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Tracy Frank, Published March 18 2012

Fargo’s FirstLink provides connections for people in need, available services

FARGO – FirstLink is about making connections.

The nonprofit organization not only helps connect volunteers with other nonprofits that need help, but it also connects people who might be feeling lost, lonely or suicidal with the friendly voice of a person who wants to help.

Laura Spahr recently joined the ranks as FirstLink’s Volunteer Center Specialist.

“I saw it as an opportunity to reach out to the community and promote volunteerism,” she said. “I’ve worked with nonprofits and you see how valuable the volunteers are because a lot of times they’re the ones doing a lot of the background work and some of the main things, too. They’re a lot of the staff for nonprofit offices.”

Before joining FirstLink, Spahr worked with Lutheran Social Services and Project Renew doing outreach work with flood victims in Barnes and Richland counties.

She has also done mission work in Denver and New Orleans and has volunteered for the YWCA.

“I’m a really big people person,” she said. “I like helping people, so I just try to do what I can to get people involved.”

Spahr also believes people should work together to take care of each other, she said.

“I love community connection,” she said. “Being involved in the community is important to me.”

Spahr has a master’s degree in counseling and is excited to be able to use her degree to help others, she said.

“I guess I just have a compassionate side,” she said. “That’s a big part of my life.”

FirstLink helps connect individual volunteers or groups of people for short- and long-term projects. The organization was instrumental in coordinating volunteers for the Fargo-Moorhead area’s flood fights.

“We are contracted with cities and counties, Fargo, Moorhead, West Fargo, Cass and Clay counties to manage their volunteers during the flood or any disaster,” said Sheila Borgerding, FirstLink Volunteer Center Director.

The organization is also certified to help answer a tip line in the event of a child abduction, she said.

“We are all trained in crisis intervention skills,” Borgerding said.

A staff of eight full-time and eight part-time employees as well as interns man the phones for the organization’s 2-1-1 Helpline, a free service available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

People can call the Helpline looking for anything from volunteer opportunities to help with addiction, disasters or information about financial assistance.

“We’re there for listening and support as well,” Borgerding said.

The organization serves the state of North Dakota and Minnesota’s Clay County, with the 2-1-1 Helpline. They answered almost 40,000 calls in 2011.

FirstLink is also the only call center for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in North Dakota. Last year, the organization answered more than 1,000 were related to suicide, Borgerding said. FirstLink staff and interns also help answer calls from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, (800) 273-8255 (TALK).

Borgerding said it’s hard to take those calls, but it’s also very rewarding to be able to help somebody work through their crisis.

Laura Roach, a student at the University of North Dakota, is interning at FirstLink over spring break and this coming summer. She will receive credit for her nonprofit minor.

“I thought FirstLink was just a wonderful program,” she said.

FirstLink’s programs include the Volunteer Center, 2-1-1 Helpline, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Suicide Education Outreach, Suicide Survivors’ Support Group, Community Training, and Giving Tree of Hope.

Nonprofit profile

What: FirstLink

Where: 4357 13th Ave. S., Suite 107L, Fargo.

Contact: The free helpline, 2-1-1, is answered 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Suicide Lifeline: (800) 273-8255 (TALK) is also answered 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Online: www.myfirstlink.org

If you go

What: FirstLink Fourth Annual Breakfast

Where: Holiday Inn, Fargo

When: 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. May 2.

RSVP: Angie at angiew@myfirstlink.org or (701) 293-6462 by April 23.

Info: Listen to the story of a mother who lost her child to suicide and how attending FirstLink’s support group has helped. Learn about other services FirstLink provides.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526