Eye On KELOLAND: Helpline Center on the move


SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) — Where does the Helpline Center turn to when it’s in need of help? It turns out: the local real estate market. The 211 Center in Sioux Falls will be moving into a new building later this month to solve a space problem at its current facility.

Answering calls from the community has lately been like working inside a phone booth at the Helpline Center.

“So, we are bursting at the seams,” Helpline Center CEO Janet Kittams said.

Helpline Center staffers are squeezed side-by-side.

“You get to know your co-workers really well,” Helpline Center Vice-President of Program Development Betsy Schuster said.

The Helpline Center began feeling its growing pains last year when it took on more workers as the 211 system expanded statewide. Then the pandemic hit, doubling its call volume. The center responded by creating workspaces out of any available nook.

“Sometimes people are working in closets, what used to be a closet is now an office. So, we are anxiously awaiting our new office space,” Kittams said.

That new office space is located on West 49th Street, near Sertoma Park. The Helpline Center will lease this building that once served as a Five Star Call Center, so setting up shop here should be a seamless transition.

“They had wired all the phones and workstations, so that was in place. So, we are obviously bringing in our own furniture and all that kind of thing,” Kittams said.

The building is being remodeled so the Helpline Center can move in by the New Year. But finding just the right building proved to be a challenge.

“We’re kind of a unique size. We’re not super-huge and we’re not really small. There’s a lot of office space on both ends of that spectrum, but we’re kind of right in the middle, so it did take quite a few months to find space that was going to work for us,” Kittams said.

The stand-alone building will triple the size of the Helpline Center’s current location at the Non-Profit Center.

“Right now, we’re in a building where we have shared tenants and so it will be nice to have our own space, we’ll have our own break room, our own training room, things that we’ve just never had before,” Kittams said.

The Helpline Center says the added space will also increase the confidentiality of the calls they handle every day.

“If someone’s taking calls, we can’t have a team meeting next-door where everybody can hear what’s going on, including the caller on the other line. So, it’s really important that we need that space,” Schuster said.

Another benefit to the new building is that it will be equipped with a large, permanent generator to replace the Helpline Center’s small, portable generator. This will give the staff much more confidence to be able to do their work and avoid power outages during severe weather.

“Part of the Helpline Center’s role is to assist our emergency managers when a disaster happens. So, we cannot go down. So, during those times of tornadoes in Sioux Falls a couple of years ago, or the flooding, we have a very small generator. So just removing that stress that we will be up 24-7, so we can help our communities respond in those times,” Schuster said.

The new building also offers room to grow; an important feature when the Helpline Center expands its outreach with the 988 suicide hotline next year. For the staffers, who will soon vacate their current office, a larger building will be a lifesaving move.

“We’re South Dakotans. We need to help other South Dakotans get to where they need to be in their communities,” Schuster said.

The Helpline Center says the larger building will also bring intangible benefits, including boosting morale among its workers.

The center also says there will be no disruption of service as the Helpline Center makes the move.

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