Moving Forward Through Partnerships


Distress and Crisis Ontario’s was incorporated in the early 1970’s under the name of The Ontario Association of Distress Centres. Our current membership covers over 20 locations across Ontario. It has a volunteer complement of over 2,500 volunteers responders and staff who provide a free, anonymous and confidential telephone, text and chat services, offering emotional support, distress management, crisis intervention, suicide prevention and linkages to emergency help and community resources when and as necessary.


  • Gordon Winch, along with Jim Fisk, Bill Kilbourne, and several others, started the first Distress Centre in Toronto. Gordon Winch, working as a minister in area pubs, recognized the desperate need of people for a caring listener, and that this type of support facilitated healing. 
  • Based on the model of listening started by Britain’s Samaritans organization in 1953, the ‘befriending’ style of telephone service staffed by volunteers took hold throughout the province.


  • The Ontario Association of Telephone Distress Centres was formed by five Ontario Distress Centres. They came together to share information and discuss ways to enhance their services. 


  • The Ontario Association of Distress Centres began the tradition of holding annual training conferences for staff and volunteers of Member Organizations. Over the years, these conferences were held at various locations throughout the province.


  • March 28-30 1980 The Third National Conference of Canadian Crisis Centres and the Spring Conference of The Ontario Association of Distress Centres were held in Toronto. 18 Ontario centres were represented.
  • The fifteen members of the Association understood the value of best practices. 
  • An Accreditation Standards Program was developed in the areas of administration, training, ethics, service delivery and community integration. The Program was revised over the 1990’s and was funded by a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation.
  • Ten Ontario distress centres were presented with the first Certificates of Accreditation.


  • The Ministry of Health and Long Term Care recognized the importance of distress centres and Distress Centres Ontario by providing the Association with operational funding. 


  • The Ontario Association of Distress Centres was incorporated as a charitable organization.


  • The organization began to be known as Distress Centres Ontario or DCO but continued to keep its original name for legal purposes. 
  • The membership of the organization included twenty-one member centres throughout the province.


  • The Association had a membership of 25 community based distress centres throughout Ontario. 
  • Member centres logged over 110,000 volunteer hours engaged with callers while answering over 250,000 calls in that year alone. 
  • The DCO Management Information Systems Program continued to capture caller trends and changes, providing a basis for applied research.


  • September 10 – First Annual World Suicide Prevention Day was jointly organized by the World Health Organization and the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP). This day focused attention on the problem of suicide and was a call to action across the world. Many distress centres use this commemorative day to raise community awareness throughout the province.


  • Distress Centres Ontario’s membership reviewed its organizational structure and developed a long term Strategic Plan (to 2008), revising its Mission, Vision and Values statements.


  • In November, DCO hosted a 2-day Educational Conference for its member centres with a variety of speakers on a wide ranging set of crisis and distress topics.


  • The inaugural sessions of THE PARTNERSHIP TOOLKITseries of Educational Forums was held in Niagara Falls. This semi-annual gathering of member centres and partner groups and agencies provided an excellent forum for networking and educating staff, volunteers and community members about issues related to mental health, volunteers and telephone support services.
  • The first issue of the electronic newsletter DCO eNews + Viewshit the electronic airwaves. Distributed monthly, the newsletter includes profiles of the services of member centres, information of interest to members, partners and volunteers and notices of upcoming events.


  • The DCO website at dcontario.orgreceived a facelift. The modernized format provided valuable information regarding services and easy access with the GET HELP section.
  • Two sessions of THE PARTNERSHIP TOOLKIT, in London and Markham, ON were very well attended by staff, volunteers and community partners.
  • The Education Committee began reviewing various methods of providing training and learning opportunities to the membership.
  • Suicide prevention and intervention training, ASIST, sponsored by DCO, was provided to volunteers and staff at six member centres in various regions of the province.


  • Association members participated in Visioning Exercises and Strategic Planning to direct the distress line movement’s future and prepare Strategic Priorities to 2011.
  • The Volunteer Management Committee conducted and reported on several volunteer management surveys, travelled throughout the province to conduct volunteer focus groups with centre volunteers, and provided analysis and suggestions regarding the state of volunteerism in this sector.
  • The Accreditation Working Group completed a detailed review of various accreditation partners and explored funding opportunities to support sector wide accreditation.
  • The Statistics, Information and Outcome Measures Working Group, reviewed the reporting, information gathering and sharing abilities of the association memberships and supported efforts to coordinate reporting at the provincial level.
  • The Spirit of Volunteerism Recognition (SOV) Program was conceived and accepted it’s first nominees for the inaugural celebrations. The program accepts up to 3 nominations from each DCO member organization and each year 3 adult volunteers and 1 young volunteer are recipients. The program celebrates the significant contributions of volunteer to providing distress and crisis support.


