The word “need” means many things to many people. For those struggling in our communities, need might be something as simple as a winter coat to help fight off cool nights or a little help with their utility bills until their next paycheck comes in. For families, it can be fresh food for children who otherwise might not receive it. Some individuals are deep in depression and others are looking for a way to escape the cycle of alcoholism or drug addiction, which is as real in North Idaho as it is everywhere else across the country. There are hundreds of non-profit organizations across the state dedicated to helping those in need, but how do the needy find the help they are looking for?
For individuals and families in need of a one-time hand up or those seeking serious life changes, the Sandpoint Community Resource Center (SCRC) is dedicated to matching those in need with the organization best equipped to help. Current president and founder Rich Crettol recalls how the idea came to light back in 2009 when he and partner Dave Pietz were attempting to help a couple in their church. But after several phone calls, they didn’t feel they got the help they were looking for.
“At that time Dave and I said, ‘There has to be a better way to run a railroad,’ and so the Resource Center was born,” recalled Crettol. “We began to collect (information on) as many of the agencies as we could and also find out just what did each of these agencies do, who did they serve, and what were their requirements for a person to get services.”
For two years Pietz and Crettol gathered information and built a network with a cell phone and legal pad. In 2011, they received their 501(c)(3) non-profit designation and elected a board to help oversee SCRC. Today, the organization is connected with 300 provider agencies across Boundary and Bonner counties, has an office staffed daily with volunteers, and just last year helped more than 400 people connect with the help they needed.
“Through all of these agencies, we are in constant contact to make sure that our database information is up to date with the latest information of each agency,” said Crettol.
SCRC’s office is currently located in The Columbia Plaza on Third Street in Sandpoint. The office is staffed from 10am to 2pm each day with volunteers who take phone calls and occasional drop-ins from people in need. As they are dealing with many serious personal issues with those they are trying to help, volunteers go through extensive training to make sure they are matching those in need with the best providers for each situation.
“It takes a special person who can listen and be able to find a satisfactory solution for that client. Sometimes all we need to do is to counsel a person as they may have resources that they haven’t thought of, but by talking to our resource specialist they are able to move on. We have the saying, ‘We are giving them a hand up not a handout,’” said Crettol.
During an all day symposium this past spring, more than 100 of the connected groups got together to brainstorm even more effective ways to connect those in need with providers. The Sandpoint Community Resource Center also works directly with the state 211 help line which is connected through the Health and Welfare Department. On pace to assist another 400 or more individuals this year, Crettol knows that keeping the communication on-going and continuing to improve is vital to the North Idaho community.
“With our database, we are able to pinpoint the problem areas for most of the clients; however, being able to assist in those areas is becoming harder and harder every day,” said Crettol.
Those at Sandpoint Community Resource Center say that funds to keep many of these organizations open and helping the community are not seeing support from state and local governments.
“It is up to the people to try and take care of those who need help. Washington (DC) and the State (of Idaho) consistently are cutting benefits, and it will get worse before it will get better. We need additional services in our area in order to provide housing for low income folks,” said Crettol.
In order to staff the SCRC office seven-days a week, it takes a team of volunteers eager to help those in need. The need for qualified resource specialists is at the top of the wish list for the organization as these are the individuals that do the matching of those in need with providers. Resource specialists take phone calls from people looking for help in a wide range of areas. Volunteers should have a compassion for helping people and be good listeners in order to find the best solution for the caller. Those who are interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities can fill out an online application at www.sandpointcommunityresourcecenter.com or stop by the office between the hours of 10am and 2pm. Crettol says that some of his fondest memories as president have come from stories about the dedication of his volunteers.
“Numerous times we have had clients come back and say thank you for the help or thank you for listening or just talking to them on their level and not being judgmental. I am extremely proud of the quality of the volunteer we have in the agency.”
Crettol cites several reports and studies that show the poverty level in Bonner and Boundary Counties at anywhere from 28 percent to 35 percent. When living in such a beautiful, family-friendly place, it’s easy to forget that more than one in four residents are struggling to pay the bills and put food on the table. Many of these families and individuals are not looking for continued hand outs, but rather a hand up to help get them on track for a better life for themselves and their families. Acts as simple as someone taking the time to listen and counsel, getting affordable vaccinations for their children, or a pair of slacks and a jacket to wear for a job interview can mean so much to those in need. Through a network or more than 300 providers, Sandpoint Community Resource Center is dedicated to its mission to “Bridge the gap between people in need and those who serve.” With the help of compassionate volunteers in our community, these organizations will continue to grow in helping those most in need. If you or someone you know is struggling, ask for help. SCRC can be reached at 208.920.1840 and resource specialists are prepared to listen and match those with the assistance they are seeking. From a cell phone and pad of paper to a web of more than 300 connected agencies, the Sandpoint Community Resource Center will continue its mission to seek and partner with more organizations and reach all those in need in our community.