assigned yet.

Helpline originally asked for $2,100 to cover its 1994-95 operating costs. However, after hearing they may be eliminated, the phone line's leaders reduced their reguest to $875 and agreed not to receive stipends, Hennigan said. She said Helpline leaders received stipends in the past, and other program directors currently do.

The revised budget would only include the cost of the phone line and advertising, Hennigan said. Helpline would also contribute the money they raised at their booth at last year's Spring Fling to cover general operating costs, she said.

If Helpline members are given an office space and money to operate for this semester, they plan to set up the phone line services, develop a suicide outreach program to present lectures at fraternity and sorority houses and dormitories, finish planning the class and recruit volunteers.

"We will also apply for grant money so we can become financially independent from ASUA," Hennigan said. "We don't want this to happen again."

If they are not funded for this semester, volunteers will concentrate on obtaining grant money so the service can resume operation the spring semester and will begin work on the suicide outreach and preparing for the class, she said.

Helpline volunteers recently recruited Robert Wrenn, a psychology professor, to be the program's advisor and to help plan the training class.

Many community organizations including the County Attorney's Victim Witness program and Help on Call, a community crisis line, are supporting the continuation of the Helpline, Hennigan said.

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