Switchboard of Miami is the gateway to every available social service in Miami-Dade County and beyond, ready to connect those in need with community resources, providing counseling and empowering individuals 24/7.
Text by Sandy Lindsey | June 19, 2018 | Lifestyle

The right voice at the other end of a telephone line can make all the difference when it comes to helping those in need take the first step in turning their lives around. That’s the noble premise behind Switchboard of Miami, an organization that was founded in 1968 when 3 volunteers worked together in the basement of a church to create a loosely organized telephone service to offer housing referrals and to connect roommates. “Today, the organization serves as a daily ‘focus group’…with the ability to add programs to address the unmet needs of callers, including counseling, prevention outreach, senior services and more,” says CEO Catherine F. Penrod. “While the demographics have changed over the years, those seeking Switchboard’s help are often the poorest, most disenfranchised residents with varying levels of education who are in distress and think they have little or no control in their lives. Switchboard offers non-judgmental, confidential assistance that provides empowering choices and guidance.”
Currently, the organization offers a Contact Center with 10 focused lines ranging from the original 305.358.HELP line to Suicide Prevention, Jackson Health Systems’ Rape Treatment Center, Gang Hotline, Teen Link Line, Seniors Help Line and more. All services are provided at no charge in English, Spanish, Creole and other languages. “Switchboard manages one of the largest and most reliable databases of social service agencies available with over 5,000 programs and services — we call this database the HELPpages,” shares Penrod. “It’s because of this database and our partnerships that we are able to help the almost 180,000 calls we answer annually. Last year, we made over 170,000 referrals to help individuals connect to local organizations.”
And, Penrod assures, every phone call is backed by a wealth of caring, experience and resources. “Switchboard’s biggest accomplishment has been — and will always be — our ability for quick response and flexibility to meet the needs of the community,” she says. For example, during The Mariel Boatlift in 1980, over 125,000 people came to South Florida from Cuba. Switchboard established a special line for these new immigrants and actively recruited bilingual staff and volunteers. Later that decade, as an epidemic of crack-cocaine ran rampant, new substance abuse and prevention services were added. What’s more, following Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Switchboard collaborated with the American Red Cross, FEMA and United Way to establish post-disaster systems around town.
Additionally, the Seniors Never Alone Program keeps in touch with participating seniors 65 and older weekly to aid in their mental health and safety, and to offer moral support for the many challenges of aging. Last year, Switchboard called 1,100 Miami-Dade seniors a minimum of once per week for an impressive 46,144 calls. Moreover, the Suicide Prevention Department provides various levels of suicide prevention and/or intervention training to both professionals and the general public. Last year, this resulted in 50 training programs to over 1,100 people who are now aware of how to save a life from suicide. In 2013, the organization will further expand its comprehensive offerings to provide Suicide Survivor Support Groups.
What’s more, an essential ingredient to Switchboard of Miami’s success is getting out into the community, which is where their Prevention & Outreach Services come in. “In partnership with Miami-Dade County Public Schools and community organizations, we provide a variety of evidence-based programs designed to help youth and their families make better life choices,” explains Penrod. “We target youth at high-risk for behaviors that can lead to alcohol and drug abuse, early pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, teen violence and more. Last year, we counseled and educated over 5,240 youth and families to help them make better life choices and have a positive future. “
Getting the word out about Switchboard’s many services is another critical factor of the organization which is accomplished by a 5-prong approach: Outreach, where Switchboard staff attends approximately 120 events per year to reach an estimated 2,000 individuals monthly; Marketing via email, direct-mail campaigns and printed materials; Social Media to stay in touch with the organization’s 2,000+ followers. Partners, consisting of over 5,000 programs and agencies; and Events to further promote their good work.
However, one of the organization’s most valuable assets is their dedicated volunteers. For example, Erbi Blanco-True, a banking executive who serves on Switchboard’s Board Of Directors, took it upon herself to create a Women’s Leadership Council [WLC] to increase the organization’s outreach and fundraising efforts. “Our goal is to engage professional, civic-minded women from the community by hosting fun and unique events in order to highlight Switchboard’s many programs and services,” she says. Since its inception only a year ago, Erbi Blanco-True and the WLC have raised over $50,000 and engaged over 1,000 professionals in the community with Switchboard.
In the end, Switchboard’s strength has always been its employees, volunteers and interns who are compassionate, mission-driven and well-trained professionals. “Today, our team is comprised of 14 AmeriCorps members, 12 interns, 60 active volunteers and 75 paid employees,” concludes Penrod. “Switchboard is often the first or the last place people turn to for help when they have nowhere else to go.”
Switchboard of Miami is located at 190 NE 3rd St. For more info, call 305.358.1640 or visit If you need help, call 305.358.HELP or 211.