About International Council for Helplines

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.

We are a member of Lifeline International and our accreditation is accepted by the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the Alliance for Information and Referrals (AIRS).

Our History

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. 

Our Staff

Gail Selander, MBA, MA – Executive Director (executivedirector@councilforhelplines.org)
​Gail joined International Council for Helplines as Executive Director in January 2018, bringing 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. Gail also serves on the Lifeline International Board of Directors and on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s Steering Committee. 

Lisa Turbeville, BSW – Accreditation Coordinator (accreditation@councilforhelplines.org)
​​Lisa joined International Council for Helplines as Accreditation Coordinator in January 2019, bringing with her over 28 years of crisis helpline and non-profit experience. Lisa previously served on the Board of Directors for CONTACT USA and worked for Common Ground as the Crisis Line and OES Manager for 20 years. Ms. Turbeville resides in Michigan and earned a bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Southern Illinois University. Lisa is an approved instructor for Critical Incident Stress Management through the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation and serves on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s Standards, Training and Best Practices Committee. 

Board of Directors

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.

Officers

Michael Reading, M.S., NCC, LMHC, – Board Chair
Chief of Operations, 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 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 Operating Manager. Prior to joining King County, he served as Director of Crisis Services at Crisis Clinic in Seattle, WA where he oversaw the Crisis Services Department which provides various services: 24/7 Crisis Line to provide emergency telephone support for King County residents; participation with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline; provides Crisis Chat services; 24/7 WA State Recovery Help Line to connect WA State residents to local treatment resources for Substance Abuse, Problem Gambling and Mental Health; WA Warm Line; Teen Link peer to peer support line; and support for Survivors of Suicide.  Michael is well versed in crisis intervention, suicide prevention and is a certified ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills) Master Trainer.  Michael is currently the Chair of the International Council for Helplines Board of Directors.

Justin Chase, LMSW, CPHQ, FNCCM – Vice Chair
President/CEO, Crisis Response Network (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. 

Eleanor Letcher, M.Ed., CSW – Treasurer
​Executive Director, CONTACT of Mercer County (Pennington, NJ)

Eleanor K. Letcher, M.Ed., CSW is the Executive Director of CONTACT of Mercer County, NJ.  She joined her center as a volunteer in 1976, the year it opened, and became the Executive Director in 1980.  She has served on the CONTACT USA National Board and has attended many annual conferences including Lifeline Conferences, the former international partner of CONTACT USA.  Eleanor is a graduate of Douglass College-Rutgers University and has a M.Ed. from The College of NJ.  She resides in Ewing, NJ with her husband Dave. 

Carolyn Levitan, LCSW – Secretary
Crisis Line Director, Didi Hirsch Suicide Prevention Center (Los Angeles, CA)

Carolyn has been the Crisis Line Director at the Didi Hirsch Suicide Prevention Center since December 2015. Didi Hirsch’s Crisis Line takes over 100,000 local and national calls, chats and texts annually and is accredited by both International Council for Helplines and AAS. Carolyn oversees a team of over 70 paid staff and 200 volunteers. Didi Hirsch’s Crisis Line serves as a National Suicide Prevention Lifeline backup center, Lifeline Chat core center and Disaster Distress Helpline core center. Didi Hirsch’s Crisis Line is currently the only crisis line in the nation with 24/7 Spanish Bilingual counselor coverage and features 8 hours of Korean Bilingual counselor coverage daily. Previous to acting as the Crisis Line Director, Carolyn worked in adult outpatient settings within Didi Hirsch for several years. Carolyn holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a master’s degree in Social Welfare, both from UCLA. Carolyn volunteered on the UCLA Peer Helpline during her undergrad years as well.

Directors

Kelly Clarke
​Program Director, NYC Well, 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 is a registered member with the Psychology Board of Australia, with 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.

