Sound-Machine Sound machines provide privacy for our Crisis Listeners

I impatiently wait as my computer logs onto our server, mentally preparing for the emails that need a response.  I already know what they are – my cell phone was kind enough to deliver them to me earlier.  I sip on coffee and enjoy the temporary calm and quiet of the office.  The only sound I hear is the muffled whir of several small sound machines located outside of our Helpline rooms just down the hallway – evidence that some staff have been here all night long, behind closed doors, answering crisis phone calls.

Prior to working at ACTS I had no idea there even was a crisis helpline in the county.  I didn’t know that, for over thirty-five years, there have been staff and volunteers on a constant rotation talking to people in our community dealing with all sorts of crisis – many contemplating (or about to go through with) suicide.  I had no idea the training that these Crisis Listeners go through nor the extra effort they make to reach out to seniors who live alone as part of the Senior Link program.

But I do now.  And every time I hear that whir sound I am thankful for whoever is behind that door.

Thirty-five years is a long time, but ACTS got its start fifteen years earlier than that!  A family’s home in the community had tragically burned down, so thirteen churches came together to help them out.  Realizing just how much they were able to accomplish together, these churches decided to form a non-profit whose goal was to assist neighbors experiencing crisis.  On January 20, 1969, Action in Community Through Service (ACTS) was born! 

Initially, the organization focused on providing food (through food pantries at some of the churches) and furniture (stored at the old Garfield High School.)  And, over the first twenty years, ACTS would grow and expand its programs to include two thrift stores, two day care centers, a homeless shelter, a Behavioral Intervention Program (BIP), Turning Points Domestic Violence services, the Crisis Helpline, Emergency Assistance, and a transitional living program.  That’s a lot of programs helping a lot of hurting people!

ACTS experienced even more growth over the second twenty years, seeing the launch of a Surviving After Suicide program, a Senior Link program, and two safe houses.  With growing programs and an increase in staff, ACTS opened an administration building (1997) and a Family Services Center (2008) on Acts Lane in Dumfries.  The FSC became home to our Domestic Violence services, SAVAS, Emergency Assistance services, Case managers, and the Food Pantry.

The last ten years from 2009 to 2019 saw even more expansion of services into the Prince William area.  ACTS purchased two townhomes used for affordable housing, launched LOSS teams, started Sexual Assault Services (formerly SAVAS), partnered with Prince William County Police to begin the Lethality Assessment Protocol (LAP) program, opened-and then renovated-a Women’s Empowerment Center, expanded into a second office located in Manassas, and then opened a massive Hunger Prevention Center this past fall! 

My mind is blown every time I think about all that is going on here.  Every day, nearly seventy staff and a cadre of volunteers are hard at work all across the area continuing the vision started fifty years ago.  In a few hours a team of people across the street will prepare bags of food for distribution to the hungry… case managers will be busy discussing utility shut-off notifications with clients… DV staff will meet with people dealing with domestic abuse… SA staff will help clients who have suffered sexual assault navigate through the trauma… and advocates will arrive at the courthouse.  Right now, one of our community educators is about to start a symposium at the McCoart building while another is setting up for a seminar with school faculty… breakfast is being prepared at our safe houses… our emergency shelter staff are wishing a good day to clients as they head out for the day… a manager unlocks the front door of the Thrift Store as a car pulls up to drop off a donation… our COO is headed to the chamber building to meet with the Veterans council while our CEO meets with the Coalition for Human Services team… and so much more.  For the past fifty years, ACTS has been true to its mission to foster hope, provide relief and promote self-sufficiency for our Prince William area neighbors in crisis.  It continues today.

Setting my coffee cup down, I open up my email and feverishly pound the keys responding to inquiries.  My Inbox is littered with a question about the website, information about a grant opportunity, social media posts to review, a sponsorship inquiry for the gala, trash, trash, trash, a webinar registration, a meeting to be scheduled, another grant to look into, and news of how the current government shutdown is affecting our community.  Ding! Calendar reminders for the day popup on my screen and interrupt my flow.  It’s going to be another very busy day.

I hear the squeak of the front door as it opens, keys rattling… it’s Ben, our maintenance supervisor making his rounds.  Soon, the quiet of the building will be replaced with ringing phones, intense conversations, and often – laughter.  But always – the low whir of the sound machines.