50 Stories Part 17: Celebrating the 20th Anniversary
Twenty years after its beginnings as the Drug Information Centre, Calgary Mayor Al Duerr proclaimed Distress Centre/Drug Centre week, March 18-24, 1990. Jeanette commented on various highlights over time. After 20 years, staff with higher qualifications were being hired, responding to much broader crises concerns, and offering a more diverse crisis counselling service. In general, she noted that:
“The 70s atmosphere was informal, comfortable, accessible and appropriate for young drug using clientele. Since 1970 our function has filled a gap in services to the Calgary community, and has changed over time to meet contemporary needs. It is my belief that we do it well.”
Dorothy Davis, Volunteer Coordinator, reflected on the more than 3000 volunteers that had served the Centre over 20 years:
“In the early 70s, the typical volunteer would have been a long haired, peace-loving male in his early 20’s. He would spend hours with drug clients bringing them down from a bad LSD trip or he may have attended local rock concerts helping those who were experiencing reactions to street drugs. Volunteers today are 60 percent female and 40 percent male. The average age is nearer 30 and all contact with the client is made over the phone from the agency…Practical (training) issues such as first aid are no longer included and more emphasis is placed on relationships and suicide issues, besides a sound understanding of the effects of drugs and alcohol.”
Ed Mills, speaking on behalf of long-time funder AADAC, commented on a special volunteer, one with no training:
“… commonly known as ‘Cat,’ perhaps because he was in fact a large tom cat, who caused excitement on numerous occasions. He would, for example, stalk a client having a rather bad time with LSD or speed and contribute to some rather bizarre behaviours exhibited by those unfortunates. He eventually died of God-knows-what. The staff were quite upset when the Calgary Herald refused to print an obituary for our feline friend.”
How concerns changed over 20 years
Clinical supervisor Fred Burns noted that client concerns over the 20 years reflected societal changes, with over half of callers now stressed by troubled relationships. Calls were averaging 80 per day, with 2,700 suicide related calls coming in over the year. Most callers were aged 20-35, older than in 1970. Alcohol was reported at the leading cause of drug problems, not LSD, along with marijuana, prescription drugs, and the new drug issue, cocaine. A full- time staff of 12 supported 150 volunteers who received 50 hours of training and committed to 12 months of service.
A counsellor was quoted in the Calgary Herald describing the DC/DC as always “a good entry point into the complex and often confusing social services network. We’re accessible. People can phone us anytime…usually they know there is help available but they don’t know how to plug into it, so they call us.”
''DC/DC is a good entry point into the complex and often confusing social services network. We’re accessible. People can phone us anytime…usually they know there is help available but they don’t know how to plug into it, so they call us.'' - Counsellor
A 20th anniversary publication sponsored by the Chapelhow Branch of the Royal Legion, confirmed that: “Many community agencies use the Centre’s phone line for after hours coverage and refer to its crisis counselling when their own waiting times become unmanageable.”
Chair Carol James remarked that unlike the original board who were academics, counsellors and former volunteers who had seen and responded to the community needs and fears of the times, in 1990 12 board members, serving for up to 5 years, came from the public at large based on offering a a variety of expertise from financial to legal to human resources.
A new mission
The 1990 Annual Report unveiled a new mission: to provide crisis support, information and referral services in response to human needs, and to improve the quality of human life in the community. Increased funding for new programs and expansion of existing services, including a focus on multi-culturalism, were board priorities. Ongoing budget support from Family and Community Support Services (FCSS), United Way, and AADAC were recognized at the 20th celebration, as was the significant growth in funding from $20,000 in 1970 to $425,000 in 1989.
The 1990 Annual Report unveiled a new mission: to provide crisis support, information and referral services in response to human needs, and to improve the quality of human life in the community.
Jeanette could not help but comment on funding (and perhaps the same could be said today):
“All of the planning groups describe a community in crisis and recommend increased resources to deal with problems. Large government deficits, along with the resultant increase in taxes, give little political and public support to the idea of increasing these resources…Budget cut-backs have become the norm; the community is expected to pick up the gaps in service created by government cutbacks, delivering more service for less dollars.”
1990 Board member Chair Ernie Hagel talks today about both the 20th year when he served, and the Centre’s current 50th anniversary:
“It has always been great that people have a place to go to when they are having a crisis in their life. One of the big things today is that not many people answer the phone, even from their friends, it is all text. They look at the number and say I don’t want to talk to him right now. So, Distress Centre answers the phone and actually listens to people, and that is the skill. People need this when a situation happens, they need to talk to somebody. They do a very good job of teaching volunteers how to listen. They were never a problem solver, they were always a good listener, and they still are.”