Extension Hotlines Are Available To All Iowans

Extension Hotlines Are Available To All Iowans

Hotlines available through Iowa State University Extension make one-on-one assistance for almost any problem, issue or question just a simple phone call away.

Iowa teens with questions about eating disorders, problem gamblers seeking help breaking the gambling habit, victims of summer flooding and families struggling with their finances can call hotlines 24 hours a day for confidential, free help. Hotlines available through Iowa State University Extension make one-on-one assistance for almost any issue a simple phone call away.

A call center in Urbandale, managed by ISU Extension, has a staff of 10 that are scheduled around the clock to take calls for several hotlines: Iowa Concern, BETS OFF, Teen Line, 211 and Healthy Families. The certified informational and referral call center staff include a registered nurse, an attorney and two to four topic specialists that take calls daily. Aided by hotline-specific databases, they connect the caller with helpful information or consultants and resources in the caller's county, all the while patiently listening and providing guidance.

Iowa Concern phone number is the most frequently used hotline

The 1-800-447-1985 Iowa Concern number is the most frequently used hotline the call center answers. Tammy Jacobs, one of the call center counselors, was formerly a counselor at Family Shelter Services. She says callers get assistance from a third party when they call a hotline; someone who can see beyond their central problem.  It is most important, she said, that people know these hotlines are available. However, callers have oftentimes been passed from place to place before they make the call to the hotline.

"People are sometimes a little overwhelmed and frustrated by the time they reach us," Jacobs said. "But if they had known about us first, we could jump right into their real issue, and not need to work through extra stress."

Margaret Van Ginkel, ISU Extension family resource management specialist, said the busiest times for Iowa Concern hotline are during disasters or crises, such as floods or the H1N1 flu virus. "Call center staff are trained to respond to disaster situations and prepared to answer the questions and uncertainty that those disasters bring," Van Ginkel said. "During the H1N1 scare at the end of 2009, we handled more than 2,400 calls on the topic in two weeks."

Many calls to Iowa Concern hotline have to do with legal issues

Many calls to Iowa Concern are related to legal issues, according to Van Ginkel, but they also receive calls with agricultural, custody, divorce and mortgage questions. She said the counselors know that these questions are often just the problems at the surface of a caller's issue.

"People often call for one reason," Van Ginkel said, "but as we talk to them, our counselors find out there are other underlying issues. Once these are uncovered, we are then able to point them to the proper resources."

The hotlines can be stress management tools for callers, one they consult with multiple times. When Tammy and other staff members answer a call, they "talk about the caller's issue, work through things and connect the caller with resources."

Iowa Call Center hotlines address a variety of issues

Each hotline number managed by the call center has a specific audience or purpose. By calling Iowa Concern (800-447-1985) callers have access to an attorney for legal education, stress counselors and information and referral services for a wide variety of topics. The hotline experts treat every issue individually and take the time to address the steps, underlying issues and outside resources to support every Iowan. Iowa Concern also has a Live Chat option, where individuals can chat electronically with counselors. The Live Chat can be accessed from the Iowa Concern website at www.extension.iastate.edu/iowaconcern/homepage.html.

Teen Line (800-443-8336) offers confidential assistance for teens and parents. While not considered a "crisis" line, it is answered by ISU Extension hotline professionals and funded by the Department of Public Health. Teen issues, including stress, relationships, health and sexual activity can be difficult to discuss face-to-face, the hotline offers an alternative for help. Teen Line is a confidential, free service for teens and parents.

The BETS OFF (800-BETS-OFF) or (800-238-7633), funded by Iowa Department of Public Health, addresses gambling-related problems and guides callers to providers around the state who offer gambling counseling. During the initial weeks of the BETS OFF hotline, Van Ginkel said the hotline received numerous dropped calls. The call center assumed the calls were pranks. However, they soon discovered that people seeking gambling help had hung up before they could speak to the person at the other end of the line. Often making several calls before being able to ask for help.

Hotline counselors understand the struggles that a gambling problem can bring and are ready to help. In addition to the hotline, the BETS OFF website provides numerous resources to help those with a gambling addiction take the first step and learn more about their options. 

Other ISU Extension hotlines are also available

Several ISU centers and departments have established hotlines through their extension component to provide immediate help to their clients.

Families Answer Line (800-262-3804) addresses everything from everyday household problems to child development and nutrition questions. Professional consumer and family scientists answer questions about child development, cleaning, consumer management, food preparation, food preservation, food safety, home environment, household equipment, nutrition, textiles and laundry. Meet Liz Meimann, Answer Line coordinator, and learn more about this hotline in this video. Answer Line from Iowa State University Extension on Vimeo.

Farm On (877-BFC-1999) is a program to match beginning and retiring farmers with hours Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. This hotline is managed by the Beginning Farmer Center.

Hortline (515) 294-3108 provides assistance to home gardeners on lawn, garden, and ornamental questions with hours Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Questions can also be emailed to [email protected]. The hotline is answered by extension garden experts.

PORKLine (800-808-7675) is available to assist Iowa pork producers in all aspects of pork production with hours Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Questions can also be emailed to [email protected]. The Iowa Pork Industry Center takes calls for this hotline.

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