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Agora Crisis Center hotline turns 50

Kyle Dougherty, associate director at Agora Crisis Center, left, Alex Tibble, program coodinator for the homeless assistance line, right, and Emily Ahrend, a volunteer, center, pose for a portrait while Ahrend holds a photo of the first group of Agora Crisis Center volunteers.
(Anthony Jackson/ Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Agora Crisis Center, one of the country’s oldest volunteer-run crisis hotlines, is turning 50 years old. Started in 1970 by University of New Mexico students and faculty after the death of a UNM student, Agora Crisis Center has continued to be a resource for people experiencing crises.

However, you don’t need to be in crisis to call the hotline.

“People think you can only call in a crisis,” said Molly McCoy Brack, director of Agora Crisis Center. “Really, you don’t have to wait until you’re in a crisis. People can call us for any reason. It’s anonymous. They might call if they had a bad day; they might call because they’re lonely. Crisis lines like Agora help provide a connection for people.”

The crisis center has come a long way in helping the community. In November 2019, City Councilor Diane Gibson announced the launch of the Homeless Assistance Helpline in partnership with the city of Albuquerque and the Agora Crisis Center.

“We’ve had tremendous growth in the last 30 years that I’ve been at Agora,” McCoy Brack said.

The crisis center averages about 35,000 calls during a normal year, but during the COVID-19 pandemic that number has gone down, because fewer volunteers are in the building. However, McCoy Brack said, online chats are increasing and the crisis center responds to about 800 online chats a month, triple the number before the pandemic.

Agora’s long history is made possible by people who care about it, such as Mia Mendoza.

Born in Stanley, a community of barely 1,000 people, Mendoza said mental health care was “something that was never discussed” in her hometown.

“The first time I knew somebody who died by suicide, I was 12 years old,” Mendoza said.

“I grew up in an environment in the community where I’m from and in my family where everyone was suffering, but nobody was able to put words to what that meant.”

After entering UNM as a freshman in 2008, Mendoza started volunteering at Agora Crisis Center. She worked her way up the leadership ranks and continues to do guest lectures for the crisis hotline. Mendoza is now the program director for the New Mexico Children’s Grief Center and Grief Resource Center.

“I wouldn’t be in this position without my experience at this organization and the community that it provided me,” Mendoza said. “I still use the skills every single day.”