Story by Lexie Little
“There is hope. You are not alone.”
The reminder pops up immediately on the Bristol Crisis Center webpage, reminding victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and mental distress that help remains just a click away.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 1 in 3 women and nearly 1 in 6 men experience some form of physical sexual violence victimization in their lifetimes. Suicide rates have climbed more than 30 percent in half the United States since 1999, making it a leading cause of death nationally. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation annual report released last June noted a one percent increase in suicide from 2016 to 2017, while the bureau recorded nearly 78,000 domestic offenses including 632 reported cases of rape. Though domestic offenses decreased by 1.8 percent in Tennessee from 2016 to 2017, continued prevention work remains paramount to ensure numbers continue to decrease.
The Bristol Crisis Center, established in 1973, provides free and confidential services in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia to combat sexual assault, domestic violence, abuse, and suicide through support groups, outreach and awareness programs, walk-in intervention, and a 24-hour hotline. Additionally, the center provides a “Just Checking” program to call elderly and homebound individuals each day to confirm well-being.
Crisis Center staff and volunteers follow a vision “rooted in respect, justice, hope, and inherent worth of every individual.” The primary goal lies in promoting positive change for the community as a whole through individual care. Center representatives say they “partner with people to afford them a safe space to be heard, supported, and believed in an effort to inspire healing.”
Executive Director Dr. Lynn Darnell says the hotline is the primary way the center assists individuals.
“The hotline…[allows] for a safe space to be heard without revealing identity and to learn about community resources that can provide aid when needed,” Darnell says. “In addition to the local hotline numbers, our hotline workers also answer a number of nationally promoted and maintained hotline programs.”
Workers answer national suicide hotlines 1-800-SUICIDE and 1-800-TALK, the Veterans Affairs crisis hotline, the RAINN hotline (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), and referrals from 211 call centers that do not operate around the clock.
The center also offers suicide prevention education that trains teachers, health care providers, first responders, and the community at large how to identify and work with those considering self-harm. The Crisis Center collaborates at events like safeTALK, a half-day training program focused on challenging societal taboos that prevent many from talking about suicide and reinforcing safety.
The center maintains two support groups, one for sexual assault victims and another for the LGBTQ community. Both provide an inclusive space for individuals to share their stories and find support from others facing similar challenges. The adult sexual assault group meets from 12:15 p.m. to 12:45 p.m., box lunch provided. The latter group meets Thursday evenings at 5:30 p.m. and is open to those 18 and older.
In addition to support groups, Darnell says the sexual assault and domestic violence programs continually expand.
“We have recently added our own SART (Sexual Assault Response Team) that will consist of many different area agencies such as law enforcement, Victim Witness, and Commonwealth attorneys,” Darnell says. “Our part will be to aid as Care Companions that will arrive at the emergency room to assist the victim and continue with that victim through all the processes of prosecution.”
Bristol Crisis Center created the “Just Checking” program through its own efforts and volunteers and the “Are You Okay” program as a collaboration with the Region III West Suicide Grant and Bristol Crisis Center. Serving more than 60 clients, the Just Checking program provides a friendly call to participants to counter loneliness, identify elder abuse, and assist with securing food and caregivers. The “Are You Okay” program helps those in recovery for mental health challenges find encouragement and support as they await outpatient care.
In order to keep programs running, the nonprofit center relies on volunteers and community donations. This year, the Crisis Center will host a “Great Gatsby Gala” at the Bristol Hotel on Birthplace of Country Music Way to celebrate the center’s 45th anniversary and raise funds to further its mission.
“Our hotline and Just Checking programs are totally unfunded,” Darnell says. “We are dependent on community fundraising.”
For $150, a ticket provides a sit-down dinner, dancing, a silent auction, and cash bar. The Crisis Center announced via Facebook that local band Phantom will provide live musical entertainment.
Phantom, founded in 1964, brings “party and feel-good music” to regional public and private events. Based in Damascus, Virginia, Phantom has played at various events and in Abingdon, Bristol, Tazwell, Damascus, and Marion, Virgiania, and Mountain City, Tennessee.
The gala begins at 6 p.m. and lasts until 10 p.m. Saturday, March 30.
Those seeking more information can reach out to the center at (276)-466-2218 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The center operates its crisis hotline at (800)-273-8255 and is located at 100 Oakview Avenue, Bristol, Virginia.