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Los Angeles, Calif.
(310) 423-3401

Objective: To provide a teen-to-teen helpline with community outreach services.

In a Nutshell: Teens are trained to handle hotline calls and e-mails, and participate in outreach to local schools, youth groups and adolescent-serving agencies. Those who take calls are trained to handle and assess any situation, from school problems and domestic abuse to drug abuse and suicidal thoughts. They are also trained to notify the proper authorities in the event of an emergency.

When and Where: After a year of training teens to take calls, the hotline, located at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, began operating in 1981. Outreach occurs mainly in the greater Los Angeles area, but the staff responds to e-mails from teens all over the country and the world.

Who Started and Runs It: The program was started by four mental health professionals: Dr. Terry Lipton and Dr. Elaine Leader, now the executive director, and social workers Miguel Ramirez and Henry Borenstein. Six part-time staffers, 110 teen volunteers and 20 adult volunteers work for the hotline. Additional volunteers help in outreach.

Obstacles: “Originally there was some skepticism on the part of the psychiatric attending staff at the medical center, who were concerned about teens taking calls from suicidal peers,” Leader says. “That soon gave way to admiration.”

Cost: The annual budget is $350,000.

Who Pays: Individual and corporate donations, foundation support (primarily from the California Endowment), and an annual fund-raising luncheon. Cedars-Sinai provides rent-free space.

Youth Served: The volunteers are all high schoolers. Some volunteers are bilingual in Spanish or Korean, but most callers speak only English. The line gets about 8,000 calls a year, primarily from youth of middle- and high-school age. Eighty percent of the calls are about relationships, with the other 20 percent covering everything from child abuse to eating disorders to depression.

Youth Turn-On: Volunteers may receive school credit.

Youth Turn-Off: Being on time is a must, as are training sessions, requirements that conflict with the whimsical schedules of many teens. TEEN LINE also receives one or two prank calls every night.

Research Shows: No studies on the impact. Leader says that “follow-up with alumni shows that they continue to use the skills they learned on TEEN LINE in their college and then careers.”

What Still Gets in the Way: “Being affiliated with a major medical center has obvious advantages but also some disadvantages,” Leader says. “It is important to be able to interact positively with the administration in order to be able to retain the wonderful in-kind support we receive. On the other hand, since we are not revenue-producing for the medical center, we are low down on priority when it comes to our space needs.”