The mission of FirstLink is to assist individuals in identifying, accessing and making effective use of community and volunteer resources. Firstlink provides free resources, free listening and support as well as crisis intervention services and serves all of North Dakota and parts of Minnesota.
FirstLink includes a directory of community services for all types of service needs, including transportation, education, employment, health care, youth services, housing and mental health. The directory is searchable by topic or city/zip code. Watch this short video for an overview of how the directory works. Also, an August 2022 blog post features an interview with FirstLink Executive Director, Jennifer Illich.
As potential gaps in services were identified, students from several North Dakota Universities were tapped to help ensure the FirstLink resources listed in their respective communities were comprehensive and complete.
We recently had the opportunity to visit with two of these North Dakota State University (NDSU) students, Emily Ehresman and Charity Nett. Both are part of the support team to help with the community resource guide in Fargo. Ehresman and Nett are social work students with an emphasis in human development and family services. Ehresman and Nett have been making phone calls to existing services, cross referencing resources within the FirstLink database and updating with new information.
“We are both working to ensure FirstLink offers a robust community resource list for all North Dakotans, regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, economic status or education,” Nett stated.
“Removing barriers to needed services is my primary reason for getting involved. We want to ensure people have access to a user-friendly resource for all persons. We are hoping to expand the FirstLink resource list in Fargo and create an option for a printable version for those who do not have computer access,” added Ehresman.
This project is being led by Great Plains Quality Innovation Network and Quality Health Associates of North Dakota. Lisa Thorp serves as the Project Lead. She adds, “Having students involved in this project brought a fresh perspective. They are just learning about resources that might be needed so they can offer insight from a consumer perspective, as well as a new career perspective. They will be new to the social work field and they can think about how a community resource guide might come into play in their work. It was great to see their enthusiasm and passion for the project.”
Nett added, “Participating in this project has helped me meet new people and listen to new ideas and how collaborating works. It has been a great opportunity to expand my knowledge of services and resources as well as my communication and networking skills. It is also great to see so many people with a shared interest in helping others; it is amazing and I am very thankful.”
Ehresman concluded, “It is great to see these efforts taking place to improve care and health care quality. I know these resources are helpful for all members of our community. My mom is a police officer and often uses the FirstLink Community Guide to help provide services and referrals for those in the system. Knowing this directory is available and accessible for all is important to me.”
Ehresman and Nett will conclude their work on this project next week as the Fall 2022 semester comes to an end. Several students at Minot State and the University of Mary’s social work program are also helping with the expansion of the FirstLink Community Resource Directory We hope to highlight these students and their efforts in a future story.
Visit www.myfirstlink.org for a list of community resources. An individual can also text their zip code to #898-211 and a representative can assist by linking the caller to resources, behavioral health and/or substance abuse services