Departments First Words — 08 June 2022
Help, and normalcy, may be closer than we know

By Mark Gauert

City & Shore Magazine

We’d forgotten how a breakfast buffet works.

“There doesn’t seem to be anybody here to serve us,” the woman on the other side of the buffet whispered. “Do you think that means we can serve ourselves?”

“I think it does,” I said. “At least, that’s the way I remember this working before COVID.”

She looked around the big meeting room, as if to make sure nobody was watching. Then she picked up a ladle next to a steaming pan of scrambled eggs and gently scooped some onto her plate.

“It’s coming back to me now,” she said, smiling, moving on to the pastry tray. “Like some distant memory.”

“Take your time, enjoy it,” I said. “We’ve been waiting a long time for this.”

We had. And not just for an unsupervised breakfast buffet.

Across the meeting room, where we were gathering to honor 211 Broward’s work up to and including the pandemic, other guests in newly dry-cleaned business clothes were trying to remember how breakfast meetings work, too. The masks had all come off, so there was some getting used to seeing the tops and bottoms of people’s faces again – some for the first time in two years. People used to social distancing wondered if it was really OK now to stand so close to someone else for a photo. But as the morning wore on, and the strangeness wore off, people began to close their distances for a hug, or a pat on the back or a smile.

Like the old days. At least, the way I remember breakfast meetings working before.

For the record, the morning’s organizers said, “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.” So this seemed like an especially good place to see how far we’ve come since the pandemic. How close we are to the way things used to be.

Not so close, said Francisco Isaza, chief operating officer of 2-1-1 Broward. No, not yet.

He started by telling a story about one of the tens of thousands of calls 2-1-1’s helpline counselors have fielded in the past year.

“The first thing [the woman] told the counselor was, ‘I feel exhausted. And I want my life to end.’ And since contracting COVID, she felt like their life had not been the same. And that she was dealing with the long symptoms related to COVID. And that these adverse symptoms were making her feel overwhelmed and hopeless. And, she said, ‘I just can’t stop thinking about ending my life.’”

Everyone in the big room had stopped eating by now, listening.

Isaza said the woman kept talking to the counselor, who helped deescalate the situation. She agreed she needed some telehealth counseling services, he said, and she accepted the referrals. The counselor offered to follow up with her the next day, to check on them and to make sure they felt safe.

When the caller heard that, she said, “thank you so much, because that follow up really has given me some hope.

“I’m thinking about my children. I’m thinking about my family. I have to keep fighting.”

And she was thankful to talk to the counselor, she said, because she had no one else to talk about her thoughts of suicide.

“This story of hope and resiliency and saving lives in our community happened because of all the people that are supporting 2-1-1,” Isaza said. “It is possible because our friends and neighbors are connecting to the heart of 2-1-1, the helpline counselors, every day.”

We may be remembering this summer how we used to do summers before the pandemic. The breakfast buffets, the concerts, the travel, the dry cleaning – the life we knew before everything changed. We’re here to help in this Summer Issue, full of reminders about how we used to do things, and how we’re getting our summers back.

We’re not all there yet. It’s too soon to forget that, for many, life is not the same. No, not yet.

But there’s help.

  • mgauert@cityandshore.com

211 Broward, your “First Call for Help,” is available by dialing 211 or texting 898211. For non-emergencies, please call 954-537-0211, email info@211-broward.org or visit the website at 211-broward.org.

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