International Council for Helplines (formerly CONTACT USA) is a helpline membership organization with a mission to inspire, educate, and accredit helpline programs which offer support to individuals in crisis and emotional distress. Our vision is that anyone at any time has access to thriving, effective emotional support. We promote unconditional regard for acceptance of all people.
We have been accrediting helpline organizations for over 50 years, and as an accrediting body, we are solely dedicated to establishing helpline best practice standards.
In 2020, CONTACT USA changed its name to International Council for Helplines to reflect the evolving mission and vision of the organization. While it was important to change the name to align with organizational services and goals, we also are very mindful of not losing site of the history behind International Council for Helplines, formally CONTACT USA.
Although no longer a faith-based organization, CONTACT USA began in the Methodist church. On March 16, 1963, Reverend Dr. Alan Walker, minister in the Methodist Church, Sydney, Australia founded Life Line. This was a unique program that was designed to train volunteers to be available by telephone to callers 24 hours a day. Two years later, Reverend John Brand, a minister in Dallas, Texas took the initiative to begin a similar program in the United States. With permission from his Bishop, Reverend Brand was chosen to lead the new initiative and to use his church as the location for the first center. Since the name of Life Line was being used in Texas by a nationally broadcast radio program, CONTACT was chosen as the name of this new ministry.
In the autumn of 1966, a class of 150 persons began their six-month training as telephone helpline volunteers. On March 27, 1967, CONTACT Dallas, Texas became the first center in the United States. On March 1, 1968 in Nashville, Tennessee, the Council for Telephone Ministries was formed to develop CONTACT centers throughout the US. By the time this meeting commenced, 31 communities had already expressed interest in establishing a center in their community.
During the next three years, under the leadership of Reverend Ross Whetstone and the support of the United Methodist Church through a budget of $250,000, 36 communities began the process of starting a center. In November of 1969, Life Line International held its 2nd tri-annual convention in Chicago. In addition to Dallas, 5 other centers were now in operation: High Point and Charlotte in North Carolina; Little Rock, Arkansas; Chattanooga, Tennessee and Newport News, Virginia. On April 15, 1971, CONTACT Teleministries USA was incorporated in Tennessee to promote the development of CONTACT. A day later, the first national conference of CONTACT was held in Newport News, Virginia. The Reverend Robert Larson established the first national office in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and there were 18 centers by this time.
In October 1985, the name of the national organization was changed to CONTACT USA, Inc.
The ICH Board of Directors, in 2017, made the strategic decision to broaden the Accreditation Standards to be applicable to a variety of different types of crisis-oriented helplines utilizing a variety of service delivery modalities including phone, chat, and text.
Based on feedback from members, stakeholders, and community partners, in 2019, the Board made the decision to move forward with rebranding in order to increase brand recognition and be inclusive of a variety of crisis-oriented helplines, both domestically and internationally.
In July 2020, CONTACT USA formally became known and rebranded as International Council for Helplines.
Gail Selander, MBA, MA – Accreditation and Credentialing Administrator (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Gail joined International Council for Helplines as a contractor in June 2021 after retiring as the Executive Director. Gail brings with her a wealth of experience in the behavioral health, nonprofit, and corporate sectors. Gail has previously worked at Volunteers of America Western Washington (VOAWW) as the Director of Operations for Behavioral Health programs, which included the 24/7 crisis line and online emotional support services. Prior to VOAWW, she spent many years working in leadership, operational, and human resource roles with Microsoft and Expedia. Gail has a master’s degree in Business Administration and a master’s degree in Counseling Psychology.
International Council for Helplines is governed by a volunteer Board of Directors. Directors are elected for two-year terms by International Council for Helplines members and may stand for re-election. Officers are elected annually by the Board of Directors.
Download a copy of the International Council for Helplines Bylaws here.
Michael Reading, M.S., NCC, LMHC, – Board Chair
Chief of Crisis Systems and Services, King County Department of Community and Human Services
Behavioral Health and Recovery Division (Seattle, WA)
Michael earned a Master of Science degree from the University of Memphis in 1996 in Community Agency Counseling. He is a National Certified Counselor and a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Washington State. Having worked in the King County Public Mental Health System for more than 20 years serving individuals living with severe and persistent mental illness, Michael joined King County Behavioral Health Organization in 2017 where he now serves as Chief of Crisis Systems and Services.