Marshall Ellis
Vice President, Operations, Envolve Health (Chicago, IL) 

Marshall Ellis is Vice President, Operations, Envolve Health, a subsidiary of Centene Corporation. He previously served as Vice President, Crisis & Behavioral Health Technologies for MHA-NYC and its subsidiary Link2Health Solutions, Inc., where he oversaw the agency’s Here2Help Connect crisis center division and also served as an Associate Project Director for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Marshall has worked extensively in partnership development, fundraising & business development, program design & implementation, contact center operations, and technology management. He has previously served as Interim Director of LIFENET, NYC’s 24/7 crisis/I&R hotline, and as Managing Director of Business & Fund Development (and a hotline volunteer) at CrisisLink–now PRS CrisisLink–in Northern Virginia. Prior to joining the crisis center community, he worked in international education–holding several positions at the Fulbright Association, including Senior Director of Membership. Marshall has a Master’s in Public Administration from The George Washington University, and a B.A. in Political Science from Appalachian State University.

Tim Jansen, L.G.S.W.
​Chief Executive Officer, Community Crisis Services, Inc. (Hyattsville, MD)

Tim Jansen, LGSW, is the Chief Executive Officer of Community Crisis Services, Inc (CCSI) “Home of the Prince George’s County Hotline” where he began his social work career as a hotline volunteer in 1998.  In the last five years,  CCSI has more nearly tripled its budget, has earned the Seal of Excellence from the Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations (one of only 60 such organizations in Maryland),  and has been named one of the area’s finest small charities by  the Catalogue of Philanthropy.  Tim was recently named, 2013 Alumni of the Year by the University of Maryland, School of Social Work.  Tim served as the Crisis Center Division Chair for the American Association of Suicidology, the Board Chair for CONTACT USA, on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s Standards/Training Committee, and as a Senior Training Coach for Livingworks.  Dedicated to making services in the nonprofit world work together for the benefit of the community is Tim’s guiding philosophy. 

Brenda Patterson, M.Ed., CMHT
Executive ​Director, CONTACT The Crisis Line (Jackson, MS)

Brenda 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 in Jackson, MS. She was employed with the MS Department of Mental Health as an Associate Psychologist in Diagnostic Services at Hudspeth Regional Center from 1983-2010.  Brenda 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 is a member of the MS Association of Psychologists in Public Schools (MAPS), and the National Association of Crisis Organization Directors (NASCOD). Brenda joined CONTACT USA in 2012, where she serves as a site accreditation evaluator and board Secretary.

Beau Pinkham
Manager of Network Operations, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (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.

Site Examiners

Jennifer Armstrong, LPC-MHSP
Director, Office of Crisis and Suicide Prevention,
TN Department of Health (Nashville, TN)

Molly McCoy Brack, M.A.
Director
Agora Crisis Center (Albuquerque, NM)

Beth Brady, LAC
Director, Training and Public Relations
Crisis Response Network (Tempe, AZ)

Kelly Clarke
Program Director NYC Well
Vibrant Emotional Health (New York, NY)

Tim Jansen, L.G.S.W.
Chief Executive Officer
Community Crisis Services, Inc. (Hyattsville, MD)

Eleanor Letcher, M.Ed., CSW
​Executive Director
CONTACT of Mercer County (Ewing, NJ)

Carolyn Levitan, LCSW
Crisis Line Director
Didi Hirsch Suicide Prevention Center (Los Angeles, CA)

Keri Neblett, LMSW
Clinical Assistant Professor & Field Education Director
University of Iowa School of Social Work (Iowa City, IA)

Brenda Patterson, M.Ed., CMHT
​Executive Director
CONTACT the Crisis Line (Jackson, MS)

Michael Reading, M.S., NCC, LMHC
Chief of Operations, King County Department of Community and Human Services
Behavioral Health and Recovery Division (Seattle, WA)

Kathleen Southwick
Executive Director (retired)
Crisis Clinic (Seattle, WA)

Lisa Turbeville, BSW
CONTACT USA Accreditation Coordinator

Ron White, LICSW
Chief Program Officer
Samaritans, Inc. (Boston, MA)