Making the first call

Sunday, October 11, 2009
Denise Wimp spends her day in her Cape Girardeau office helping other by phone as Director of First Call for Help. (LAURA SIMON)

@body_no_indent italics:Editor's note: This is the sixth in a series of stories with an introduction from Nancy Jernigan at the United Way highlighting volunteers and agencies who are active in or funded by the United Way of Southeast Missouri. To get involved, visit the United Way online at, at its offices at 430A Broadway or by phone at 334-9634.

Ten years ago, a telephone help line was created to help individuals access the services they need. This service was established through a collaboration of local agencies who realized the benefit to the community of offering this type of service, including United Way, East Missouri Action Agency, Community Caring Council, Cape Girardeau Public Library and the Area Agency on Aging to name a few.

Today, more than 400 calls are responded to each month and people are connected to services they need. Some calls require simply sharing a phone number to an area service, but many involve much more. First Call for Help not only provides information but assists callers, when needed, to work through the sometimes complicated system of care in our area. The data collected provides valuable information to the United Way and other organizations regarding unmet needs in our area.

The number to call is 334-4357(HELP) in Cape Girardeau and toll free at 866-914-4357 in outlying areas. First Call director Denise Wimp will pick up the phone. She has lived in Southeast Missouri her entire life and has been director at First Call since the program began in 1999.

What is First Call?

As Director of First Call for Help, Denise Wimp is always just a phone call away. (LAURA SIMON)

First Call for Help is a free telephone helpline for people to call when they have a need but do not know who to call for help. We have a database of social service agencies and not-for-profit organizations in a five-county area with details about those agencies and organizations, such as eligibility requirements and the services provided. The help line is set up so people can call one place to find help for their needs instead of making multiple phone calls to places that may not be able to help them.

Why do you think it's important?

It is important that people know what resources are available to help them with their needs. Not only for their immediate need but also for any other needs the person may have. If a person is in immediate need of financial assistance we can help locate resources for that and also help with any secondary needs such as employment, if that is the reason behind the need for financial assistance. If people have their needs met, they can be more productive citizens in their community.

How are United Way and First Call connected?

The United Way was part of a community collaboration that brought First Call for Help to this area. First Call for Help also receives funds from the United Way.

Do you also volunteer, if so, where and why?

I volunteer with United Way activities and at my son's school. It's important for us all to give of ourselves for the betterment of others. Whether it be time, money or both, making a positive difference somewhere for someone is the way to make this world a better place.

How do you think working with First Call has changed/affected you?

It has been eye-opening to see the amount of need. I've always worked in a very targeted field with a specific population such as the elderly. This is a more comprehensive service that serves any population and it has been eye-opening to see the amount of need in every population.

What lessons have you learned here?

Take nothing for granted. In this day and age it could be any one of us that comes to a point of being in need. Whether it is a financial need such as mortgage issues, a health need such as medicine, or a need to locate services for an aging parent, it could be any of us that face those things.

What is a specific experience that sticks out for you?

I received a call from a client that was homeless. After talking to him, I found out he had been employed full time when he experienced a health issue. Due to this health issue, he lost his job, lost his ability to get another job, lost his apartment and used up all his savings. He was also having difficulty getting his health issues met because he had no insurance and no one to help him locate services for his situation. First Call for Help was able to help him in many ways, but the fact of the matter is that could be me or anyone in this community, just a health issue away from homelessness.

What can other people do to help First Call?

We are a small organization and could use a few good, long term volunteers to help keep the database up-to-date. The data we use has to be correct when its given out.

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