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In a time of need, First Call might be the most important


Jim Brenizer's caring and compassionate side, his peers say, enables him to match solutions to problems he is presented with daily.


When you're stranded at the airport, you call a cab. When you're hungry late at night, you call pizza delivery. When there's something strange in the neighborhood, you call Ghostbusters.

But who do you call when you've lost your job, are addicted to drugs, or have a family member living in an abusive situation?

The United Way's First Call For Help program may have the answer.

Jim Brenizer, director of community outreach services for United Way, has overseen the First Call For Help information and referral service since July.

“We're not miracle workers,” Mr. Brenizer said. “We can't guarantee the outcome, but we can arm clients with the best and most accurate information about services in our community.”

The service provides a 24-hour phone line and weekday walk-in hours for people who have a problem and are unsure what agency to contact for help. In September alone, First Call For Help served about 1,200 people.

Since First Call For Help transferred from the Red Cross to United Way in July, Mr. Brenizer coordinated setting up a TTY system so the phone hotline can serve the hearing impaired.

He will lead the service in applying for Ohio's new program to grant a “211” number to a referral service in each region of the state, like “911” for emergencies or “411” for information. First Call for Help hopes to be the 211 service for Lucas County.

Mr. Brenizer, 49, joined United Way after working for St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center and Mercy Health Partners for 31 years.

“He has a wonderful, compassionate ear for listening to what people need,” said Linda Heineman, vice president of service development at United Way.

She recruited Mr. Brenizer to his current position after working with him at Mercy Health Partners.

“He's really jumped in and rolled up his sleeves at United Way. He's doing a great job,” she said.

After graduating from Start High School in 1970, Mr. Brenizer, a Toledo native, worked his way through the University of Toledo doing clerical work at St. Vincent.

He earned a bachelor's degree in education in 1976 and continued working at the hospital.

For more than 20 years, Mr. Brenizer was the manager of patient relations, first for St. Vincent and then for all five hospitals in the area Mercy Health Partners' system.

He was the go-between person that dealt with patients' questions and complaints, he said.

“Jim is very sympathetic, and he's devoted to his work,” said Jan Clark Monk, head of the International Institute of Greater Toledo, who has known him for more than a decade.

In addition to overseeing First Call for Help, Mr. Brenizer supervises a volunteer action center, which matches volunteers with more than 600 agencies listed in its database.

“Folks can let us know what they're looking for in a volunteer experience,” Mr. Brenizer said. “It expedites the volunteer process.”

For instance, the center recently matched a group who enjoyed gardening with a hospice that needed volunteers to landscape the grounds.

Mr. Brenizer, an avid trout fisherman who has been married to his wife, Marjorie, for 27 years, said the need for United Way's services is greater than ever since Sept. 11.

“We've had people calling First Call For Help who just lost their jobs and never thought they would be in that situation,” he said.

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