Help line's 'soothing voice' retiring today She's heard sad -- stories, given advice for 25 years

November 20, 1998|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,SUN STAFF

A young man, despondent and in tears, called the United Way's First Call for Help line, and told Doris D. Green he was thinking of suicide.

"C'mon now, it's too nice a day for that," Green said. "You don't want to do that. Let's talk about it."

The caller said he was out of work, had no friends and was a disappointment to his family. He talked, she listened, she talked, he listened.

"I calmed him down," Green said. Eventually, he said he was feeling better and thanked her. He said he wasn't going to end his life.

Helping people in such cases kept Green going back to the information and referral service for a quarter-century.

After 25 years of listening to sad stories and getting assistance for people, Green, 65, is retiring todayfrom First Call.

First Call, a free, confidential service of the United Way of Central Maryland, answers more than 64,000 calls for assistance and referrals each year, up from 27,000 four years ago. It describes itself as the only statewide, 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week information and referral line for health and human services in Maryland. Night workers get calls at home from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.

"The first day on the job I went home crying," Green recalled. "There were so many calls. I said I couldn't do it. My husband, Leonard, said give it a week. I did it for a week. He said give it a month. I did. It's now 25 years."

The service gets all kinds of callers, Green said. Some are nasty -- "they call you bad names and you hang up" -- but mostly the work has been rewarding. Her secret: "I treat them like it could be me on the other end."

Most of the calls involve problems with housing, food, electricity or paying bills, said Green. In her earlier years, she said, "We never got the substance abuse and domestic abuse calls we hear today."

People also call about AIDS, day care, literacy or other needs.

At one time, Green said, she handled 100 to 200 daily callers when the old Health and Welfare Council ran the service. In 1991, the Help Line and Doris Green went to United Way.

In recent years, she has worked as a receptionist and administrative assistant. She or the service's automated system would pass calls for help to specialists.

The average caller to First Call is a single woman, head of a household with two children, seeking financial assistance to pay a bill to meet a growing need, said Saundra J. Bond, the director.

United Way doesn't give money to individuals, but it does fund agencies that might help. Other frequent callers are elderly people who are more vulnerable and for whom the agency sometimes advocates immediate help.

Eight information and referral specialists, working with a computerized databank of 4,100 services, provide answers, referrals and sometimes advocacy with agencies, 45 to 60 times a day. Their pace will pick up as the holiday season approaches. December is sometimes considered the month of depression for the needy.

"You can hear this in the tone of their voices," said Valerie Wethered, information specialist. "Our society fosters the notion that everyone has something for Christmas. Unfortunately, everyone doesn't, and people are concerned for their children. Some call not for toys, they just want food for their children."

Of Green, who is being honored today at a United Way party, Bond said: "Doris is warm and caring a soothing voice nonjudgmental just the kind I'd want to talk with if I were in trouble."

For First Call for Help, call 410-685-0525 or 800-492-0618. Walk-in clients are accepted from 8: 30 a.m. to 4: 30 p.m. at United Way offices, 100 S. Charles St.

Pub Date: 11/20/98

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