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Helpline: Lifeline of hope for older adults telephone service provides resources on variety of topics

"You are an answer to my prayers! I just read about the Helpline and knew I had found what I needed to help an elderly lady. Please send your brochures as soon as you can."

This letter, sent to the BYU Helpline from a Nashville, Tenn., resident, is not unusual. Every day the center receives letters asking for help, expressing appreciation and sharing stories about the telephone Helpline being a source of counsel, comfort or guidance.

The Helpline, developed under BYU's Gerontology Resource Center, was conceived as a resource for one of the fastest growing age groups in the United States _ the elderly. (Some studies predict that by the year 2030, one in five people will be age 65 or older.)

"There is a real need out there for the service we offer," explained Carol Jewkes, director of the Helpline. "We are an advocate for the older adults and those who care for them."

Using the Helpline is simple. After dialing the toll-free number, the caller can choose one of more than 100 subjects aimed at offering help, advice, or just encouragement. Topics range from aerobic exercise for the elderly to the duty of being happy, and from establishing wills and trusts to care giving.

Through surveys and reports, Help-line staff have also identified additional needs and have plans to expand available messages in the near future _ focusing on cancer messages at first.

"The older adult faces a lot of challenges and obstacles," pointed out Jaycee Barrus, Helpline manager. "There are issues that sometimes they are just not familiar with. Through the Help-line they can find out information that can help them."

Helpline also refers interested callers to other organizations or centers where they can receive additional information.

Although plans for the Helpline were some five years in the making, the telephones have been in actual operation just since 1987. A grant from The Bireley Foundation made the implementation of the program possible. The Help-line also accepts private donations.

The phone lines are staffed by trained student telephone operators who connect callers to the short, three-minutes messages.

Recently, Helpline expanded its equipment so "now we can handle any number of callers, as long as they are calling on touch-tone phones," explained Sister Jewkes.

Although the Helpline has a few inspirational messages by Richard L. Evans, all the messages are non-denominational and more than 20 percent of callers are non-members, according to Barrus.

Many nursing and geriatric centers distribute information about the center, but callers of all ages and circumstances can benefit from the messages.

"We would just hope that everyone would take advantage of this service," Barrus observed. "It's here to help and it can literally be a lifeline for someone in need."

Residents of the United States (including Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico) and Canada can request free Help-line directories by writing to BYU Senior Helpline, F274 HFAC, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah 84602. These directories list the available subjects for senior citizens, care givers, and other interested callers. The toll-free Helpline was recently made accessible to Canadian callers.

The program operates 24 hours a day for those with touch-tone telephones. Rotary or dial telephone users need operator assistance, available 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. MST, Monday through Friday, except holidays. The number to call is 1-800-328-7576 (378-7576 in Utah Valley).

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