First Words — 31 January 2015
Desperate caller leaves a message for us all

By Mark Gauert

City & Shore Magazine

At breakfast, everyone in the big meeting room stopped eating and sat silently as Frank Isaza, program director of 2-1-1 Broward, began to speak about his harrowing late-night fight to save a man from killing himself. It’s not often that we hear about the good work of people like Frank – or lifesaving programs such as 2-1-1 Broward – over breakfast, or otherwise.

We should.

It started with a phone call around 4 a.m. on the 2-1-1 line from the man, who’d fallen behind in his rent. For the record, “The mission of 2-1-1 Broward is to provide 24-hour comprehensive helpline and support services for individuals in our community seeking crisis intervention assistance and/or information and referrals to health and human services in Broward County.”

But as the call went on, it became clear the man on the phone faced many more problems than the rent. With his health. His medicines. His fear that he might soon become homeless.

“I started to do an assessment, as the call went on,” Frank says, “I tried to build a rapport with him.”

Maybe he wasn’t calling just about the rent, the man confided. Everything was just so … hopeless.

A pause.

“Then he said lately that he’d been thinking about ending his life,” Frank says. “He’d even been thinking about how he’d do it.”

That’s when a call in the dark about rent money became a call about life … and death.

“I tried to make an agreement with him not to do that while I was on the phone,” Frank says, “and to tell him that there were services available to help. That there were other options we could explore.”

As he reviewed the options, calmly, reassuringly, over the course of the one-hour call, Frank could sense the situation de-escalating, the man’s desperation easing. Someone was listening to him. Frank knew the longer he could keep the man on the phone, the longer he could divert him from any other plans.

“I wanted to make him feel he had some hope,” Frank says. “That we could explore ways to pay his rent, take care of his health, get his medicines.”

Providing hope – along with help – is what 2-1-1 Broward is all about. But many South Floridians don’t know about the services that are available for dealing with a life crisis or for dealing with everyday life.

After Frank had finished speaking at our breakfast meeting, after he had left the stage to applause at the Signature Grand, we all asked how we could help. He simply requested that we get the word out about this important resource. Jarett Levan, president of BBX Capital, who was receiving an award at the breakfast for his support of 2-1-1 Broward, described it as a “gem in this community.”

City & Shore is proud to support the good work of 2-1-1 Broward, and to help hold this gem up to the light. In this issue we also bring to light stories about other good people and good causes, as we highlight chefs setting trends in fine dining, ways to treat your Valentine right, home décor that sets a romantic mood and, yes, a 50-year love affair with the Ford Mustang.

After the call in the dark, after the follow-up from 2-1-1 Broward staff members who helped him find his way again, the man on the phone had one last message for Frank – and for all of us.

“Thank you so much for listening,’’ he said. “You’ve given me hope.”

mgauert@cityandshore.com

2-1-1 Broward, your “first call for help,” is available by dialing 2-1-1 or 954-537-0211, TTY 954-390-0492. For non-emergencies, call 954-390-0493, email 211-broward@211-broward.org or visit the website, 211-broward.org.

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