By Nani Lawrence
This summer has been more temperate than last year, like summers before it. New Mexico has seen quite a bit of rainfall as well. On a commonly humid afternoon in late August, students are just getting back into the swing of things. Along with the new semester, there is a foul yet refreshing scent wafting through the air. The university has started mowing its many lawns.
It is around 1 p.m., just after lunchtime, but New Mexico State University’s International Mall is fairly empty. It may be because all the students are packed like sardines inside. Even in the shade, you can feel the sun bearing down upon you.
There is a group of young women surrounding a table outside of Corbett Center’s west doors, chattering about their first full week of classes.
Hannah Parker, 21, is keeping her friends company before her next class. She says she knew what the Crisis Assistance Listening Line was, but didn’t know anyone who had ever utilized the service.
The CALL started operations in August 2008. According to its official website, before its inception, two other crisis hotlines serviced the state, one operating out of Albuquerque, the other out of Santa Fe. The CALL was established after the Department of Health requested NMSU host a resource in southern NM. It was set up to focus on serious concerns, but anyone could call for any reason, be it depression or financial problems. If a call were particularly difficult, the Counseling Center would take over.
Those who manned the phones consisted of volunteers, students working toward credit, and occasionally Wellness, Alcohol, and Violence Education peer educators.
Early last month, the NMSU community learned the hotline would no longer operate on campus due to funding issues. Although technically still in operation, it connects after two rings to another hotline in Albuquerque, as it sometimes did when responders were not available, according to an anonymous former worker.
Some say the closure is a financially smart move.
“As long as (students) have the option (of other hotlines), I think the school should do whatever saves money,” says NMSU student Abby Roney.
However, according to Debra Darmata, WAVE’s operations manager, there are two main ways in which this closure is disadvantageous to the school and the community at-large.
The first real loss is to the students. Starting in the fall of 2008, the CALL was offered as a class, taught by Darmata. Over the semesters, she estimates about 200 students participated in the three-to six-credit independent study course, providing about 100 hours of service.
“It’s sad that these people (volunteers, etc.) won’t get that (hands-on) experience anymore,” Parker says, but as long as students are able to find the help they need, it’s okay for the time being.
Darmata says it is easier to provide those in distress with local or campus resources when you have first-hand knowledge of them. For example, if a mother did not have a way to feed herself and her children for the night, a responder could tell her where to go and how to get there.
“Someone at the crisis line up in Albuquerque wouldn’t be able to know that,” Darmata says.
The CALL had always been mostly funded by state, federal, and municipal grants. The only two things NMSU ever provided were space and personnel pay. However, the state government currently places less importance on crisis hotlines, instead focusing on prevention.
Since Darmata started working at NMSU in 2006, the WAVE program overall had received nearly $1 million, and the CALL approximately $370 thousand in grant money. The first step in finding a grant involves searching for a request for proposals, which the government puts out so a qualified organization may apply for it. A couple of years ago, Darmata noticed the focus of the RFP had changed, to focus primarily on suicide prevention in secondary schools, she says.
“I hope something new is opening to replace (the CALL),” Doña Ana Community College student Kevin Drost says.
Darmata says WAVE is looking for grants, and is considering a change of policy. WAVE has never accepted a private grant, but may have to in order to revive the CALL. Another possibility is making the CALL exclusive to NMSU students, so the Associated Students of New Mexico State University can help.
This scenario would not be ideal, she says, because most of the CALL’s callers were community members, rather than students, who made up approximately 33 percent of all the CALL’s calls.
In weighing these options, Darmata says the most important thing is making sure this grant is sustainable.
“We don’t want to be open and shut, open and shut,” she says. “That’s a mess.”
In the meantime, there are a few local resources that may be helpful if you or someone you know is in need of assistance.
If the situation involves domestic violence, La Casa provides shelter, counseling, advocacy services, transitional housing, and others. More information can be found at lacasainc.org. The office is located at 800 Walnut Street.
If you need food, El Caldito Soup Kitchen provides hot meals Sunday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and sack lunches Saturdays from 11:30 a.m. to noon. It is located at 999 W. Amador Avenue as part of Mesilla Valley Community of Hope, which also houses other resources, such as shelter and income support. It is suggested you call ahead, to make sure the soup kitchen is open, at (575) 525-3831. A full listing of food banks can be found at foodpantries.org/ci/nm-las_cruces. There is also a pantry on campus at Garcia Annex, room 132. It is open Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Low-cost or free legal services can also be found at nmlegalaid.org, the Student Legal Aid Office at NMSU, and the Law Offices of the Public Defender.