WILKES-BARRE -- The holiday season provides Family Service Association of Wyoming Valley's Help Line a chance to share the Santa spirit with area residents. The agency assists in providing holiday meals for their family tables and toys for their children.
And Tom Foley, agency director, said Help Line is more than happy to do it.
Much more than just a phone bank available to area residents who need assistance in locating resources, the service provides a spirit of community to callers and has done so since it was established in 1972 as a response to the Agnes flood.
Michael Zimmerman, executive director at the Family Service Association, is visibly moved when he shares his experiences from his time on the phone lines.
I remember a caller from New Jersey who wanted to take her own life, Zimmerman said. We were able to contact first responders from that area and her life was saved.
Zimmerman said that when he asked her why she called contacted Help Line in Pennsylvania, she said I remembered the jingle.
The jingle that Zimmerman speaks of, still available on the agency's website, was included in a television commercial introducing area residents to Help Line in the '70s: We can help you with any problem at all.
And it seems like Help Line can help with any problem at all, or at least most problems.
Not only does Help Line directly take emergency and non-emergency calls directly, but it is also a first-response point for crisis calls in Bradford, Luzerne, Sullivan, Tioga and Wyoming counties. It operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
It refers people to area resources such as the Commission on Economic Opportunity, Catholic Social Services, Northeast Counseling, Community Counseling Services, the Bridge, Victims Resource Center, Domestic Violence Service and other appropriate agencies.
During weather emergencies, Helpline works with Luzerne County Emergency Management Agency officials to direct residents in regard to evacuations, emergency shelters and road closings.
During the flooding of September 2011, for example, we were an invaluable resource for information and assistance for affected area residents, said Zimmerman.
Help Line also serves as an access point for those struggling with problems involving mental health, domestic violence, child abuse, addiction, financial need, homelessness and runaways.
We direct people to appropriate resources, said Foley. Sometimes we get it right the first time, and sometimes we have to try again.
Six full-time staff members and other per-diem employees consistently answer the phone lines with a spirit of respect and hope for the callers. They also have access to a multitude of area resources. Whether it's for finding a church or joining a support group, callers have access to knowledgeable staff with a wealth of accurate information.
Foley smiles as he reflects on the variety of calls fielded by the staff. Some calls are life or death and emergency responders need to be contacted and lives are saved.
Other calls are simply the elderly wanting to hear a friendly voice or needing a bit of orientation.
Help Line also runs a telephone reassurance system called CARE, which contacts elderly and disabled person on a regular basis to ensure their safety. The system identifies those who do not answer their phone and provides an alert, following up accordingly.
Foley said he is especially proud of this system, as it reflects the concern that the organization has for those in the community in need of consistent support.
Foley and Zimmerman said the major need of the organization is funding for more staff. Already a benefit to the community, Help Line would like to move forward and do even more.
Ready to answer yet another phone call, Foley said, Our goal is to serve.
Additional funding for more staff and more services.
Those wishing to assist the agency can send their contribution to:
Family Service Association of Wyoming Valley
31 W. Market St.
Wilkes-Barre, PA 18702
Contributions are also accepted on the agency's website: