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Mission & History


Personal Assistance Telephone Help (PATH) started answering phones in January 1971 through ISU students, faculty, and residents. It was a volunteer effort. The original mission was to provide accurate information and support for students with street drug issues.

The mission expanded to meet emerging needs from the Illinois State University and the Bloomington-Normal area. Our mission now included crisis calls, requests for information and referrals, and simply a safe, confidential place for people to talk to well-trained, non-judgmental, and caring volunteers.

While our legal name is still Personal Assistance Telephone Help, it did not capture our full array of services. We were no longer limited to phone contact only, and PATH began adding programs for specific populations. In the 1980s, the Board of Directors agreed that our Doing Business As (DBA) name PATH, Inc. could reference our enlarged mission: Providing Access to Help to improve and save lives.



PATH started through volunteers' efforts, people who cared about the problems and issues of the early 1970s, including street drugs. In the first weeks of operation, people called about LSD, depression, suicide, birth control, and relationships. The training expanded to provide the volunteers with the tools they needed. Early manuals had instructions on talking someone down from a "bad trip" on LSD, using the orange trick, and assessing suicide risk.

Across the nation, centers like PATH were opening. Research showed that a confidential, anonymous hotline attracted people who desperately needed help but avoided seeking help in traditional systems. Saving lives has always been the most critical service PATH provides.

As the years passed, PATH served the community in many different and innovative ways with the support of United Way and other grants. There was a Lawyer On-Call, volunteer attorneys who would answer questions after-hours. PhoneFriend gave children home alone after school someone to talk with, ask questions to, and obtain the support they needed from. After-school programs were not yet in existence. PATH filled the gap and gave the community time to create programming.

During the 1980s, PATH had a Farmer On-Call, a Gay Person On-Call, and a teen support hotline answered by trained high-school students. We connected a caller to a service, then we hung up and let the call progress. Having this feature early by the early 80's allowed us to answer for agencies and organizations after-hours, such as the sexual assault center, the health department, and community mental health. Minimal fees gave PATH more funding.

In 1985, PATH opened outreach services for adults 60 and older. It was a part of our mission, still connecting people to services and support, but now a person went to the home of people needing help. Our success led to services for caregivers and intervention for reported elder abuse. PATH, through Illinois Department on Aging grants, expanded the services to include individuals with disabilities and cases of self-neglect.

Homelessness became prevalent in the 1990s, and we joined the effort to collaborate with other organizations and started outreach services. The Central Illinois Continuum of Care now covers eleven counties, with PATH serving as the lead entity.

In the 1990s, the concept of 2-1-1 was introduced to the nation. It is an easy-to-remember number that connects people with the help they needed in health and human services. In 2009 PATH became the first 211 call center located in and serving three Illinois counties. Currently, PATH provides these services to over 50 counties.

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In 2005, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) was launched at various call centers across the Country. Since PATH was already providing suicide prevention services, it made perfect sense for PATH to join the new network. In 2022, the NSPL evolved into 988, finally providing comprehensive services across the entire nation. PATH’s own role in Illinois greatly expanded from covering a handful of counties in Central Illinois to being the primary 988 call center for most of the state and back-up for the rest.

988 Logo

Neither call center would be able to serve the public without all the behind-the-scenes work accomplished by the Database Department, which helps maintain PATH's relationships with the many organizations that comprise the wealth of local resources the call centers can refer people to. 

Though PATH is eternally grateful to all the volunteers who have given it life, as it serves more people than ever it has needed to expand its paid staff to ensure comprehensive service. Thank you for your support as we continue to serve the public in McLean County and throughout Illinois.



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