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Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Alachua County Crisis Center notes increase in volunteers, youth callers

New national suicide, crisis hotline number increases awareness

Over the past six months, crisis centers nationwide have received more attention after the implementation of the new national hotline number: 988. The Alachua County Crisis Center is one of many centers expanding its care. 

For decades, the center has been a consistent source of support for the community. The center has a 24-hour crisis and suicide prevention hotline, crisis counseling and an emergency mobile outreach team that works alongside law enforcement. 

Thanks to a July change that shifted the hotline number from 10 digits to three, the new number received nearly half a million more messages in five months than the previous number did in a year, according to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration data. Since then, Alachua County’s center has received more funding and experienced an uptick in callers and volunteers.  

Christine Alicot, a 66-year-old Gainesville resident, said she sought help from the crisis center 25 years ago. Later, she decided to reciprocate the help she received by becoming a volunteer.  

“At some point, I needed the crisis center way before I became a volunteer and was very impressed by the help I got,” Alicot said.

The center, located at 218 SE 24th St., is the only local community center with resources available for everyone in the county. Centers like the UF Counseling and Wellness Center also have 24/7 crisis support, but the CWC is only open to currently enrolled UF students. 

Alicot finds it rewarding to connect with the emotions of others and be trained to aid people going through some of the worst moments in their lives, she said. However, it can also be taxing. 

“Witnessing the pain and not being able to do anything about it is very hard,” Alicot said. “Not because I don't have the tools, but because that person doesn't trust me or can’t open up to some help.”

Recently, crisis center employees like Alicot have witnessed an increase in younger callers. 

Alexandra Martinez, the center’s director, believes younger generations are more aware of 

crisis and suicide prevention services. The center has noticed a rise over the years in the number of youths seeking help, she said. 

“I think there's a lot more information — good and bad — through social media and online about suicide prevention,” Martinez said.

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The center is also in the process of adding new staff, she said. The center currently has 14 employees and about 100 volunteers.

Kevin Sosa, training coordinator, started at the center as a volunteer in 2014 and now works with the new trainee classes. The number of staff members and volunteers is historically high, he said. 

The center holds three training programs throughout the year for residents interested in volunteering. Spring training for new volunteers begins at the end of January.

Training is an extensive process that prepares volunteers to receive a variety of calls. The center teaches volunteers how to listen and understand people in ways they never have before, Sosa said.

“It's all about listening,” Sosa said. “Listening with compassion, listening with empathy and being able to communicate that understanding to whoever you're speaking to at the time.” 

The ability to impact people’s lives and the community that comes from working at the center is rewarding, he said.

“It's really wonderful working within a community at the center that's like-minded and has a similar purpose in what they're wanting to do at that time,” Sosa said. 

The Alachua County Crisis Center responds to over 40,000 calls to its hotline annually. The hotline is open to Alachua County residents for crisis and suicide intervention phone counseling at 352-264-6789. Volunteers operate the hotline 24/7. 

Contact Claire at Follow her on Twitter @grunewaldclaire.

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Claire Grunewald

Claire Grunewald is a fourth-year journalism major and the Spring 2024 Editor In Chief of The Alligator. In her free time, she likes to go to concerts and attempt to meet her Goodreads reading goal. 

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