  • DCO adopted the tag line “Moving Forward Through Partnership” that clearly articulated the association’s and it’s memberships commitment to working with partners regionally and provincially.
  • A new and vibrant Mission, Vision and Organizational values was developed in partnership with various stakeholders and association members.
  • The process for Accreditation for DCO member centres was initiated
  • The Partnership Educational Forum held in Niagara Falls, ON was a partnership with the Niagara Suicide Prevention and David Masecar a renowned expert in suicide prevention was the keynote speaking to Developing Strengths-Based Strategies, What is Working, What is Hopeful
  • The SIOM (Statistics, Information, Outcome Measures) project kicks-off to capture province-wide data and is based on the statistical information gathering practices developed over 15 years previous
  • Development of a 1-800-suicide Ontario project to provide access for suicide prevention, intervention and crisis telephone support across the province.


  • Learning Forums, an innovative website and in-service training tool, came on-line and the first offerings were learning vignettes on Limits and Boundaries, Mood Disorders, and Schizophrenia.
  • The Best Practices-Benchmarking Initiative was underway to consolidate and share leading practices across the association..
  • DCO main office moved from Toronto to downtown Kitchener
  • DCO inaugural 4-week Certificate Webinar Series was offered. It was entitled “How to Work More Effectively with Challenging Callers, Using Motivational Interviewing” and developed in partnership with the Sudbury office of CAMH
  • DCO hosted a multi stream conference and networking opportunity, with a focus on “Speed Networking for Volunteer Management”, and Learn, Meet and Network sessions


  • Always looking forward, the Association members participated in Visioning Exercises and Strategic Planning to direct the DCO’s future and prepare Strategic Priorities for 2012-2016.
  • A welcome addition in the benefits for community based organizations - ASIST training session were held for South Western Ontario.
  • DCO introduced a new educational offering; the on-line Lunch and Learn sessions, which are1-hour workshops for staff and senior leaders. The inaugural topics included Accessibility Standards for Customer Service and To Tweet or Not to Tweet: A Social Media Tug of War
  • A Steering Committee was stuck to guide and strengthen the development of the 1-800-suicide-ONTARIO initiative.
  • DCO submitted a proposal to CASP – the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention to host its upcoming national conference and began the process of developing a robust conference and collaborating with educators in Ontario to add a new educational stream.


  • DCO and it’s member centres began the process of bringing online (text and chat) distress, crisis and suicide prevention services to Ontario.
  • DCO offered Lunch and Learn sessions, 1-hour workshops for staff and senior leaders:
    • Welcome to Retention: Keeping Volunteers Engaged
    • Online Crisis Services: A new opportunity for Crisis Centres in Ontario
    • Journey to Accreditation
    • DCO Transition to the Not-for-profit Act 2010
    • Tips for Writing an SOV Nomination
  • DCO hosted the 2012 Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention (CASP) held in Niagara Falls, Ontario in October. Almost 400 people attended the various sessions, events, and workshops.
  • The Hon Bob Rae was keynote speaker at a DCO Crisis/Distress Line Conference held in conjunction with the 2012 CASP conference.
  • Two days of pre-conference workshops included:
    • Kevin Quinn - Project Management for Suicide Prevention Councils. He has led projects in the public and private sectors and has taught a version of the workshop – “Practical Project Management” to over 2,000 leaders
    • Jack Jordan – Grief After Suicide - John (Jack) Jordan, a licensed psychologist in private practice in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, USA, specializes in work with survivors of suicide and other traumatic losses
  • Conference opened with two keynote speakers:
    • Andre Picard - Uncomfortably Mum: The Public, Public Policy and Media Response to Suicide - is a reporter at The Globe and Mail, specializing in health policy. As a scholar-in-residence at the Conference Board of Canada, he wrote a book about health reform.
    • Mary Bartram - Suicide Prevention and the National Mental Health Strategy Director of the Mental Health Strategy with the Mental Health Commission of Canada and a lead author of Changing Directions, Changing Lives.
  • In conjunction with the 2012 CASP conference, programming was held for educators in the Niagara area with Dr. Stephen Roggenbaum from the University of Florida offering the workshop titled “Suicide Intervention, Prevention and Postvention: A Resource Guide for High Schools”.
  • Distress Centre North Halton became the first member centre to be CARF Accredited.
  • DCO offered a 4-week Certificate Webinar Series on “Understanding Mood Disorders”, in partnership with Homewood Health Centre.
  • The 5th Anniversary of the Sprit of Volunteerism program was celebrated with a banquet for almost 100 people and the institution of a special category for Life Time Achievement titled the Eric Hotson Award.


  • DCO offered a 4-week Certificate Webinar Series on “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Stress” - in partnership with 1-800-Suicide and 310Mental Health Support and Distress Centre Ottawa and Region
  • DCO offered several Lunch and Learn sessions, 1-hour workshops for staff and senior leaders including Easy and Useful Websites to Make Your Work Easier
  • The planning and research for a collaborative online chat and text project was well underway along with various fund development strategies.
  • DCO hosted 2 conferences:
    The May event included:
    • Day One was a full-day interactive workshop, “Exploring Aboriginal Issues and Becoming an Ally” in partnership with Lorrie Simunovic and Alison Benedict from CAMH in Toronto
    • Day Two was a full-day session of THE PARTNERSHIP TOOLKIT for senior leaders and volunteers
  • The September event was titled QA: Questions and Answers about Quality Assurance:
    • A 2-day conference for senior leaders and volunteers: Alan Strong was Keynote Speaker on Day One presenting “Getting On with the Business of Living”, and Day Two began with a Quality Improvement Workshop with Paula Blackstein-Hirsch and concluded with sessions for member centres in the afternoon


  • DCO offered a 4-week Certificate Webinar Series “Moving Your Understanding on Issues of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, and Supporting the LGBTQ Community” in partnership with Rainbow Health Ontario, Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, PFLAG Durham, Distress Centre Durham
  • DCO offered a 4-week Certificate Webinar Series “Focus on Bullying” in partnership with Essex County Diversion Program
  • On March 28th, DCO received funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation for a 2-year pilot project developing on-line text and chat services for individuals in crisis, distress, or suicidal.
  • DCO continued to offer Lunch and Learn sessions, the 1-hour workshops for staff and senior leaders:
    • Preparing for Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation partnering with Carters Professional Corp.
    • The “How to” of Developing a Community Access Line partnering with Distress Centre Niagara
  • DCO hosted 2 conferences this year. April’s topic was Trauma Informed Support
  • A 2-day conference for senior leaders and volunteers. Karen Letofsky, Distress Centre Toronto was keynote speaker on Day One presenting “The Aftermath of Sudden Violent Death”, and Melissa McCormick was keynote speaker on Day Two, and shared her experience with “The Aftermath of Trauma – Telling it Like It Is
  • October’s theme was – “Making the Pieces Fit: Enhancing Organizational Effectiveness
  • A 2-day conference for senior leaders and volunteers with Lynn Keane, author, former broadcaster, and suicide survivor as a keynote speaker presenting “Give Sorrow Words – A Survivor’s Story


  • To adapt to the changing environment, and to be inclusive of crisis services as well as traditional distress services, DCO changed their operating name to Distress and Crisis Ontario. The organization’s colours and logo received a refresh to reflect the new name.
  • DCO’s website,, received a refresh with new colours, name and logo
  • ONTX, the Online Text and Chat Program started offering services with four DCO member organizations participating as service providers: Distress Centre Durham; Distress Centres Toronto; Spectra Helpline; and Community Torchlight and DCO as the infrastructure.
  • DCO offered a 4-week Certificate Webinar Series, “Neurological Disorders”, in partnership with Epilepsy Ontario, Alzheimer Society of Ontario, University of Toronto, and Neurological Health Charities Canada.
  • DCO was working collaboratively with Crisis and Distress organizations across Canada to develop the Canadian Distress Line Network and hosted sessions to build the framework for a new national service.
  • The Board of Directors initiated a process of recognition to highlight the achievements of our member organizations and recognize their programs and services. The PSR – Program and Service Recognitions’ first recipient was the CONNECT program from Community Torchlight of Guelph and Wellington County.
  • DCO offered Lunch and Learn sessions, 1-hour workshops for staff and senior leaders:
    • Insurance: Needs and Concerns for Not-for-Profit Organizations, partnering with HUB International/HKMB Limited
    • Obligations to Volunteers, partnering with the firm, Smith Valeroite
    • Managing Performance and Best Practices from an HR Perspective, partnering with RLB Chartered Accountants
    • Senior Telecheck Program, partnering with Spectra Helpline
  • DCO hosted 2 conferences:
    In March – “Making the Pieces Fit: Enhancing Organizational Effectiveness Part 2
    • Day One, in partnership with Canadian Society of Association Executives Trillium Chapter and Debbie Yip of Human Resources and Diversity, DCO hosted a workshop on the Accessibility for Ontarians with DisabilitiesAct of 2005 that was open to community members.
    • Day Two of the conference offered sessions for DCO member organizations on how to improve the operations of their organizations.
  • In September – Reaching Out to New Partners, Realizing New Opportunities- Making the Pieces Fit
    • Day One was open to community members and featured Dr. Jenn Brasch, McMaster Health Centre, as keynote speaker presenting “The Suicidal Patient and the Hospital System
    • Day Two was for DCO member organizations with Laura Williams, Williams HR Law and HR Consulting, as keynote speaker presenting “Saving Your Culture after a Workplace Event
  • 2016

