Some time in the winter of 1971, a small group of local clergy and lay people met to talk about the problems in their community and in the world. There was a war going on in the Far East and people were at odds as to how it should be conducted. A new word was entering our vocabulary – “hippies” – and boys were letting their hair grow long and teens were wearing very strange clothing. Drugs were becoming a suburban, middle class concern and it seemed as if the family unit was in trouble. This meeting, held in Moorestown NJ, brought together people asking a simple question: “What can we do to make a difference—how can we respond to the needs of our community?”
Convinced that people who care can make a difference, the group decided to look into a new idea that was surfacing in surrounding areas: CONTACT, a 24/7 Crisis Intervention Helpline staffed by trained volunteers. CONTACT of Burlington County was created as an answer to that committed group’s question.
On July 2, 1972 the first phone call was answered, “Hello, this is CONTACT. May I help you?” Since that day, we are proud of our record of continuous 24-hour telephone service to our callers, 365 days a year. Several thousand people have completed our volunteer training, serving many thousands of hours on the telephones. Since 1972 we have responded to over a million calls for help, and those numbers continue to climb. Our services are offered free of charge, the only criteria is need.
It wasn’t long before the Reassurance program was added to our service providing a daily “care-call” to a homebound person made by a volunteer, a unique idea that the community responded to with enthusiasm. With our entry into United Way came funding for Information & Referral services in 1980. And in 1986 we responded to a growing need in the community, the home-alone-after-school child, by beginning our KidsLine program. In 1997, the State of New Jersey named CONTACT as the Rape Care/Sexual Assault response program for Burlington County, offering hospital, police and legal accompaniments along with specialized counseling for victims and their significant others. PetFriends, support for pet owners in grief, became part of CONTACT in 2000 to alleviate serious depression of pet loss, especially in the elderly population which has the highest rate of suicide. And, in 2001, CONTACT continued its outreach to youth with TeenLine, a peer telephone helpline exclusively for and by teenagers. In 2009, as part of its crisis services, CONTACT began accepting calls in Burlington County for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline network. In addition, CONTACT has always offered Outreach & Education on all its programs.
CONTACT continues to expand programs to meet the needs of the community. In 2004, CONTACT initiated service as the 2-1-1 provider for Burlington County. In 2008, CONTACT of Burlington County was designated the 2-1-1 South Regional Center for the eight counties of southern New Jersey. 2-1-1 is the National Information and Referral Network, which gives consumers easy access to social services. The 2-1-1 system is the number for disaster response information in case of state or national emergencies.