Through the 1980s, it was hard to know where to go for social services in this town. What if I’m about to lose my house? What should I do if I can’t pay for food this month? Back then, people in need would call around everywhere, even the Cape Girardeau Public Library, desperate to find help. United Way of Southeast Missouri, the Community Caring Council and the Library identified the need for an information and referral service. In response, a critical service was born in our community.
First Call For Help Director Denise Wimp looks back at those humble beginnings fondly. She’ll sometimes joke, referring to United Way’s then-director Nancy Jernigan, “Nancy gave birth to it and I raised it.” Wimp has been the voice of help and hope now for almost 20 years.
Information and referral is still part of the business, but First Call has evolved since then and Wimp now provides case assistance, coordination and other services. If someone needs a quick referral, Wimp can help. But most callers need more than a list of phone numbers to call. The forms, processes and numerous hoops to be jumped-thru with some government and social agencies can be challenging for people, especially when they’re already stressed to a crisis point.
Wimp helps people through the various processes to get what they need, but she can also help them get to the help they didn’t even know to ask for. For example, someone asking for help avoiding eviction might also need employment, counseling, and other services provided in the community to help with what lead to the crisis point in the first place.
Coordination is also critical. If several agencies or churches can pitch-in to keep a family from losing their home, Denise makes sure all the agencies don’t pay too much, or pay too little and the family still gets evicted.
The top issues she sees in Cape are the same as in many communities: financial assistance and housing. Homelessness, substance abuse, and other community issues might not make it to the news every night or the front cover of marketing materials, but as Wimp says, “just because you don’t see them, doesn’t mean they are not there.” But there is always hope for people in need because Cape cares, and the people of Cape are willingly to help their neighbors. “We have a generous community,” said Wimp.
For more information, visit
http://www.firstcallforhelpsemo.org/ or call 573-334-HELP (4357).