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middle and high school students on mental illness and suicide, teaching them warning signs and positive coping skills so they can help themselves and their peers; and provides mediation for family and neighborhood disputes, landlord/tenant disputes and more. And since August 2016, Gryphon Place has been the volunteer center for Kalamazoo, helping would-be volunteers connect with nonprofits in the area. Buried wealth, indeed.

On the line Gryphon Place was born out of a drug overdose information line that was created in 1971. The following year the organization added its 211 and 381-HELP lines, and by 1973 the HELP line was operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Now the 211 and 381-HELP call center operates all day and night 365 days a year. In Michigan, there are six regional 211 call centers that help connect people with information about the services in their cities Opposite page, top: Gryphon Place’s CEO Marciela Alcala, right, with Kristen Smith, director of clinical operations for the organization. Bottom: A statue of a griffin stands sentinel in Gryphon Place’s lobby. This page: The outside of Gryphon Place on 8th Street.

and counties. But Gryphon Place is unique in that it also houses the 381-HELP suicide prevention and mental health line; no other 211 center in Michigan does that, according to Maricela Alcala, CEO of Gryphon Place since 2014. Gryphon Place’s work extends beyond Kalamazoo County too. Its crisis hotline serves eight other counties 24 hours, seven days a week, and it takes after-businesshours calls from 22 additional counties. Most often these calls regard mental health issues, suicide and substance abuse. At Gryphon Place, an expertly trained army of about 50 staff members and anywhere from 30 to 40 volunteers offers a kind voice, an open ear, and information about services available. But first they need to hear your story. Before they address any caller’s crisis, they simply listen, says Kristen Smith, Gryphon Place’s director of clinical operations. “The biggest part of training people to be on the crisis line is preparing people to hold space for someone’s story,” Smith says. “It’s really powerful and impactful to be able to share your story. We’re not providing counsel or advice. We’re just listening.”

Then, with Gryphon Place’s connections to more than 600 regional agencies and thousands of programs, the call center workers use the plethora of knowledge and relevant information at their disposal to make referrals for additional help. “The volunteers that are drawn to us are helpers,” Smith says. “They want to fix and solve and help because they can. But, you know, people have to help themselves too.”

Suicide prevention Gryphon Place’s two areas of expertise — helping people in crisis and connecting people to services — are necessarily intertwined, especially when it comes to suicide prevention. A 2018 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study on U.S. suicide rates found that 54 percent of suicide cases were “related to relationships, substance use, physical health, and job, money, legal or housing stress” — issues not unlike those that Gryphon Place attempts to alleviate by connecting callers to other agencies that can help. But Gryphon Place itself offers additional helping services when it comes to suicide prevention. “Very few communities have

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Profile for Encore Magazine

Encore February 2019  

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Encore February 2019  

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