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Letter to Secretary Sheldon, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Dear Acting Secretary Sheldon,

We are writing in support of the National Runaway Switchboard's application to continue to serve as the National Communication System for Runaway and Homeless Youth, established and authorized in the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act. The National Runaway Switchboard (NRS) has been designated to serve as the national communication system for runaway and homeless youth since 1974. It continues to effectively fulfill the critical mission of keeping America's runaway, homeless and at-risk youth safe and off the streets. The federal grant will supplement funding that NRS receives from individuals, corporations, foundations and others and will ensure NRS can continue to provide the services and expertise for which it has built an excellent reputation.

The National Runaway Switchboard (NRS), a 501(c) 3 not-for-profit organization, was founded in 1971. NRS, with the support of more than 150 volunteers, handles an average of 100,000 calls annually -- more than 3 million calls since the organization's inception. Through hotline and online services, NRS provides crisis intervention, referrals to local resources, and education and prevention services to youth, families and community members throughout the country -- 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Over 14,000 youth have been reunited with their families through the NRS Home Free program in collaboration with Greyhound Lines, Inc. The NRS crisis hotline is 1-800-RUNAWAY, and the website is

In 1974, the National Runaway Switchboard received an eight-month federal demonstration grant to establish a national hotline. During that time, over 8,000 calls were received demonstrating the need for this type of service. Currently, NRS is available 24 hours a day throughout the United States and its territories, including Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam. It provides the following range of services:

Hotline & Online:
* 1-800-RUNAWAY is a resource for runaway and homeless youth and their families -- it's free, anonymous, confidential, and provides support and access to resources 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
* offers tips, educational materials and statistics, including a bulletin board that allows teens to ask questions anonymously and share their thoughts and experiences.

Prevention Resources
* Let's Talk: Runaway Prevention Curriculum supports teachers and community group leaders in their efforts to help youth develop skills on how to cope with crisis situations and inform them about alternatives to running away from home.
* NRS provides educational and promotional materials free of charge to schools, communities and direct service providers.

Services of NRS:
* Live Chat:
o Provides another option for youth and teens in crisis to access an NRS crisis intervention specialist and connect to resources such as shelter, counseling, food, medical and legal assistance.
* Crisis Intervention:
o NRS' frontline team of staff and volunteers receive over 40 hours of training to provide non-judgmental, non-sectarian and non-directive support, empowering callers to develop a plan of action to improve their situation.
* Information & Referrals:
o A database of more than 10,000 youth and family agencies provides countless options for callers to access a myriad of services, such as counseling, shelter services, alcohol/drug treatment and child protective services.
* Conference Calls:
o When youth request assistance contacting their families or an agency that can help them, NRS facilitates a conference call.
o The frontline team member remains on the line with the youth, advocating on their behalf.
* Message Service:
o NRS maintains a message service for youth who want to relay a message but are not ready to communicate directly with their parents.
o NRS' message service is a less intimidating means for a youth to reestablish contact with his/her parent/guardian and often serves as the first step toward family reunification.
o Additionally, parents can leave a message for his/her child. Parents are encouraged to call their child's friends to let them know a message is waiting for them at 1.800.RUNAWAY.
* Home Free:
o In partnership with Greyhound Lines, Inc., NRS helps reunite runaway and homeless youth with their families through a free bus ticket home.
o Over 14,000 youth have been reunited with families through the program since 1995.

NRS has been the resource for runaway and homeless youth and their families for over 40 years. Its frontline team of crisis intervention specialists is available on the phone or online to offer support and connect callers to resources such as shelter, food, medical and legal assistance.

Again, we strongly support the NRS application and urge you to give it your full consideration, in keeping with your normal guidelines. We appreciate your attention to this letter and would be happy to respond to any questions you may have.


U.S. Reps. Judy Biggert, Jan Schakowsky, Peter Roskam, Danny Davis, Aaron Schock, Mike Quigley, Joe Walsh, Jerry Costello, Daniel Lipinski, Jesse Jackson Jr., Bobby Rush, and U.S. Senator Mark Kirk.

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