50 Stories for 50 Years: Exploring the history of Distress Centre Calgary from 1969 to present
Welcome to 50 stories for 50 years, the history of Distress Centre Calgary from 1969 to the present. My name is Donna Crawford, and I am a volunteer who has the honour and pleasure of guiding you on this journey; a very different kind of guidance than provided by those volunteers at the original Drug Information Centre, who were helping people hands-on, during a very different kind of “trip.”
The services of Distress Centre matter now, as much as they did then. Its history is part of the social and cultural history of Calgary.
Whether you are a former client, volunteer, staff member, board member or funder, I hope you will see your experiences reflected in the stories. They have been generated by going through every paper record that exists from 1969 forward, the more current on-line material, and many personal interviews with people representing all 5 decades in various capacities. Interviewees often held more than one role; client to volunteer, practicum student to staff, funder to volunteer are just a few examples. There are also stories of more than one generation in a family having a connection to Distress Centre.
Needless to say, I gathered a wealth of information, far more than 50 stories can ever tell.
The original plan was to create 5 stories per decade, but in the end, I have written them simply as they arose, more or less chronologically. Some ten-year periods just had way more going on! Stories may represent events, such as the Festival Express in 1970, which in many ways was causal in the creation of what is now Distress Centre. Others will be people stories. Some are funding, service or policy stories; I hope I am not the only one that finds that interesting. Some stories, like the effect of an economic downturn on the citizens of Calgary’s mental health, could be written without a date, they are so similar from decade to decade.
In total, they will reflect the growth and development of Distress Centre over time. They will also reflect core values that have never changed; a service that is free, confidential, volunteer driven, and fueled by people who are always ready to listen to whatever the caller defines as a crisis.
In the 50 years, we’ve responded to well over 2.5 million requests for help through calls, texts, chats, counselling, referral and financial assistance. That is a lot of helping. The fact that a social service agency which is dependent on volunteers and public/private funding still exists after 50 years is unusual, interesting, and speaks to the ongoing need.
It is very hard to succinctly say what I have learned through all this research, and I don’t want to spoil the stories to come. Two things are very clear, however. One is the value of the services Distress Centre provides directly to the community, often life saving. The other is less obvious. That is the contribution that well-trained staff and volunteers make out in the community every day, long past their connection to the organization itself. Some fulfil their commitment, others continue on for 20 plus years. They all use their skills and training with family, friends, in the workplace, and on many unexpected occasions, all the time. That is an outcome that cannot be quantified, but it matters.
I hope you enjoy the stories, the history, and for those of you who have been part of Distress Centre personally in any way, I hope the stories bring you many happy reflections.
Distress Centre will be sharing a story every Tuesday for 50 weeks. We hope you will join us on this journey.