FirstLink in Fargo, North Dakota is fortunate to have a leader who is compassionate, dedicated and committed to serving those in need. We are fortunate to meet with FirstLink’s Executive Director, Jennifer Illich to learn more about the organization and those that benefit from the safe and confidential services offered by FirstLink.
FirstLink serves all of North Dakota and parts of Minnesota. Their mission is to assist individuals in identifying, accessing, and making effective use of community and volunteer resources. The organization provides free resources, free listening, and support as well as crisis intervention services.
“I want all people to know they can dial our number and feel comfortable talking to a member of our team. We are well-trained and available to listen and provide hope and help to those in need. We want individuals to know they can reach out to us for help anytime. We are available 24 hours a day; seven days a week.”
Suicide and crisis prevention services have been available for some time, but the new 988 system has been recently implemented across the country. By calling 988, an individual is immediately connected with a FirstLink representative to offer listening support, a safety plan, and a higher care plan. The team assists individuals and their loved ones with life crises’, mental health, and suicide risks. Following the initial call, the representative continues to connect with the individual or their family member for weeks following initial contact. This provides an opportunity to check on overall wellness and help fill in the gaps between therapy sessions.
Often, text check-ins and handwritten cards are also sent to show support and care. The team at FirstLink also fields third-party calls; a young person struggling with suicidal thoughts may call 988 and ask the FirstLink team member to be part of the conversation to include their parents in the conversation to make them aware. If the caller appears to be in imminent danger, the representative will call 911 for help.
Another resource is their 211 number. 211 is a resource directory linking individuals to resources and support within the community, including non-profit, for-profit and government agencies. An individual can access the number for financial services, assistance with rent or electricity bills, food pantry access, counseling, and support. A team of advocates are available to provide support and assistance. All services are free.
“I spoke with a young mother recently who had just ended a relationship. She was feeling overwhelmed and was contemplating suicide. I was able to work with her and connect her with free diapers, baby clothes and access to our local food pantry. There were many resources she was simply not aware of, but could utilize. We also got in contact with a community resource to help with her rent. Within a short amount of time, her outlook on life and her situation improved dramatically. Sometimes it just takes someone to listen with empathy, validate the individual and link to help. It can make all the difference.”
FirstLink also offers education for organizations and communities interested in mental health assistance. Team members are trained and able to provide this service for a fee or through grant funding. The team is also funded to provide wellness checks to individuals discharged from a care setting; i.e., a hospital. These wellness checks are an opportunity to check in on food status, transportation needs, access to care and follow-up visits post-discharge. Program leaders are actively searching for partners to help with this service.
Illich concluded, “I am so proud of the exceptional growth of our team and the work we do. We all know what to do and are trained to help in these tough situations. It is empowering to know that we are making a difference in the life of someone in need and being a link to valuable services in our community.”
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.