First Call for Help showcasing the “Crisis Service” Capabilities of Rural Northern MN.

First Call for Help was originally established in Itasca County in 1974 as the “Nightingale Help Line”. This concept was created by a Coordinating Committee made up of representatives from several Itasca County community agencies who identified unmet resourcing needs and believed in the premise that “Information gives people power”. This dedicated committee’s work (Patricia Cortese, Dorthy Olds, Bernie Schumacher, Bill Pedersen, Marie Tinnesand, Jim Hedin, and Sherry Giles) resulted in the building of an incredible foundation that remains today. Through the decades, this agency has continued to grow and adapt to ever changing waters and societal climates. The Nightingale Phone line was the original foundation from 1974 to 1986, at which time the spectrum of community needs grew and it transitioned into a non-profit named First Call for Help in 1986. In 1999 it rose to another challenge and entered into a “2-1-1 Call Center Hub” partnership with MN United Way and became First Call for Help / 2-1-1. This agreement expanded its information and referral coverage area to seven North Central counties while continuing to provide phone crisis intervention, and dispatching of the Itasca County Crisis Response Team. Dedicated volunteers, community members, funders, and invested community agencies have graciously partnered with our agency throughout the years and are the pillars on which we still stand today.

It has been my privilege to be invited to join the First Call for Help/2-1-1 family in 2014 and to build upon the solid foundation my predecessors gifted to us. This foundation was created and nurtured since 1974 by coordinators (Eric/Vernal Bogren, Marian Barcus, Darcy Perrault, Cindy Brummer, Heather Esser, Donna Apitz, Jean Esler, Sheila Hart and Penny Butterfield) who believed in its mission, endured years of personal sacrifice, and were keenly aware that community members and volunteers in Northern Minnesota had the skills, desires and compassion to provide these services to the residents of Itasca County and beyond. First Call for Help is truly a Beacon not only providing a “light of hope” for those it serves but a “guiding light” that draws individuals with passion for this critical work to our doors. Our current staff bring individual life experience, personal recovery strategies and Certified Crisis Intervention skills to the phones each time they answer a “Call for Help”, and within the homes our Crisis Team enters.

First Call stands as a Hub Agency responsible for connecting callers to the resources, suicide intervention services and the help they need to stop their crisis and support them in building a life worth living. Our mission statement focus is Crisis Work and we remain true to that anchor. Since 2014 myself and our Board of Directors have been striving to diversify funding streams, enhance services to better serve those in need, and showcase these skills to Tribal, County, State and Federal entities who are seeking a provider to meet their crisis response needs. We continue to provide the Information, Referral and Resourcing services that were our building blocks and have expanded our services to now represent Northern Minnesota at its finest with programming that includes: Crisis Suicide Intervention Line service and Mobile Crisis dispatching for 38 counties in MN, Crisis Line Intervention Services and Mobile Crisis Dispatching for the Tribal Governments of Leech Lake, Bois Fort, and Fond Du Lac, Statewide coverage for the MN Farmer’s Help Line, Crisis Line coverage of 47 counties across greater MN for the National Suicide Prevention Line, State-wide (87 county) back-up crisis line services for the National Suicide Prevention Line, After hours Social Service Lines Coverage for 4 counties, Phone Coverage for the 7 counties of the MN United Way Service Area (Beltrami-Hubbard-Clearwater-Lake of the Woods-Itasca-Koochiching and Aitkin), Homeless Coordinated Entry Point Screening Services for Itasca and Koochiching County, New Leaf Healing Center-Residential Crisis Bed stabilization programming serving Greater Mn, and 24 hour in-house Notary and MNSURE Services. In addition to these phone services, we have created the only Veteran Crisis Response Team (VCRT) in the state of Minnesota that is operated by Veterans trained in suicide intervention who provide direct service to their fellow Veterans.

First Call for Help has graciously transformed over the years from its inception which included many dedicated and passionate volunteers operating “Nightingale” and answering 1332 calls in its first year, to a diverse staff of 56 employees and 28 contractors operating 8 programs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year from within our facilities. None of this would have been possible without the tenancy, determination and kindness of our local residents and workforce of Northern Minnesota. I am a lifelong Northern MN resident and stand with pride among this rural community as it shines a light on what we have to offer and the innovative and progressive approaches we use to serve those who need us within our own county and now across the entire state of Minnesota.

Cre Larson, Executive Director First Call for Help of Itasca County