    • DCO hosted a one-day networking conference for senior leaders and volunteers in June
    • DCO offered Lunch and Learn sessions, 1-hour workshops for staff and senior leaders, and topics included:
      • CRA Charity Audits, partnering with CRA
      • Service Development at CMHA WWD partnering with CMHA WWD
      • Continuing Networking Discussions, a continuation of discussions held at DCO’s June conference
    • Several days of consultation and facilitated discussions resulted in the development of the 2017-2020 strategic priorities and directions as well as revision of the Mission and Vision of the organization. The membership approved the final documents mid-year and reiterated its commitment to a vision of an environment of collaboration and networking with universal access to support for individuals in distress and crisis.
    • DCO participated in a partnership with the Canadian Distress Line Network, a collection of distress, crisis and suicide prevention organizations across the country, to work towards a national suicide prevention helpline
    • DCO was the was the lead agency in securing a $2 million grant from the Public Health Agency of Canada for the Canadian Distress Line Network’s work to develop a national suicide prevention service (NSPS) providing services to suicidal individuals, 3rd parties and those bereaved by suicide via phone, text and chat.
    • To move the NSPS project forward, DCO seconded staff to the project and led the RFP and project planning process for over half a year
    • DCO presented their 2nd Program and Service Recognition to the ONTX Ontario Online & Text Crisis Service, a collaborative of 4 DCO member organizations to provide text and chat support services.


    • DCO hosted 2 conferences:
      • March 2017 – “Looking at Suicide Risk Through Demographics” : Featured Keehan Koorn, CMHA WWD, as a keynote speaker presenting “Reducing suicide Related Behaviours through a Group-Based Intervention” and Dr Marnin Heisel presenting a workshop on “Mental Health and Suicide in Older Adults
      • June 2017 – A one-day Networking conference for senior leaders and volunteers
    • DCO offered Lunch and Learn sessions, 1-hour workshops for staff and senior leaders:
      • Talk 4 Healing – learn about the unique community services provided by this DCO member centre, partnering with Talk 4 Healing
      • ABCs of Venue Contracts partnering with Planner Protect
    • DCO offered a 4-week Certificate Webinar Series, “Aboriginal Understanding”, in partnership with Talk 4 Healing.
    • The SIOM project, focusing on Statistics, Information and Outcome Measures continued to review the work of our member centres and present comparative date to members to assist them is a review of their service portfolios and plan for future service delivery
    • The ONTX program was an established service with DCO collaborating with five service providers to deliver text and chat support to individuals in crisis, distress and suicidal.  Ongoing review of data and service provision metrics has allowed the program to grow and adapt the service provision models to provide improved support to individuals reaching out for help, to utilize the program’s human capital, our wonderful responders, more efficiently, to improve recruitment and training models, and advance the speed of response and ability to help more people at the same time.
    • DCO presented their 3rd Program and Service Recognition to the Wellness Check Service offered by Distress Centre of Ottawa and Region that provides telephone outreach services to patients who were recently discharged from hospital following an admonition or a visit to the Emergency Department for a mental health issue. This program is offered in conjunction with 8 community partners.
    • DCO celebrated the 10th Anniversary of the Spirit of Volunteerism recognition by inviting past nominees and recipients to join us this year to help acknowledge this milestone.