Justin Chase, LMSW, CPHQ, FNCCM – Vice Chair
President/CEO, Solari (Tempe, AZ)
Justin Chase is the President and CEO of Crisis Response Network and its subsidiary organizations (Centerpoint for Hope and Community Information and Referral Services/AZ 2-1-1). Justin is a nationally recognized subject matter expert in: crisis systems, recovery-oriented systems of care, peer integration, non-profit organizational leadership and development, and developing sustainable, effective and efficient healthcare programs and systems. He has served as a behavioral health administrator, executive, network/program developer, direct practitioner and project manager within the public behavioral health and child welfare system for more than 15 years. Justin received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Social Work from Arizona State University and holds a Certificate in Nonprofit Management from Duke University. Justin is a Licensed Master Social Worker in the State of Arizona, Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality, Certified Six Sigma Green Belt, Certified Peer Support Specialist in the State of Arizona, Certified Crisis Interventionist by the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress and a Fellow with the National Center for Crisis Management.
Wendy Martinez Farmer, LPC, MBA – Treasurer
CEO Georgia Collaborative ASO/Director II DBG Account Management
Beacon Health Options
Wendy Martinez Farmer, LPC from Beacon Health Options is Licensed Professional Counselor with over 23 years of crisis experience in the public and private sectors, Wendy holds a Master of Science in Clinical Psychology from Marquette University and a MBA from Georgia Southern University. Since 2020, she has served as a national crisis lead for Beacon helping to develop crisis capabilities, which include building and overseeing statewide and community crisis systems. She is currently the CEO of the Georgia Collaborative ASO program, which includes administration of the statewide Georgia Crisis and Access Line. Prior to joining the Beacon team, Wendy was the President and CEO of Behavioral Health Link in Atlanta, where she oversaw daily operations of the statewide line as well as 24/7 mobile crisis response services in 104 Georgia counties. She has played a foundational role in building electronic capacity to coordinate crisis care in real time and continues that work today.
A suicide prevention leader, she sat on the Standards Training and Practice Committee for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline from 2016 to 2019. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for NAMI Georgia and was elected to the Board of Directors for the International Council for Helplines (ICL) in January of this year.
A member of the 2015 Crisis Now work group, Wendy is passionate about ensuring individuals experiencing a behavioral health crisis receive the same predictable care individuals with medical emergencies receive. As a heart attack survivor, she has become even more dedicated to building crisis systems that prevent individuals in crisis from falling through the cracks. After her health scare, she became more and more interested in what her experience may have been if instead of chest pain, she was in a behavioral health crisis. “The response to chest pain is predictable no matter where you live. We demand it. This is not the case for behavioral health emergencies which can also be fatal. Unlike the bystanders and first responders who knew exactly what to do for me, our family, friends coworkers and even medical professionals are much less likely to know what to do when the emergency is related to mental health or substance use.” She is very invested in the successful launch of 988 and believes that community collaboration and the connection between key crisis services are key to ensuring individuals receive life-saving behavioral health care in their moment of need.
Carolyn Levitan, LCSW – Secretary
Senior Director of Crisis Care, Didi Hirsch Suicide Prevention Center (Los Angeles, CA)
Carolyn has been the Senior Director of Crisis Care at the Didi Hirsch Suicide Prevention Center since April 2022. She was previously the Crisis Line Director from 2015-2022. Didi Hirsch’s Suicide Prevention Center services include the Crisis Line, education/outreach, and counseling and support groups for those who have experienced a suicide attempt or loss. The Crisis Line takes over 130,000 calls, chats and texts annually and is accredited by both ICH and AAS. Previous to her current role, Carolyn worked in various behavioral health settings for many years. Carolyn holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a master’s degree in Social Welfare, both from UCLA.
Vice President, 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, Vibrant Emotional Health (New York, NY)
Kelly Clarke has been the Program Director of NYC Well with Vibrant Emotional Health since December 2016. NYC Well serves as the front door to NYC’s behavioral health network, connecting New Yorkers to free confidential, high quality behavioral health information, referral, support, and crisis intervention services as well as follow-up and peer support services 24/7/365 through phone, text and/or chat. NYC Well is also a member of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline network. Kelly has a multifaceted background in mental health, substance misuse, child protection, and veteran issues throughout Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Kelly holds a bachelor’s degree in Social Sciences and a Post Graduate Diploma in Psychology.
Vice President of Mass211 (Framingham, MA)
Eileen Davis is the Vice President of Mass211, the statewide service that connects callers to information about critical health and human services available in their community. Eileen is also the Founder and Director of Call2Talk, the mental health platform of Mass211 and currently the largest crisis center in the State. In her roles Ms. Davis, oversees all aspects of program operations including staff and volunteer recruitment, training, scheduling as well as program outreach, technology, data analysis and sustainability. She has worked in crisis centers for over 36 years and has vast experience in nonprofit management as well as helpline sustainability. She also oversees the TeleCheck program, serving older adults who are experiencing a difficult life change including decreased mobility, bereavement, onset of chronic pain and depression. She also co-founded LOSSteam MetroWest, the only currently existing LOSSteam in the Northeast. Ms. Davis is certified as both an ASIST and safeTALK Trainer as well and serves as the Founder and Chair of The MetroWest Regional Coalition for Suicide Prevention. Among her many accomplishments, she was a recipient of the 2010 Massachusetts Leadership in Suicide Prevention Award. In 2017 her leadership lead Call2Talk as a finalist in the Excellence in Crisis Center Award from the American Association of Suicidology. Ms. Davis received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in Education and Psychology.
