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Standing atop the Third Level

Erin Crowell - May 16th, 2011
Standing Atop the Third Level
By Erin Crowell
You lost your job and now you’re behind on rent. Your girlfriend left
when the money did, along with your self-respect. Alcohol only does so
much until the pain returns like a flood, drowning any confidence and
motivation you once had. Darkness replaces light as the days blur
Just as the whispering hurt becomes a deafening scream, you turn to pick
up the phone, only to realize it’s 3 a.m. and your best friend is asleep.
I don’t want to burden him anyway, you think and quietly replace the phone
on the nightstand.
At Third Level Crisis Center, someone is always there to answer the phone
– even at 3 a.m. They will answer if you’ve lost your job, can no longer
function without drugs or alcohol, if you are sleeping beneath a city
bridge or thinking of leaping from it.
Someone will always be there to answer. Twenty four hours a day, seven
days a week.

Based in Traverse City, Third Level offers confidential crisis services
and counseling to people across 20 counties of Northern Michigan. The
non-profit is celebrating 40 years of providing residents, both young and
old, a way to find answers when it comes to life’s troubles – which can
range anywhere from homelessness, substance abuse and legal/economic
troubles to depression and suicide.
“We make about 26,000 contacts over the crisis line each year,” says
Mickie Jannazzo, Third Level clinical services director, in reference to
the 24-hour telephone hotline. “There aren’t too many places where you can
just walk in or call and boom! Counselor. Right then and there.”
Jannazzo, who has been with Third Level for 26 years, notes it’s not
unusual for a caller to pause after dialing the line, surprised that an
actual person—versus a recorded prompt—has answered and is ready to talk.
Crisis counselors are both paid staff and volunteers who have completed
over 40 hours of training.
Katy Karas volunteers around 20 hours a week in the Crisis Center,
answering phones and helping anyone who drops by the center.
“I’ve helped people deal with issues of loneliness, anxiety… family
issues,” she says. “Because we have so many community resources, I think
it makes it easier to direct them to where exactly they need to go.”

Prompted by a youth-driven movement of the 1960s, Third Level began as a
small group called North Country Salt in 1971 in which several young
people proposed a crisis center that would meet the emotional and physical
needs of their peers experimenting with drugs.
More than just a meeting place to discuss drug issues, the new
organization (which evolved into the Northwest Michigan Council on Drug
and Alcohol Abuse and then Third Level Crisis Center) expanded to include
on-site medical and legal assistance – services that still exist today.
“Early on, those young people said that free medical services really needs
to be part of a crisis center,” says Jannazzo. “When (Third Level) opened
in May of ’72, that free medical clinic was part of it and is now known as
the Traverse Health Clinic.”
Today, the Traverse Health Clinic serves the uninsured and underinsured
residents of Benzie, Grand Traverse and Leelanau Counties through donated
medical services – worth $5.6 million.
With the establishment of the Free Legal Aid Clinic in 1975, area
attorneys now offer free weekly services to anyone seeking legal advice,
but who can’t afford it.
The organization continued to expand, outgrowing several locations in the
Traverse City area before settling at its current space on East Front
Street – a three-story converted house that “is even now starting to get a
bit tight,” notes Ken Homa, Third Level’s executive director.
Nearly 37 staff members and 15 volunteers make up the Third Level team,
and offer assistance in other areas such as youth and family services,
street outreach, community education, transitional living programs and—one
of its latest additions—a youth homeless shelter for runaway and homeless
ages 14 to 17.
“Since opening Pete’s Place five years ago, we have served over 162
youth,” says Norvilla Bennett, director of youth services. “We serve—in
regards to non-residential services—probably 200 plus youth a year that
are either homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. In our street
outreach department, we work to go out and engage youth in the community.”

Third Level has partnered with several area organizations and volunteers
alike to provide survival essentials such as hygiene kits, non perishable
food items, water, socks and warm clothing.
Since the last fiscal year, over 10,000 items have been donated; thanks in
large part to state and federal grants, but with a considerable amount
coming from the community.
“We’ve put more energy into our donation efforts and the community’s
responded as well as expected,” says Homa. “This community is a great,
giving community and without them, I think we would have had a much more
difficult time getting where we are today.”
In terms of youth services, the dollars that have been allocated from
typical government contracts have declined over 10% in the last year,
Bennett says, which is an overall reflection of where Michigan is

This, in turn, reflects the increased use of Third Level’s services, adds
“We do know there is a correlation in unemployment and an uptick in the
suicide rate,” she adds.
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, adults ages 45 to
59 represented the highest rate of suicide in 2007, although suicide is
the third leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24.
Problems with housing and access to health services have also increased as
the economy falls.
“That, and more people not knowing where to turn because they’ve never
been in this situation before,” adds Homa. “For them, the crisis seems
bigger because they’re not used to not having a roof over their head or
something of that nature.”
For those facing new challenges and unsure of where to even begin, Third
Level has become that answer.
“I think my kid is using drugs. What do I do? I think my friend’s
depressed and is thinking of killing himself. What do I do? I just got a
shut off notice. What do I do?” Jannazzo says these are the questions that
are asked. “We help them with anything. Anything; and direct them to where
they need to go.”

It’s that immediate help which keeps the staff and volunteers at Third
Level Crisis Center motivated.
“For us, I think what keeps us going is there is a more immediate sense of
gratification of that we did our service and we did it well,” says Homa.
For Jamie Vanduinen, who runs the Transitional Living Program, it’s the
follow-up call she gets after helping someone get back on their feet.
“A lot of them will come back and tell me their successes,” she says,
“like, they’ve bought a house, got a job or bought a car…it’s hearing the
good news from some of my past clients.”
Jannazzo agrees, pointing to the center’s mission to help youth,
individuals and families grow, change and thrive.
“We are honored by these people who are calling Third Level months later
and saying, ‘Well I tried this and tried that’; and it’s like ‘Wow, man.
You are out there, doing the best you can,’” she reflects. “The stuff we
do, we don’t do it at people or for them. We do it with them. It’s
honoring the human spirit in everybody we serve.”

Let’s Party…

Third Level Crisis Center is celebrating 40 years of service to the
community. As the only non-profit crisis center in Northern Michigan (the
closest are located in Houghton and Mt. Pleasant), Third Level is inviting
community members to “Remember Us When, See Us Now & Create Our Future.”

When: Thursday, May 19, 6-9 p.m.
Where: The Art Van Furniture Store, Traverse City
Suggested $40 donation per person

Program highlights slideshow begins at 7 p.m., along with appetizers,
libations, silent auction and live music by New Third Coast. Silent
auction items include an original Denny Dent painting of John Lennon
(valued at $3,000) along with a $1,000 Shane Inman Design gift certificate
and more.

Third Level is also celebrating with a community mural project. For more
information on both events and on
Third Level Crisis Center, visit their website at
Third Level is located at 1022 E. Front St., just west of Garfield Road.
Find answers
to life’s challenges by calling them at 1-800-442-7315.

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