Best Charity - 1999
Switchboard of Miami
This is one of the richest resources Miami can call on. In its 30 years of existence, Switchboard has grown from an advice center for hippies on bad acid trips to a versatile organization that almost anyone in a crisis can turn to. It's not just a crisis hotline, though that best-known feature of Switchboard will this year receive some 130,000 calls, and more than 50 around-the-clock volunteer counselors will refer callers to appropriate services, according to assistant executive director Gigi Laudisio. While a total of about 63 volunteers and student interns contribute hugely, primarily as (trained) crisis counselors, Switchboard's two-million-dollar annual budget also pays 32 full-time and 10 part-time staffers, some of whom work with numerous other helplines operated by the organization: one for people with disabilities; the nation's only hotline for deaf callers; two lines exclusively for teens; a WAGES hotline to help with work, housing, day care, transportation, and other problems facing people moving from welfare to work; a Miami River line even takes reports and questions about environmental concerns. Staffers also conduct free family counseling sessions and support groups in English and Spanish, as well as "life skills" education programs within the Miami-Dade public schools. As part of this community outreach, Switchboard is the only organization in the United States to receive funding for a pregnancy-prevention program targeting girls with mental and physical disabilities.