Sarah J. Nelson
CEO of CommUnity Crisis Services (Iowa City, Iowa)
Sarah Nelson is the CEO of CommUnity Crisis Services in Iowa City, Iowa. Sarah has served in leadership roles within local government and non profit organizations for over 15 years in both Colorado and Iowa. She has a wide array of experience in human services having worked in child welfare, community justice services, crisis services, school mental health and with poverty reduction initiatives. Sarah is passionate about creating a robust array of services along a crisis continuum, providing individuals with the right level of intervention at the right time. She has been involved in embedding mental health responders within law enforcement departments to increase diversion from hospitals and jails. Additionally, Sarah is a parent advocate for issues related to children’s mental health services;ensuring developmentally appropriate, trauma-informed interventions that produce positive outcomes.
Brenda Patterson, M.Ed., CMHT
Executive Director, CONTACT The Crisis Line (Jackson, MS)
Brenda is the Executive Director for CONTACT the Crisis Line in Jackson, MS. She holds a dual Masters of Education in Guidance and Counseling/Psychometry and Masters of Community Counseling from Mississippi College. It was during this time she became a crisis line volunteer with CONTACT the Crisis Line. Brenda was employed with the MS Department of Mental Health as an Associate Psychologist in Diagnostic Services at Hudspeth Regional Center from 1983-2010. She became Executive Director of CONTACT the Crisis Line in 2010. Brenda is a Licensed Clinical IDD Therapist and Certified Mental Health Therapist through the MS Department of Mental Health and a licensed Psychometrist through the MS Department of Education. She has been a registered Living Works Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Trainer (ASIST) since 2015. Brenda serves on the National Suicide Prevention Lifelines Standards, Training and Practices Committee; National Association for Crisis Organization Directors (NASCOD); the Mississippi College Psychology & Counseling Department Advisory Committee; and the Mississippi HIV Planning Council. She joined the International Council for Helplines (formerly CONTACT USA) in 2012 where she served as board Secretary and on the Conference Committee. She currently serves on the Accreditation Committee, an Accreditation Site Examiner, and as Awards Chair.
Director of Contracts, 988 Lifeline, Vibrant Emotional Health (New York, NY)
Beau is Manager of Network Operations for the National Suicide Lifeline, focused on creating and maintaining a thriving and future-focused infrastructure for crisis/suicide centers across the country. He formerly was Director of Crisis Services for CommUnity Crisis Services and Food Bank. Beau is an Iowa City original and holds three degrees from the University of Iowa in Business Marketing, Business Management, and German.
Vice President of Enterprise and 988 Crisis Services, Centerstone (Nashville, TN)
Vice President, 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, Vibrant Emotional Health (New York, NY)
Tim Jansen, L.G.S.W.
Chief Executive Officer, Community Crisis Services, Inc. (Hyattsville, MD)
Carolyn Levitan, LCSW
Senior Director of Crisis Care, Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services (Los Angeles, CA)
Nathan Lichtman, MSW
Training and Outreach Program Manager, Didi Hirsch Suicide Prevention Center (Los Angeles, CA)
Director, Youth Services and Technology, Samaritans, Inc. (Boston, MA)
Keri Neblett, LMSW
Training and Delivery Manager, Western Great Lakes Region, LivingWorks (Iowa City, IA)
Michael Reading, M.S., NCC, LMHC
Chief of Crisis Systems and Services, King County Behavioral Health and Recovery Division (Seattle, WA)
Brenda Patterson, M.Ed., LCIDDT, CMHT
Executive Director, CONTACT the Crisis Line (Jackson, MS)
Director of Contracts, 988 Lifeline, Vibrant Emotional Health (New York, NY)
Gail Selander, M.A., M.B.A
Accreditation & Credentialing Administrator, International Council for Helplines
Executive Director (retired), Crisis Clinic (Seattle, WA)
Lisa Turbeville, BSW
Accreditation Coordinator (retired), International Council for Helplines
Cassie Villegas, LAC, CHC
Senior Director, Contact Center Operations & Clinical Services, Solari (Tempe, AZ)
Ron White, LICSW
Chief Program Officer (retired), Samaritans, Inc. (Boston, MA)