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Centre Helps provides aid, hope to people in crisis

AUTHOR: Denise McCann

AGENCY: Centre Helps


Centre Helps has been a steady presence in the Centre County community since 1972. Founded by a group of Penn State students as a class project to provide information and advocacy to people who were misusing drugs and alcohol, we have grown to include a Youthful Offender Program, Basic Needs Case Management, and a hotline that connects people to critical resources and is affiliated with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Our guiding principle is that we provide help and hope to people in crisis or need and do so in a compassionate and non-judgmental way. We believe that all people deserve respect, empathy, and unbiased support and that principle guides us as we help people navigate their way through crisis.

A critical component of our services is our 24/7 hotline. The Centre Helps hotline connects community members in need with resources. These resources include connections to shelter, rental assistance, the Food Bank or our own food pantry, just to name a few. When appropriate, callers will be connected to a Basic Needs Case Manager who works with the caller to make a plan to address the immediate need and connect the caller to longer term resources and planning.

Hotline counselors also take calls from people who are in an emotional crisis and help talk them through the crisis. This help might include listening compassionately, talking them through specific troubling situations, helping them brainstorm and discover areas of existing support, and connecting them to longer term support. Sometimes these calls are urgent and someone is feeling sad and desperate enough that they are considering taking their own life. In these cases, our counselors can de-escalate the client or keep them on the line until they can get immediate emergency help for the caller.

It is important to point out that our hotline counselors are trained volunteers, many of them Penn State students. These volunteers complete 120 hours of training and commit an additional 340 hours to provide hotline counseling and agency support. These volunteers are working in high stress situations, sometimes with a life on the line. Our volunteers give a significant portion of their time during their college years solely to help some of the most vulnerable people in our community. They are truly an amazing group of young people who offer support and encouragement to people in our community who often have nowhere else to turn.

We are seeing an increased need in all areas from suicide and mental health calls to housing emergencies. Last year, we took over 8,400 calls for help, 462 of these calls were imminent risk calls. Over ninety percent of those calls ended in de-escalation and referral to resources, preventing the need for emergency services to intervene.

Despite the sometimes high stress level of working a hotline, the majority of our volunteers find it to be a rewarding experience, in ways that they never could have predicted. One volunteer described her experience, “Volunteering at Centre Helps was by far the best decision I made during my time at Penn State and possibly ever. I have met the kindest, most welcoming, warmest people in my life at Centre Helps and can’t image I will ever find a work environment that matches their energy. I am so grateful for everything I learned. I became a better friend, family member, and overall person because of my experiences at Centre Helps.”

For more information about supporting Centre Helps, including becoming a hotline volunteer, please visit


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