SHIRLEY -- At a recent selectmen's meeting, Betsy Dolan, of Ayer and Steve Boczinowsky, of Groton, presented facts and figures they hoped would convince the board to consider buying into Project Interface, which offers participating communities streamlined access to mental health referrals and services.
But the most convincing argument wasn't in the numbers. "Six years ago, I lost my son to suicide," Boczinowsky said. "He might be alive today if the town (Groton) had this service."
Boczinowsky is co-founder, with his wife, Deb, of TADS (Teenage Anxiety and Depression Solutions,) a non-profit mental health advocacy group serving several area communities.
TADS holds the contract for the Interface Referral Service provided by the Freedman Center at William James College.
He and Dolan, who is an Ayer Shirley Regional School District guidance counselor, also asked the board to forward a $2,000 funding request at a future Town Meeting, the cost to participate in the program.
"I was here a year ago" about this," Dolan said, sketching out what Project Interface is and how it works, matching callers' stated needs with appropriate resources.
Project Interface is a professionally managed referral system that not only steers callers in the right direction, but also drives the process forward on a fast track, with appointment call-backs in a reasonably short time, Dolan explained.
Formerly school-based and offered to a limited age group, Project Interface is now open to all ages and available to anyone in the community.
Noting some common roadblocks that can come between mental health services and the people who need them, Dolan said any information callers are asked to provide is confidential. Insurance information, for example, so that P.I can determine whether a particular insurance company covers a specific service before lining up an appointment.
Unlike a "hot line," the P.I. helpline does not provide counseling or intervention, Dolan explained. It is available during business hours, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays.
From January through June this year, during the final phase of a no-cost (to the towns) three-year trial paid for with grants and fundraising, total helpline usage was 55, up from 14 cases during the period from May through June, 2013, when the program was initiated in the Ayer Shirley Regional School District.
Case Breakdown: Adults, 8; Young Adults (13-24)1; Children (5-12) 26; Preschool (0-4)1.
The calls originated from the preschool, Page Hilltop and Lura White elementary schools, Ayer Shirley Regional middle and high schools and other area schools, including the Parker Charter School in Devens and Littleton Middle School.
Caller categories included self, school staff, relatives, mental health providers and parents. This year's data -- January thru June -- showed that most help line calls came from parents: 43. Five people called to request referrals for themselves.
Of the school-generated calls, the greatest number -- 16 -- came from the Ayer Shirley Middle School.
"Our mission is to increase awareness" in the community of mental health issues, Boczinowsky said. The question then becomes, "Do you value this service?"
More information may be obtained from the web site - www.projectinterface.org
Town Administrator Patrice Garvin said the article for Project Interface and its $2,000 funding request would be on the Nov. 14 Special Town Meeting warrant.